Mobile Modernity

Mobile Modernity: Germans, Jews, Trains

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Mobile Modernity
    Book Description:

    Though the history of the German railway system is often associated with the transportation of Jews to labor and death camps, Todd Presner looks instead to the completion of the first German railway lines and their role in remapping the cultural geography and intellectual history of Germany's Jews.

    Treating the German railway as both an iconic symbol of modernity and a crucial social, technological, and political force, Presner advances a groundbreaking interpretation of the ways in which mobility is inextricably linked to German and Jewish visions of modernity. Moving beyond the tired model of a failed German-Jewish dialogue, Presner emphasizes the mutual entanglement of the very categories of German and Jewish and the many sites of contact and exchange that occurred between German and Jewish thinkers.

    Turning to philosophy, literature, and the history of technology, and drawing on transnational cultural and diaspora studies, Presner charts the influence of increased mobility on interactions between Germans and Jews. He considers such major figures as Kafka, Heidegger, Arendt, Freud, Sebald, Hegel, and Heine, reading poetry next to philosophy, architecture next to literature, and railway maps next to cultural history.

    Rather than a conventional, linear history that culminates in the tragedy of the Holocaust, Presner produces a cultural mapping that articulates a much more complex story of the hopes and catastrophes of mobile modernity. By focusing on the spaces of encounter emblematically represented by the overdetermined triangulation of Germans, Jews, and trains, he introduces a new genealogy for the study of European and German-Jewish modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51158-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-30)

    AS THE TERMINUS of the first major, long-distance railway line to open in a German state, the Anhalter Bahnhof has always had more than just an incidental connection to the city of Berlin and its liminal geography as a point of entry to eastern, western, and southern Europe. From the moment it opened in 1840 until its destruction more than a hundred years later, the station served as a testament to the dizzying arrival and violent departure of German/Jewish modernity. In its built forms one could discern the triumph of technologies of modernization, the emergence of Prussian expansionism, the national...

  5. 2. BERLIN AND DELOS Celan’s No-Places and Heidegger’s Homecomings: Philosophy and Poetry Out of Material History
    (pp. 31-56)

    I FIRST SAW the ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof a number of years ago, as I was walking north along Möckernstrasse toward Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz. I came upon a densely forested region on the left-hand side of the street that was enclosed by a fence several meters high. Heeding the numerous warning signs of “no trespassing,” like any well-behaved urban flaneur, I stood on the cement ledge encircling the land and peered through the metal slats of the fence. Buried by the jungle of trees and thick shrubbery, I discerned an urban wasteland of trash, industrial debris, and railway tracks....

  6. 3. SICILY, NEW YORK CITY, AND THE BARANOVICH STATION German/Jewish Subject Without a Nation: On the Meta-epistemology of Mobility and Mass Migration
    (pp. 57-114)

    ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1840, the first part of the railway line that would connect Berlin to the German state of Anhalt was opened between Dessau and Köthen by the directors of the Berlin-Anhaltische Eisenbahn Gesellschaft.¹ The construction of Berlin’s Anhalter Bahnhof was quickly completed, and by September of the following year daily service began running to Köthen via Wittenberg, Coswig, and Dessau. The line, which connected the German states of Prussia and Anhalt together, was the longest railway line in any German state at the time, stretching more than 150 kilometers.² By 1848 service from the Anhalter extended to Dresden...

  7. 4. THE NORTH SEA Jews on Ships; Or, How Heine’s Reisebilder Deconstruct Hegel’s Philosophy of World History
    (pp. 115-146)

    DESIGNED IN 1880 by Emil Hundrieser and cast in zinc shortly thereafter by Friedrich Peters, a sculptural group known as Der Weltverkehr (World transportation) crowned the entrance hall to the newly reopened Anhalter Bahnhof. The sculpture was composed of an angelic female figure flanked by two youths, one of whom guided a locomotive with his arms. Installed at the highest point of the station, the sculpture stood for the dream of an interconnected world of mobility. The station represented its material instantiation, the dream made real. Even while the Anhalter Bahnhof epitomized the triumph of secular progress, it still needed...

  8. 5. NUREMBERG-FÜRTH-PALESTINE Some Assembly Required: Global Anxieties and Corporeal Fantasies of German/Jewish Nationality
    (pp. 147-204)

    AT THE START of the twentieth century, service from Anhalter Bahnhof fanned out all over Europe, with more than one hundred trains arriving and departing daily from Berlin. If we look at a timetable from January 1910, for example, we see that a number of luxury trains began their journeys from Berlin’s Anhalter station, including, among others, the North-South Express (connecting Berlin to Munich, Verona, Genoa, and Cannes), the Egyptian Express (connecting Berlin to Rome and Naples and, from there, to Alexandria and Cairo by ship), and the Riviera Express (connecting Berlin to Amsterdam, Lyon, and Marseille). Other lines connected...

  9. 6. AUSCHWITZ “The Fabrication of Corpses”: Heidegger, Arendt, and the Modernity of Mass Death
    (pp. 205-232)

    IN THE 1930s, the Anhalter Bahnhof became known as an “Abschieds-bahnhof” (farewell station) with a “platform of tears” because 3,262 Jewish children were sent out of Germany by their parents from this station.¹ On the Kindertransport of September 2, 1936, German-Jewish children from Berlin were sent to the French port city of Marseille, before traveling further by ship to Palestine. Norbert Wollheim tells about his work seeing the transports off:

    We had approximately twenty transports which left Berlin. It was my duty to see them all off. On the day the transports left, we assembled the people at the railway...

  10. 7. VIENNA-ROME-PRAGUE-ANTWERP-PARIS The Railway Ruins of Modernity: Freud and Sebald on the Narration of German/Jewish Remains
    (pp. 233-284)

    ALTHOUGH THE iron and glass roof of the Anhalter Bahnhof collapsed during one of the last bombing raids of Berlin, the station was not completely destroyed, and, after the war, trains began running again as of August 1945. They continued to run until 1952 when the tracks were cut by the division of Berlin and later by the erection of the Wall. After much debate the ruined station was razed in 1961. Most of its remains were disposed of in the early 1960s, except for part of the front portal and the southbound railway tracks. These tracks were more or...

    (pp. 285-290)

    AT THE END of their last conversation the narrator recounts that Austerlitz decided to set off from Paris to find the remains of a camp in the Pyrenean foothills where his father may have been interned: “I don’t know, said Austerlitz, what all this means, and so I am going to continue looking for my father” (292). Before departing, he invites the narrator to stay at his home in England for as long as he wishes as well as visit a small Ashkenazi cemetery he had just discovered behind a wall of the adjoining house. They take leave of each...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 291-346)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 347-370)