The action takes place at the beginning of the 20th century in Switzerland, in a tuberculosis sanatorium located near Davos. The title of the novel evokes associations with the mountain Gerzelberg, where, according to legend, Minnesinger Tannhäuser spent seven years in captivity with the goddess Venus.
The hero of the novel, a young German named Hans Kastorp, comes from Hamburg to the Berghof sanatorium to visit his cousin Joachim Ziemsen, who undergoes a course of treatment there. Hans Kastorp intends to spend at the sanatorium no more than three weeks, but by the end of the scheduled period feels a malaise, accompanied by an increase in temperature. As a result of medical examination, he shows signs of tuberculosis, and at the insistence of Chief Physician Berensa Hans Kastorp
Strictly speaking, the plot and events that occur in the novel are absolutely not important for understanding its meaning. They are only an excuse for opposing the various vital positions of the characters and giving the author an opportunity to speak on their lips on many of the problems that worry him: life, death and love, illness and health, progress and conservatism, the fate of human civilization on the threshold of the twentieth century. In the novel, dozens of characters pass through the queue – mostly patients, doctors and nursing staff: someone recovers and leaves the “Berggof”, someone dies, but new ones constantly arrive at their place.
Among those with whom Hans Kastorp gets acquainted already in the first days of his stay at the sanatorium, a special place is occupied by Mr. Lodovico Settembrini – a descendant of the Carbonarians, a mason, a humanist, a staunch supporter of progress. At the same time, as
An important role in the history of Hans Kastorpa’s life was played by his love for the Russian patient of the sanatorium of Madame Claudia Shosha – the love which he, owing to his strict education in the Calvinistic family, at first resists with all his might. It takes many months before Hans Kastorp talks to his beloved – this occurs during the carnival on the eve of the great post and the departure of Claudia from the sanatorium.
During the time spent in the sanatorium, Hans Kastorp was seriously carried away by a variety of philosophical and natural science ideas. He attends lectures on psychoanalysis, seriously studies medical literature, he is occupied with questions of life and death, he studies modern music, using for his purposes the latest achievement of technology – a gramophone record, etc. In fact, he no longer thinks his life on the plain, he forgets about the fact that he is waiting for work there, practically breaks ties with his few relatives and begins to view life in a sanatorium as the only possible form of existence.
With his cousin Joachim, the situation is quite the opposite. He had long and persistently prepared himself for the career of a military man, and therefore he considers every extra month spent in the mountains as an annoying obstacle to the realization of a life-long dream. At some point, he can not stand it and, not paying attention to the doctors’ warnings, leaves the sanatorium, enters the military service and receives an officer’s rank. However, very little time passes and his illness worsens, so he has to return to the mountains, but this time he does not help the treatment, and he soon dies.
Shortly before that, a new character – a Jesuit Nafta, eternal and unchanging opponent of Mr. Settembrini – enters the circle of Hans Kastorp’s acquaintances. Nafta idealizes the medieval past of Europe, condemns the very notion of progress and the whole modern bourgeois civilization incarnating in this notion. Hans Castorp is in some confusion – listening to the long debate between Settembrini and Nafta, he agrees with one and then another, then finds contradictions in both, and the other, so that he does not already know which side is the truth. However, the influence of Settembrini on Hans Kastorp is so great, and the inherent distrust of the Jesuits is so high that he is entirely on the side of the first.
Meanwhile, Madame Shosha returns to the sanatorium for a while, but not alone, but accompanied by her new acquaintance – the rich Dutchman Peperkorn. Almost all the inhabitants of the sanatorium “Berggof” fall under the magnetic influence of this unconditionally strong, mysterious, although somewhat tongue-tied person, and Hans Kastorp feels with him some kinship, because they are united by love for the same woman. And this life ends tragically. Once the terminally ill Peperkorn arranges a walk to the waterfall, entertains his companions in every way, in the evening he and Hans Kastorp drink on the brotherhood and switch to “you”, despite the age difference, and at night Peperkorn takes poison and dies, Soon Madame Shosha leaves the sanatorium – on this time, apparently, forever.
From a certain point in the souls of the inhabitants of the sanatorium “Berggof” begins to feel some anxiety. This coincides with the arrival of a new patient – the Dane Ellie Brand, who has some supernatural powers, in particular, who can read minds from a distance and summon spirits. Patients are fond of spiritualism, arrange sessions in which Hans Kastorp is involved, despite the sarcastic ridicule and warnings from his mentor Settembrini. It is after such sessions, and maybe, as a result of their former time, the measured course of time in the sanatorium is violated. Patients quarrel, now and then there are conflicts on the most insignificant occasion.
During one of the disputes with Nafta, Settembrini says that he is corrupting his youth with his ideas. A verbal skirmish leads to mutual insults, and then to a duel. Settembrini refuses to shoot, and then Nafta shoots a bullet in his head.
And then the world war thundered. Inhabitants of the sanatorium begin to go home. Hans Kastorp also leaves for the plain, which Mr. Settembrini says he fights where close to him in blood, although Mr. Settembrini himself seems to support a completely different side in this war.
In the final scene, Hans Kastorp is depicted as running, crawling, falling, along with the same as he, young people in soldiers’ overcoats, caught in a meat grinder of World War II. The author deliberately does not say anything about the final fate of his hero – the story is over, and his life was not interested in the author in itself, but only as a background for the narrative. However, as noted in the last paragraph, the hope of survival in Hans Kastorp small.