New experience to find out German philosopher Walter Benjamin's Catalan connections

A 24-hour 'escape town' in Portbou aims to boost tourism in bordering village

One of the spaces in the Walter Benjamin-themed escape town in Portbou, on December 23, 2019 (by Gemma Tubert)
One of the spaces in the Walter Benjamin-themed escape town in Portbou, on December 23, 2019 (by Gemma Tubert) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

December 24, 2019 02:26 PM

German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin died in Catalonia in August 1940 after fleeing from the Nazi horror for almost a decade.

His life ended in Portbou, a coastal town in Costa Brava, bordering France. The village was at the time a customs center and lively because people who wanted to travel to France had to change trains due to different track gauges, and some of them visited Portbou in the meantime.

It was no coincidence that he died there during the Second World War, as while in France, he managed to get a visa to travel to the US, and his plans included crossing the border, crossing Spain – which had fallen to fascism one year before and was under Francisco Franco's dictatorship, a good ally of Hitler – and reaching Portugal, in order to set sail for a new life past the Atlantic Ocean.

Final day of Walter Benjamin's life

Once in Portbou, on September 25, Benjamin and his companions were told that the Spanish police had cancelled all transit visas and that they would be deported to French prisons the day afterwards.

The morning afterwards, he was found dead in 'Hotel de Francia' guest house, in Portbou – now a private home. While the official version is that he committed suicide with an overdose of morphine tablets, this has always been in doubt, above all taking into account that the hotel owner seemingly had a good relationship with the Gestapo.

With this context, a new experience has been launched in order to boost Portbou's tourism, since being a bordering town is no longer a reason to stop, especially after the treaty of Schengen came into force.

A 24-hour escape room

The musician and former local councilor of Berga, Francesc 'Titot' Ribera, is setting up a 'escape town', an experience similar to a escape room but lasting almost 24 hours and including accommodation, dinner and breakfast.

The game is set in 1940 and the aim is to escape Portbou and help Walter Benjamin do so, amid Francoists and Nazis. 

The price including the meals and accommodation goes between 145 and 190 euros per person, and the groups must range from 2 to 6 people.

Getting to know Portbou in 24 hours and recreating part of Walter Benjamin's last 24 hours of life are the aims of 'escape town' Portbou1940.