The atmosphere of the metropolitan seaport, the damp atmosphere of global shopkeeping and prosperity, had been the air of life itself for his forefathers, and with great gusto he breathed it now as a matter of course and found it profoundly satisfying. His nose took in the fumes of the harbour, of coal and tar, the pungent odours of the world’s produce piled high, and his eyes watched the huge steam cranes on the docks – so calm, wise and monumentally strong that they looked like hardworking elephants – as they transformed tons of sacks, bales, crates, barrels and carboys from the bowels of idle seagoing vessels to railroad cars and sheds. He watched the merchants in yellow mackintoshes, like the one he himself was wearing, as they steamed at noon toward the exchange, where thing could get quite fierce, as he well knew, and someone might very suddenly be motivated to hand out invitations to a grand dinner, in hope of prolonging his credit.
He watched – and this would later prove to be his special area of interest – the teeming dry docks, the towering, mammoth cadavers of ships that had sailed to Asia and Africa, but now lay braced on strutbeams thick as trees, looking monstrous and clumsy on dry land, their keels and screws naked, swarmed over by hosts of midget labourers – hammering, scouring, whitewashing. He gazed at the roofed-over slips, which were wrapped in webs of smoky fog and from which the ribs of ships under construction protruded, while engineers, blueprints and pump-charts in hand, gave orders to the workers. From boyhood on, these were all familiar sights to Hans Castorp, awakening in him a warm sense of belonging, a feeling that reached its zenith, perhaps, on those occasions when he would join his cousin Ziemssen – Joachim Ziemssen – in the pavilion on
the Alster for a Sunday breakfast of warm rolls and smoked beef, washed down by a glass of old port, then lean back in his chair and puff devotedly on his cigar.