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Driving Germany

Driving Germany: The Landscape of the German Autobahn, 1930-1970

Thomas Zeller
Translated by Thomas Dunlap
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    Driving Germany
    Book Description:

    Published in Association with the German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C.

    Hitler's autobahn was more than just the pet project of an infrastructure-friendly dictator. It was supposed to revolutionize the transportation sector in Germany, connect the metropoles with the countryside, and encourage motorization. The propaganda machinery of the Third Reich turned the autobahn into a hyped-up icon of the dictatorship. One of the claims was that the roads would reconcile nature and technology. Rather than destroying the environment, they would embellish the landscape. Many historians have taken this claim at face value and concluded that the Nazi regime harbored an inbred love of nature. In this book, the author argues that such conclusions are misleading. Based on rich archival research, the book provides the first scholarly account of the landscape of the autobahn.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-226-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction: Germany and its autobahn
    (pp. 1-12)

    Together withKindergarten, Blitzkrieg, andAngst, autobahn (pl. autobahnen) is one of a handful of German words that have migrated into the English language. Driving along one of these multilane, limited-access highways arouses in many foreign visitors feelings that vacillate between awed amazement at this efficient transportation machine and anxiety over the absence of speed limits. A few car dealerships in the United States, from Boston to the San Francisco Bay Area, even call their establishments “Autobahn USA” or “Autobahn Motors,” in the hope, evidently, of generating higher sales by invoking the German road network. Recently, one American author even...

  6. Chapter 2 Landscape: the Dual Construction
    (pp. 13-20)

    More than 150 years ago, the conservative cultural theorist and folklorist Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl asserted that every age had its specific “eye for landscape.” What seemed ugly to one century was beautiful to another. During the “pig-tail period” (the 1770s and 1780s), the Black Forest had been seen as barren and unpleasant, but in Riehl’s day it was discovered as a picturesque landscape.¹ If this observation is true, Clio is beginning to develop a keener eye for landscape in our time. The changing landscape and the changing gaze at the landscape have been topics of historical study for some years...

  7. Chapter 3 The Historical Habitat of Landscape-Friendly Roads
    (pp. 21-46)

    One of the most important attributes that the National Socialist regime bestowed on the autobahn of the 1930s was its novelty. The purpose, design, and scale of the roads were thoroughly new—at least that is how the accompanying propaganda presented it. While the constructed autobahn network was indeed more extensive than all other comparable road systems, it certainly did not grow out of the German soil overnight and without deeper roots. Moreover, the novelty that the Nazis claimed for their most prominent technological project was part of the intended mythologizing. It was only through constant emphasis on the unprecedented...

  8. Chapter 4 Planning the Autobahn before and after 1933
    (pp. 47-78)

    In the interwar period, lobby groups appeared in some European countries and pushed for the construction of traffic lanes for the exclusive use of the automobile. These intersection-free roadways were characterized by divided lanes, traveling and passing lanes, shoulders, and intersection-free on- and off-ramps, the goal being to create an unimpeded route solely for automobiles. While these efforts bore little fruit in Germany before 1933, they have been well studied. Scattered appeals for the construction of what were called “Nur-Autostraßen” (roadways for cars only) culminated in 1926 in the establishment of the Hafraba Association. Its name captured programmatically the desire...

  9. Chapter 5 Conflicts over the Harmonious Road
    (pp. 79-126)

    The Hitler regime’s road-building program was still known only in vague outline, and Fritz Todt had been in office as Inspector-General for only eight weeks, when the man with a fledgling agency received an invitation at the end of August 1933. Because of the importance of the autobahn project “to the reshaping of the appearance of theHeimat,” the organizing committee of a national Conference on Historic Monument Preservation andHeimatschutzin Kassel asked Todt to send a representative to the meeting. Todt replied promptly. Although he would very much like to speak “about the integration of the autobahnen into...

  10. Chapter 6 The Myth of the Green Autobahn
    (pp. 127-180)

    The grim humor of this awkward poem conveys an impression of how heated the controversies over the roads in Nazi Germany could be behind the scenes. This chapter will examine the role and extent of these controversies. The plotting of the roads in the landscape, referred to by civil engineers as alignment, had been a topic of publications on conservation and landscape issues long before the building of theReichsautobahnen. The sinuous line that, as we have seen, Schultze-Naumburg preferred for roads outside the flat countryside was more difficult for landscape architects to push through than the ideological intermingling of...

  11. Chapter 7 Reinterpretations: the West German Autobahn, 1949 to 1970
    (pp. 181-234)

    The social and cultural meaning of the German autobahnen changed profoundly after 1945 in the Federal Republic of Germany. Within a few short years, they were reinterpreted from the emblem of a dictatorship into a transportation system that was classified in a functional and rational way. As was the case in the earlier attempts to define these roads, road-building engineers and landscape architects were involved in this process with different ideological and professional goals. The altered state of the general political framework of a parliamentary democracy shifted the parameters of this debate. Moreover, toward the end of the period under...

  12. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 235-248)

    The history of the autobahn and its landscapes is far more than an account of the development of a large-scale technological network. It mirrors Germany’s changing political regimes and the varying ideological, professional, and cultural ideas driving them. Proposed unsuccessfully by a small pressure group under the Weimar Republic, autobahn ideas were embraced on a large scale by the National Socialist regime as the largest propaganda product of the Third Reich. While the civil engineers and landscape architects involved in the construction had enough in common ideologically to collaborate on the roads, they held different opinions on alignment and plantings....

  13. Bibliography and Sources
    (pp. 249-280)
  14. Index
    (pp. 281-289)