Public Works

The management of a country is like managing a machine.  Occasionally its parts need to be fixed or replaced to keep the machine moving forward.  For a country, a leader must install or fix its parts to help the country move forward.  In the, Three New Deals, WolfGang Schivelbusch spent his fifth chapter on public projects that were introduced in the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, the United States, and Nazi Germany.  Schivelbusch wrote that Italy, the United States, and Germany, under the conditions of the Great Depression, looked to the Soviet Union for innovation and progress.  He stated that the leaders of these countries introduced programs in which they would help their countries move forward.

One of the more intriguing projects that Schivelbusch discussed in his fifth chapter was   on the ‘Autobahn’.  The autobahn, according to Schivelbusch represented what the TVA represented for the United States: “a promise that……had implied not just an increased convenience but also a kind of symbolic salvation.”1  The autobahn represented a sense of progress for German people.  It meant that people did not have to rely on the state as much.  What really intrigued me about this is that Germany decided to complete the autobahn before they completed the Volkswagen.  How could a country like Germany install a major highway in before people had cars?  As Schivelbusch stated, it was about capturing peoples imaginations about the possibilities, making people excited for the future and excited about the prospect of driving along the German landscape. ((Schivelbusch, Wolfgang.  “Public Works” in Three New Deals.  New York: Picador. 2006, 172.))  

What strikes me about the autobahn, to me, is that it represented freedom.  It seemed like a way of venturing off into the German land without any care in the world.  Considering that Nazi Germany had repressed many freedoms, it seems strange to me that the Nazis would build a highway that could give Germans a dream of endless possibilities.  Do you think that the autobahn was part of a greater dream of the Nazis?

  1. Schivelbusch, Wolfgang.  “Public Works” in Three New Deals.  New York: Picador. 2006, 169. []

3 thoughts on “Public Works

  1. Funny enough, although Schivelbusch does not mention this, in the US the first paved roads were also built before the automobile became a convenient and necessary technology, just like in Germany. Originally in the US almost all roads were made of dirt until the advent of a different form of transportation — the bicycle. Bicyclists and their need for paved roads are what initially spurred “The Good Roads Movement” at the end of the 19th century. The automobile was not popularized until Ford’s Model T was released around 1910 and another road revolution was necessary because the roads that had already been built for motorists were suitable for light, 2-wheeled bicyclists but crumbled under heavy, 4-wheeled automobile usage. Germans copied the American interstate and parkway system so driving became an enjoyable, aesthetic experience that intentionally brought the driver closer to the organic land and nature surrounding them. The highway was designed not to be the shortest, most efficient route, but the most scenic. This is exactly what the Americans did when we designed our National Park Systems to include automotive traffic with road tourism in mind. The Nazi’s autobahn was a highly symbolic public works project; it was to represent modernity, the improvement of the natural landscape by man-made German technology, and an “unprecedented dynamic force” (p. 178). The autobahn was a form of political propaganda, representing the government and military technological power and capabilities. They even compared their highway system to the Egyptian pyramids.

  2. So much of Nazi ideology depended on providing the German people with a carefully constructed dream of the ideal that it seems logical they would apply the same principle to a public works project. The autobahn physically represented the superiority and “endless possibilities” available to Germans under the Nazi regime.

  3. Schivelbusch included a quote by a British historian in which he described the autobahn as endless straight white roads. They carried on forever, and eliminated the need to think, it made the driver insignificant (181). Here he demonstrates how the autobahn fulfilled the Nazi agenda, it made people into machines, unthinking, just following the lines and the rules. While the autobahn may have appeared to give the German people endless freedom, in reality it gave them a false sense of freedom, and further ingrained the need to follow the rules without question.

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