Automobile Tourism and Nazi Propaganda: Constructing the Munich-Salzburg Autobahn, 1933-1939

By Vahrenkamp, Richard | The Journal of Transport History, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Automobile Tourism and Nazi Propaganda: Constructing the Munich-Salzburg Autobahn, 1933-1939


Vahrenkamp, Richard, The Journal of Transport History


In the past, research on Nazi Autobahn construction has focused on topics such as the background, the decision-making process, the landscaping of the Autobahn, the organisation and financing of Autobahn construction as well as the project's importance for job creation, propaganda, motorisation policy and military policy. Many authors emphasised Hitler's goal to develop a 'car culture' and an automotive-centred economic sector.1 However, while numerous studies of tourism in the 1930s explored the support of tourism by railway, the question how the Autobahn project promoted tourism by offering opportunities of motorised transport was not investigated before.

This article explores the tourist aspects of the German Autobahn project from 1933 to 1939 and its relation to political propaganda. Before we focus on propaganda, a short note on the research procedure is given and we discuss the relation of our approach to the tourist policy in Nazi Germany. Then we will investigate the relation of the Autobahn project to the promotion of tourism in the context of political propaganda. A following section contains a detailed study of how political propaganda was combined with the aim to support tourism, using the famous Munich-Salzburg route as a case study. The data of the excursion traffic on holidays indicate that the people adapted to the new opportunities. The article explores how bus routes, opened on the Autobahn sections, supported tourist excursions and introduced intermodal competition by operating parallel to existing railway lines.

The National Socialism's (NS) Autobahn project 1933 to 1939 was preceded by a debate in the years between 1926 and 1933 on the need for a separate highway network in Germany. This discussion was promoted by the 'HaFraBa' association,2 which was founded in the town hall of Frankfurt am Main on 6 November 1926.3 HaFraBa, an abbreviation of Hamburg-Frankfurt-Basel, was founded to promote an Autobahn from the ports on the North Sea via Frankfurt as an important place of commerce in western Germany to southern Germany at the border with Switzerland.4 HaFraBa's objectives were characterised by the desire to adapt roads to the automobile as a modern means of mobility, by constructing roads as a means of reducing unemployment and as a stimulus to the development of the backward German automobile industry; and by building a road network as an incentive to expand the sales of automobiles and to support the needs of tourist excursions. These topics were published in the HaFraBa newsletter several times, so that an analysis of this newsletter can illustrate the transport policy from the view of the HaFraBa association.

For our study we explored the HaFraBa newsletter and Die Strasse (The Road) of the years from 1926 to 1939.5 The three topics mentioned above that were covered by the HaFraBa newsletter also appeared in Die Strasse. At first glance, there was no difference between the HaFraBa and the NS visions of the Autobahn. But Die Strasse broadened the scope: the NS Autobahn project expanded the single HaFraBa route from Hamburg to Basel to an entire network and regarded the Autobahn as a monument of the NS policy that should last for hundreds of years. In 1934 a former member of the HaFraBa execution board, Kurt Becker, provided some unintentional comedy when he compared the construction of the Autobahn to that of the pyramids in Egypt.6 When the Nazi party entrenched its rule the German Autobahn project managers started to build the first route, Frankfurt am Main to Darmstadt, in 1933 on the basis of the blueprints of HaFraBa.7

Many interrelated goals were formulated in the NS Autobahn project so that it appeared as an ambivalent project. The lack of a democratic debate in the public arena, which should result in certain priorities, makes it difficult to assess the importance of the goals. However, one can observe some tensions between the Autobahn project and other fields of policy. …

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