Sumptuous illustrated book about the German autobahn: a thousand colors of gray – culture

The volume, the constant roar of the traffic – the cattle do not seem to care. The most important thing is dry. The stoic herd resting on a meadow at Duisburger Kreuz has apparently accepted the gigantic structure over their heads as a protection against the weather. The grease restoration clamps that stick next to the concrete pillars under the building pose no threat to them.

It’s different for the viewer of the image from Michael Tewes’ lavishly illustrated book “Auto Land Scape”, who meanwhile thinks of the renovation backlog of the former German model infrastructure when he hears the keywords motorway and bridges.

Largest contiguous building in Germany

The selection among the 800 photos taken during Tewe’s six-year-long photographic exploration of no-man’s land on the street is dedicated to the autobahn as an architecture in itself. “Auto Land Scape” can also be seen as an exhibition at the Deutsches Museum in Munich until 31 October.

If you roar along the railway in your car, you will definitely get an idea that it is the largest cohesive structure in Germany. The network extends over almost 13,200 kilometers.

But overcoming distances takes time, despite the high speeds that still make the German autobahn a promise of freedom for automans. Against all ecological and economic reasons. It is impossible for someone driving on the road to grasp the effect of the road on the landscape.

[Michael Tewes: Auto Land Scape. Texte von Thomas Zeller, Marietta Schwarz, Claudius Seidl, Hrsg. Nadine Barth, Hatje Cantz, Berlin 2022, 180 S., 120 Abb., 48 €]

This is exactly what Tewe’s large format photographs do, which show the building from below, from the side and from above. And also dedicate yourself to the details of the parallel world at the edge of the railways, noise barriers, rest area furniture, gas pumps, building materials, parking spaces on the floor, emergency telephones, highway churches, signs.

And almost poetic still lifes like the dark tire marks on a parking lot, the double circles in an oil puddle glistening in the colors of the rainbow and the decorative cracks in a lost side mirror.

tunneled. Plauensche Grund on the A17.Photo: Michael Tewes

In the light of the majestic concrete arches that rise above green forests and behind half-timbered idylls, concepts such as “grandeur” and “elegance” certainly come to mind. The fascination also lies in the dimensions and the large amount of material used, says the photographer.

Non-seats at the closed transit area

But an aesthetic exaggeration of mobility routes is not Tewe’s intention. On the contrary: the images reveal the overarching, even destructive, power of the lanes. They also show the sad non-places that occur on the edge of the transit space that seal fields, forests and meadows.

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Under the pressure of rising average speeds and growing traffic, post-war highway construction has moved far away from the ideals of the 1920s and 1930s, when civil engineers and landscape architects spread a reconciliation of nature and technology and planned routes based on natural beauty.

tank and rest. Parking furniture on the A6 near Silberbach.Photo: Michael Tewes

A romanticizing motif that suited the National Socialists, who devoted the greatest propaganda effort to the construction of “Führerens Gader” together with “Volkswagen”. The fact that the first autobahns opened in 1921 (Avus as a non-public racetrack and test track) and in 1932 (between Cologne and Bonn) – and in 1924 an exclusive road in Italy – does not change the legend that the Nazis invented the autobahn .

In 1996, Erhard Schütz and Eckhard Gruber analyzed their propagandistic image of traveling by car on curved concrete strips connected to one’s homeland and blending harmoniously into the landscape in their book “The Myth of the Reichsautobahn – Construction and Staging of the ‘Streets” of the leader ‘”.

The intimate relationship with the street

In “Auto Land Scape”, Thomas Zeller’s introductory essay addresses this myth, which laid the groundwork for the Germans’ close relationship with the autobahn. A road that today is largely separated from the landscape by noise barriers, crash barriers and other structures.

That the Autobahn must disappoint the mobile society’s expectations of effective progress is due to the snakes, which in traffic jams at zero kilometers per hour take the structure’s meaning to the absurd. Traffic, for its part, has long dominated the building that serves it.

Michael Tewes largely leaves such hidden objects of people and cars to the news. The emptiness and the gray shades of concrete and asphalt have an effect on him. The Autobahn drama, in which people fall victim to accidents, appears only as an interior image of an empty, wrecked vehicle. It can be fatal to stop suddenly on the highways.

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