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July 10 , 2009

Next Year in Marienbad

The Lost Worlds of Jewish Spa Culture


From the last decades of the nineteenth century through the late 1930s, the West Bohemian spa towns of Carlsbad, Franzensbad, and Marienbad were fashionable destinations for visitors wishing to "take a cure"—to drink the waters, bathe in the mud, be treated by the latest X-ray, light, or gas therapies, or simply enjoy the respite afforded by elegant parks and comfortable lodgings. These were sociable and urbane places, settings for celebrity sightings, match-making, and stylish promenading. Originally the haunt of aristocrats, the spa towns came to be the favored summer resorts for the emerging bourgeoisie. Among the many who traveled there, a very high proportion were Jewish.

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In Next Year in Marienbad, Mirjam Zadoff writes the social and cultural history of Carlsbad, Franzensbad, and Marienbad as Jewish spaces. Secular and religious Jews from diverse national, cultural, and social backgrounds mingled in idyllic and often apolitical-seeming surroundings. During the season, shops sold Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers, kosher kitchens were opened, and theatrical presentations, concerts, and public readings catered to the Jewish clientele. Yet these same resorts were situated in a region of growing hostile nationalisms, and they were towns that might turn virulently anti-Semitic in the off season.

Next Year in Marienbad draws from memoirs and letters, newspapers and maps, novels and postcards to create a compelling and engaging portrait of Jewish presence and cultural production in the years between the fin de siècle and the Second World War.

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