How futurologists imagined today’s travel in 1960

We don’t know exactly how we’re going to travel in the near future. Trend researchers and futurologists pretend to see more clearly. Experts trying to paint a picture of the future based on data.

Such experts have always existed. Already two generations ago they described the world in which we live today. Our life today was in their imagination “the world of tomorrow”. That was the name of a scrapbook in which knowledge about the future was compiled and illustrated around 1960.

It was a favorite project of pasta patron Karl Christian Birkel. Attached pictures should boost the sale of his “Hörnchen” and “Zöpfli”. With Stollwerck’s chocolate, Kölln’s oatmeal and Reemtsma’s cigarettes, the collection cards had worked for a long time. So now for egg noodles. Birkel chose topics that corresponded to “adventurous hearts”: Indians, pirates, distant countries – and the future.

The future of the world at Birkel

The future then was a land of unlimited promise. Birkel had the forecasts compiled by technical specialists and engaged imaginative draftsmen who had already enriched magazines such as “Hobby” and “Das Neue Universum” in a visionary way.

The optimism that came together in text and image has seldom existed between two cardboard covers. Bright, healthy and beautiful, cities and countries are welcoming to curious travelers thanks to technological marvels.

Let’s try it! We are the lucky ones who were prophesied about this world. Let’s set off, preferably as the experts promised. Accordingly, there are no petrol or electric cars parked in front of our house.

According to the forecasts of the past, it would have to be a car with a gas turbine, 25,000 revolutions per minute, as powerful as a jet. “Its high speeds make traveling feel like floating.” However: “When you start it, you hear a high-pitched whistling noise.” Only when you start it?

A bicycle-powered airplane and flying cars

For the sake of our neighbors we do without. We prefer to pedal sustainably – and still float! For the little Sunday outing we get what the scientists have guaranteed everyone out of the garage: the pedal plane.

“Here the mechanism of a bicycle drive is transferred to an airplane. You can fly alone with this air bike or take a passenger with you. Even with a headwind, progressing thirty meters up does not require great effort. The speed only depends on the consistent performance of the occupants.”

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Aha. So there could be a marital dispute. Also to surprising encounters. Because the air corridors are well frequented. Not only air bicycles are on the move, if we believe the deceased experts, fast flying cars also enliven the sky. Should we take one of these for a short trip? “During the flight, the landing gear remains retracted. A control handle proves its worth in gusty crosswinds.” We should be able to do that.

When landing at the edge of the forest, we would only have to pay attention to the purple sheep crossing the path. Sheep have been bred in bright colors since the turn of the millennium, with burgundy, cinnamon and pine green wool, “always in the latest fashion colors”.

Nuclear power donates energy while traveling

At our picnic area we set up the sun mirror frying pan. This is a swiveling concave mirror with a diameter of one meter, with the hotplate at the focal point. The concentrated rays of sunshine should grill our steak medium-well within a few minutes.

We brought the vegetables from our own atomic garden. Hi? Yes. “In the middle of the garden there is a steel pipe with a piece of cobalt 60.” This radiant part is wound up from the cellar to the tip of the pole on a pull rope in the morning. A few hours are enough: “Then potatoes are the size of cabbages, cherries are like tomatoes, apples are like pumpkins.”

Were the experts too euphoric? Possibly. In the 1960s, the peaceful use of nuclear power was still an unalloyed promise of happiness. The futurologists prophesied for the time after the turn of the millennium, i.e. for us: “Heating and air conditioning systems will be just as nuclear-powered as fly and mosquito killers.”

Farewell to the fly swatter. And bring me the “small nuclear generator”, the “useful energy dispenser for every occasion”! We take it with us on longer trips or when we go out to sea on our floating saucer.

Cruising on a gigantic hydrofoil

This saucer is seen – or seen, the scholars would have been right – in swarms on lakes and bays. Everyone has one. We fit them effortlessly in the trunk. It is inflatable, circular and equipped with a powerful motor and two rotating chairs. If you have to go to the toilet on the way, please crouch on the edge, preferably in such a way that there is no imbalance.

For bolder adventures, we have the private submarine at our disposal. “One will buy the submarine for one’s own pleasure off the shelf in the department store”, the leisure researchers once prophesied. Only beginners go diving in coastal waters with the “Pegasus” or “Minisub” models. “The passionate weekend drivers buy the fast two-seater ‘Sea Pup’. He can dive two thousand meters deep and stay under water for eight hours.”

