The concentration camps and other sites of death left behind by National Socialism attract rising numbers of visitors every year. In 2014, a record 1.5 million visitors from around the world were counted at the former concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. Horror is fashionable. Concentration camps and prisons, battlefields, locations of (natural) catastrophes or attacks, dungeons and torture chambers as well as ghost towns are now among the most popular travel destinations of established travel agencies. Among the most attractive are Auschwitz and Alcatraz, Gettysburg and Ground Zero, Pompeii and Chernobyl, the wreck of the Costa Concordia and the killing fields of the Red Khmer.
Even without the thrill of violence, such spooky sites possess great attraction. Cemeteries are now an integral part of city tours. The Highgate Cemetery in London, Père Lachaise in Paris and, of course, the Vienna Central Cemetery – often booked as a package with a visit to the Imperial Crypt or with a “The Third Man-Tour” – are listed in every travel guide as “must-see places.”
Travels to sites of death have increasingly been in the focus of journalists’ investigations in recent times. Even though the reports find it generally hard to resist the ambivalent creepy fascination of this topic, journalists frequently ask the question, whether this kind of journey may be just about defensible on ethical grounds or whether it is really in rather poor taste.
For the past two decades, this topic has been the object of research mainly in Anglophone academia. Starting with the discovery of a “dissonant heritage tourism,” which the research of the British scholars John E. Turnbridge and Gregory J. Ashworth firmly established in the scientific debate, the cultural historians John Lennon and Malcolm Foley created the collective term of a “Dark Tourism.” Philip R. Stone, director at the Institute of Dark Tourism Research founded at the University of Central Lancashire, subsequently developed a typology of “Death and macabre related tourism sites.” His “Dark Tourism Spectrum” distinguishes between “sites of death and suffering” and “sites associated with death and suffering.”
In German cultural historical research, the topic of Thana-Tourism has not yet been treated and analysed in a systematic way. Our conference wishes to remedy this omission.
By taking the religious practice of pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulchre starting in the fourth century as its point of departure, it wishes to include the cult of relics of Christian saints in their richly decorated chapels as well as the political cult of the dead from the nineteenth century onwards. The ideological battlefield and trenches tourism of WWI will be addressed as well as the mourning progresses to the mass graves of both world wars, the pilgrimages to former concentration camps as well as the tourism to cemeteries and VIP-tombs, to survey and analyse the field of Thana-Tourism.
The 14th conference in the series “Dying, Death and the Believe in the Afterlife” intends to encourage the debate about “Thana-Tourism: Journeys to the Dead” from a range of historical, political and cultural perspectives. In so doing, the focus rests less on the most complete approach to the topic or on a sharp definition of Thana touristic phenomena. Rather, the conference is concerned with facets and fashions as well as with the question after cultural historical and social psychological structures. Among these, the quest for “authenticity”, the construction of morality, the relevance of feelings of empathy, the lust for death, as well as the critical cultural perspective of “commodification” of – violent – death by its transformation into a marketable product will be investigated.
We invite empirical case studies as well as unpublished comparative contributions of 30 minutes max. followed by 15 minutes of discussion. The organisers ask for a working title and abstract (500 words max.) in German or English as well as a short bio blurb before or on 15 November 2015. Please send your proposals by email to
The conference will be held in German and English. Travel and accommodation expenses will be reimbursed if possible. The publication of the conference papers is planned.
Concept and Organisation:
Markwart Herzog (Schwabenakademie Irsee)
Jörg Skriebeleit (KZ-Gedenkstätte Flossenbürg)