Slaughterhouse five

(Text by Swells, photos by ScottyGee)

Dresden is known for its beautiful central theater complex, its devastation after the Allies firebombed it in WWII, and of course its central role in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. It’s such a culty novel, at least for American college boys, that I assumed its iconic status would at least have earned it a cheesy tourist-site flag on the city maps.  Every German we asked about it, though, including some with degrees in American literature, looked somewhat blank when we mentioned it to them.  The slaughterhouse itself didn’t show up in any guidebooks or on any tourist maps.  Finally one person in the tourist office recognized what I meant when asking about “Schlachthof-Funf,” and gave us the address so we could find it with our GPS–since there was absolutely no other signage to point us there.

We reached the slaughterhouse complex, which is now used as a sort of renegade art space but is mostly vacant.

We went looking for clues as to which building was number five, but nothing was marked; finally we ran into a woman who runs the small art collective on the property. We asked her if she could point out number five, and she said that no one knows for sure which one housed Vonnegut and the other prisoners of war, which one sheltered their terrified, wasted bodies as they listened to the city around them being blown into a moonscape.

We were resigned to never knowing, when the woman came and found us.  She told us that a colleague informed her that an elderly American who was a POW during the war and kept in Slaughterhouse Five was at the site about a year ago and that he identified the building.  (“He was a prisoner WITH VONNEGUT!” I exclaimed in awe.)  It looked more like a regular house and less like a tumbledown slaughterhouse than any of the other buildings.

Nonetheless, seeing that location and feeling all the horrible ghosts and pain it housed (both of war prisoners and even of animals) was chilling.  The book is such a staple of young-adult lit, and the Dresden plot is so (deliberately) diluted by the time-traveling and Trafalmadorian adventures of Billy Pilgrim, that it’s hard to process the concrete reality of just what happened that day in 1945.  And that’s exactly why Vonnegut’s telling is so convoluted–the horror is too unspeakable to confront directly.  I’m glad it’s not a tourist site–but I’m so grateful it’s still there for the willing pilgrim.

4 responses to “Slaughterhouse five”

  1. LP says:

    Wow – What a fantastic find. I love this story, and love that you were so dedicated to finding the actual building. It’s odd that there’s nothing at all to mark the spot – but there’s something so right about the solitude and all the greenery creeping through the pavement.

  2. ScottyGee says:

    That particular afternoon was maybe my favorite part of our whole trip…

  3. John Wood says:

    Whoa! Thank you so much for this!

  4. Yes, thanks for finding this. Good to know it is still standing, and home to an art collective. (And so it goes.)