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We are less brave. We prefer to go on cruises, in the gigantic hydrofoils on stilts that are now the norm. Or we can cross the Atlantic in a nuclear aircraft at three times the speed of sound in two hours. “A small nuclear reactor in the back generates the hot air. Mixed with uranium dust, it flows through the gas turbine, is freed from the uranium dust, rushes out through the nozzle and propels the plane forward with tremendous force.” There you go.

Plastic igloos and thawed floors in Siberia

With similar technology, we whiz on rails through Alaska, which has finally been developed. A 7000 hp locomotive pulls the panoramic cars. “The heart of the machine is a reactor with stacked uranium rods resting in the central lead chamber.” Traveling can be so easy!

Even the most distant countries can be reached within a day – if only the present were what the past had in mind. For afternoon tea we pay a visit to the Inuit. Facing progress, they no longer painstakingly build their houses out of blocks of ice. Each family now has its own plastic igloo. “It’s made out of lightweight foam plastic panels, the seams of which are covered with a special putty.”

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In summer, Greenland shines in lush green

Our Arctic journey may have lost a little of the rustic exoticism. But the Arctic itself has also changed. Thanks to the clever diversion of the Gulf Stream, “Greenland has finally awakened from its frozen state”. We stroll through orchards and vegetable fields. Greenland is green again!

Just like Siberia, where once frozen soils have turned into fertile farmland. The future planners of yore found freedom from ice desirable. The Birkel booklet is of course silent about the rising sea level due to the large amount of meltwater.

The Amazon rainforest? Overrated

And how is it there, where it has always been a bit too warm, on the Amazon? Relaxing! We do not need yellow fever vaccinations or antimalarials for our trip. “The jungle hell of yore has lost its horrors.” Here, too, we walk through luminous fields and orchards. “Eight hundred million hectares of forest have been conquered by helicopters, huge road machines, special watercraft and an army of engineers, technicians and foresters.”

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Now we follow as excursionists with our study trip, happily welcomed by the indigenous people. “The Amazon Indians, formerly equipped with poisoned arrows and extremely shy of people, now live in the most modern settlements as skillful and hard-working lumberjacks.” Rainforest? Overrated.

Is at least the desert still a desert? Or is it starting to look the same all over the world as it does here? We travel to the Sahara to test it. Surprise! Real camel caravans still make a pilgrimage through the blowing sand! What for? Probably so we can take pictures.

We film them dust-free from the suspension railway. While the camel drivers struggle through the dunes like in an oriental fairy tale, we glide from oasis to oasis in air-conditioned and lounge chairs. Each offers a hop-on hop-off option, “a total of 14 stops on the Oran to Timbuktu route.”

Vacation on the moon or Mars

We’re driving through today. Because near Timbuktu is one of the now numerous spaceports. Mars is being colonized. The moon has been there for a long time. Our friends recently moved to one of the vibrant cities that have blossomed beneath glass domes.

We can spend the weekend with them. It will be something different, also in culinary terms, since the plants there grow more luxuriantly thanks to the lower gravity: “A radish reaches the height of a date palm tree, and an onion plant stretches nine meter long tubular leaves into the moon sky.”

Can we be excited? Yes. At least on the forecasts with which today’s experts are wrong. “The futurologists of the past didn’t have the data and bug fixes that we do,” Hermann Kahn taught in 1972. A futurology superstar, Kahn was one of Richard Nixon’s highest-paid advisors. He predicted victory over Cancer by 1980 and colonization of the Moon by 1990. It doesn’t matter.

His pessimistic colleagues from the “Club of Rome” were also wrong. At the same time, they calculated the end of all resources for the mid-1980s. “These will be years of the most severe economic crises.” There were boom years. “The results of futurology look like a pearl necklace of errors,” criticizes the sociologist Richard Sennet.

Since today’s forecasts are currently quite bleak, we can look forward to the opposite. Not only will it be different, but there is a high probability that it will be much better than what is now predicted. We can plan trips in good spirits that still seem impossible. If Mars seems too banal to you, just spend your next vacation on Saturn.

Dietmar Bittrich published the book “Do we still have to go there? Short stories of travel”.

Lunar Tourism – A race in the hot phase

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Source: WELT/Thomas Vedder

This text is from WELT AM SONNTAG. We are happy to deliver them to your home on a regular basis.

World on Sunday January 3, 2021

Source: World on Sunday

This article was first published in January 2021.


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