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Finding the German Heimat: Space-Producing Practices of the Reichsautobahn 1933-1941
This project looks at the Reichsautobahn—the extensive German highway network built in the 1930s—and considers it as an apparatus with agency, as a particular space of movement and experience that not only “reworked” nature into “culture,” but also performed a translation of “culture” into “nature”: a familiar though generic nature, accessible and open to all Germans to identify with—a new all-German Heimat. It also shows how, beside being an element of cohesion and reinterpretation of the space of the Reich proper, the Reichsautobahn was an expedient of expansion, as its extensions were planned throughout what was considered to be the German realm in the Eastern Europe.
Although it has been extensively described as a project of propaganda, a technocratic, engineering and organizational masterpiece, or a public works program for fighting the growing unemployment, this project sees the Reichsautobahn primarily a space that tried to marry all the modern attributes of speed an connectivity with the features of traditional roads: it was by itself a space of social, cultural, economic and recreational activities, the well known space of a Heimat. By recalling the familiar sentiments of the Heimat-experience, the Reichsautobahn created a particular spatial potential—the Heimat potential. And it did it through three distinct modes that this space was comprised of: the trajectory (the road), the point (the vehicle), and the field (the landscape). Each of these spatial modes had a particular character, a particular similitude to the space of a Heimat.
Thus, these three experiences of being in it—in the car, on the road, and in the landscape—constitutes the space of a generic all-German Heimat. As such, the Reichsautobahn acquires its own agency. The experience of a Heimat that was constituted of different practices of interaction with one’s immediate environment—practices both cultural and natural—is transposed in a vast, extensive (and extending) space of the Reich’s highway network.