For a certain type of nerd, literary tourism is the ideal. Walking the streets of Dublin that Leopold Bloom traversed in Ulysses, for example, provides a tangible counterpoint to the deep interiority of the novel. Boston has inaugurated a “literary district” that enshrines the homes of Robert Lowell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Lois Lowry, among many others. Disaster tourism is also a thing—one need only look at the tour busses traversing the destroyed areas of New Orleans for proof.
But a combination of the two? Now that’s something! In an article on Tedium, writer Andrew Egan heads to the very slaughterhouse that housed Kurt Vonnegut in his seminal novel Slaughterhouse-Five. The city of Dresden doesn’t advertise it as a point of interest, and indeed, there’s only one tour guide for the trip, a man named Danilo Hommel who brusquely and somewhat mirthlessly leads curious visitors through the building in which Vonnegut survived the city’s devastating firebombing. The city has since been built up and vastly renovated, and the building itself carries a few markers of its past—statues of cattle surrounding and adorning the building, a small mural of Vonnegut inside—even though its main purpose, now, is as a convention center.
The room that actually held Vonnegut has been turned into a coat room, but, Egan notes, Vonnegut would have been amused. “Notoriously self-deprecating,” he writes, “he would also probably agree that his own history is relatively minor compared to the history surrounding the slaughterhouse.” The full article, which is well worth reading, gets much deeper into the tension between the leisure of tourism and the darkness of history.