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This article is taken from PN Review 158, Volume 30 Number 6, July - August 2004.

Notes from the Sea-Bed Iain Bamforth

If it's true that all the great spa towns, those temples of propriety from Carlsbad to Vichy, are really vantage points for observing Europe as an allegory - this was the whim of the aristocratic memoirist Charles Joseph, Prince de Ligne (1735-1814) - then Badenweiler is perfectly placed. Tucked in the lap of a valley on the southern slopes of the Black Forest between Freiburg and the great bend of the Rhine at Basle, a hundred kilometres south of Baden-Baden, the most famous spa of all - where Dostoevsky tried to gamble himself out of debt in the summer of 1867 and the French collaborationists ignominiously gathered in 1944 for what Louis-Ferdinand Céline, in his novel Nord, called `the "Everything Goes" Casino of History' - Badenweiler looks down on to the silt flats and water meadows, the Ried of Upper Alsace. This is where the cities of the Decapolis once thrived under the Holy Roman German Empire, centres of humanist learning like Colmar, Selestat and Munster. Albert Schweitzer - organist, Bach scholar, theologian, humanitarian physician to French Equatorial Africa, perplexed author of Civilisation and Ethics and goodness personified until the 1960s - grew up in a village in their shelter when Alsace was part of Bismarck's newly unified Germany. He knew from intimate experience that the cultural idiom of these former city-states had never aligned itself with the extended spirit of the modern nation-state, whether French or German. So, too, did the great Basle historian Jacob Burckhardt, whose classic ...

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