Germanic Languages | Deutsche Landeskunde
G362 | 17127 | Benjamin Robinson

Germanic Languages ,  Deutsche Landeskunde
G362 ,  17127 ,

1:00-2:15 / TR
Topic: Modern Traffic: Autobahn/Volkswagen

If one architectural monument and one consumer product may be said
to symbolize 20th-century German civilization, they are the Autobahn
and the Volkswagen. But if reducing German culture to a highway and
the commodity that traveled over it seems an oversimplification,
even a trivialization of “das Land der Dichter und Denker,” then the
goal of this course is that much more clear: to arrive at the
complexity of German modernity through the many paths and varying
tempi of two of its most celebrated objects. The course addresses
its concern with objects of civil and industrial engineering through
visual, aural and written media, introducing students to the study
of how technology, architecture, and advertising construct
relationships between people; this approach then serves to introduce
ways of thinking about the modern German nation-state (from 1918 to
today) in both its cultural specificity and its increasing

The Autobahn and the VW were vast technological projects mobilized
on behalf of “das Volk” in the Third Reich that then passed
seamlessly into the service of Hitler’s genocidal war. In postwar
West Germany, however, the same projects underlay the “economic
miracle,” coming during the era of the Cold War to symbolize the
Western promises of freedom and plenty on the open road as against
the stunted mobility signified by the Berlin Wall. While traffic
jams and frantic new construction brought the Autobahn West into
increasing conflict with its heroic iconography, the Autobahn Ost
seemed to decelerate, becoming a transit corridor between worlds
where state surveillance competed with offended national pride to
make it the strangest stretch of highway in Europe. With the central
myth of mass motorization in mind, the course explores topics
including: the accelerating tempo and decreasing space of modernity;
the relationship of technology to politics and consumption to
democracy; war, speed and nature; and the significance of mobility,
proximity and circulation for the nation-state and the globe.

Class lectures are in German (with some English review); discussion
is in German and English; reading and films are in German and

Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics (New York: Semoitext(e), 1986)

Erhard Schütz, Eckhard Grube, Mythos Reichsautobahn: Bau und
Inszenierung der »Straßen des Führers« 1933-1941 (Berlin: Ch. Links

Reader (downloadable at Oncourse): I-69, “NAFTA Superhighway”

articles; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, from Das Manifest;
Artikel 6-7—Weimarer Verfassung; Artikel 73—BRD Grundgesetz; Henry
Ford, from My Life and Work; Steven Tolliday,
from “Wirtschaftswunder: Volkswagen;” Bettina Palazzo, “Habits of
the Heart in US-American and German Corporate Culture;” Paul Betts,
from The Authority of Everyday Objects; Axel Dossman, from Begrenzte
Mobilität: Eine Kulturgeschichte der Autobahn in der DDR; Daphne
Berdahl, “‘Go, Trabi, Go’: Reflections on a Car and Its
Symbolization over Time;” Ivan Illich, Matthias Rieger and Sebastian
Trapp, “Speed? What Speed?”; Stephan Silvia, “The Consequences of
the Volkswagen Scandal;” Peter Schneider, “Die Diktatur der
Geschwindigkeit;” Computer Arts, “Viral Infection”

Divided Highways, dir. Lawrence R. Hott and Tom Lewis (1997)

Berlin—Die Sinfonie einer Großstadt, dir. Walther Ruttmann (1927)

Reichsautobahn, dir. Hartmut Bitomsky (91 min., 1985/86)

Koyaanisqatsi, dir. Godfrey Reggio (87 min., 1983)

Autobahn Ost, dir. Gerd Kroske (95 min., 2004)

Der VW Komplex, dir. Hartmut Bitomsky (91 min., 1989)

Mythos für Millionen, VW Advertising history (45 min., 1995)

“Small but Tough”—VW Polo Viral Ad (22 sec., 2005)