Straße, Bahn, Panorama. Verkehrswege und Landschaftsveränderung in Deutschland von 1930 bis 1990

Straße, Bahn, Panorama. Verkehrswege und Landschaftsveränderung in Deutschland von 1930 bis 1990

Kreuzer, Bernd

Thomas Zeller, Straße, Bahn, Panorama. Verkehrswege und Landschaftsveränderung in Deutschland von 1930 bis 1990, Campus, Frankfurt and New York (2002), 451 pp., 45.00.

Thomas Zeller’s innovative book on traf- fic infrastructure and landscape changes in Germany from 1930 to 1990 is the third volume of a series ‘Beiträge zur Historischen Verkehrsforschung’ (Contributions to Historical Transport Research) published by the Deutsches Museum in Munich. The author, who teaches history at the University of Maryland at College Park, analyses the impact of motorway (Autobahn) and railway construction on German landscape.

In a way, Zeller’s book proposes a revival of the concept of ‘landscape’, which historical research has for a long time neglected owing to its connotations with, and abuse by, the Nazis. Zeller gives a broad overview of different defi- nitions of landscape, arguing that it is defined and shaped largely by cultural conceptions and social conflict.

Two-thirds of the work deals with motorway construction both during and after the Nazi regime, and these sections represent the book’s strongest moments. Zeller presents the concept of the Reichsautobahn as a superhighway meeting the highest technical standards, conforming to topography at a time when traffic density was still very low and did not require the building of motorways at all. Thanks to efficient Nazi propaganda the Reichsautobahn became famous for its harmonious integration with the landscape and nature. Zeller demonstrates this approach initially emerged quite slowly as landscape architects had to struggle hard to gain a hearing in the planning process. And he lucidly shows how highway planning and construction after World War II differed from that of the Third Reich. After the war German planners replaced ‘visual consumption’ with fast and safe connections as a dominant goal of construction.

It is a pity Zeller could not have known about Ingrid Strohkark’s doctoral thesis, finished in 2001 at the University of Fine Arts, Berlin. Strohkark compares the perception of landscape and the construction of motorways in Germany, France and Italy before 1933, while Zeller does not care much about what was going on in countries other than Germany. Of course, he mentions that the Italian autostrada served as a model for the Reichsautobahn. The first autostrada, however, did not run near Turin, as he claims, but near Milan, and he apparently does not know all the relevant studies of Italian motorways. Furthermore, while rejecting Peter Reichel’s view of the AVUS in Berlin as a precursor of the motorway, Zeller never explains why. In my view he also overlooks the crucial importance of American parkways to the design of the German Reichsautobahn. But these are minor flaws that do not detract from the importance of Zeller’s work.

The last chapter changes the subject and analyses the construction of a highspeed railway network in Germany influenced by the successful Japanese Shinkansen. In my view opening up this new field detracts from the main topic and I would have preferred to learn more about the motorways than to broach a completely new subject.

Nevertheless, this book is more than just another study of the German Reichsautobahn. It is a very good synthesis of environmental history, cultural history and the history of technology and transport. It is also a history of the profession of landscape planner. Those who are interested in these fields should reserve a place for it on their shelves. Though English readers can refer to Zeller’s articles in the collective works edited by David Nye (1999) and Mark Walker (2003) and to his article in the Bulletin of the German Historical Institute, Washington (2003), a complete English translation would be desirable.

Bernd Kreuzer, Wilhering, Austria

Copyright Manchester University Press Mar 2006

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