Of shamrocks and spaghetti buns

Es is one of the few German terms that have achieved worldwide fame and acceptance: Autobahn. Anyone who uses the word, whether in the USA or in South Africa, in New Zealand or Argentina, will be understood. It is about the transport backbone of Europe. Because between Flensburg and Füssen, between Aachen and Frankfurt an der Oder, the traffic flows of our continent mix. The function of the German Autobahn is by no means restricted to Germany. What this road network, which is 12,993 kilometers long, according to the Federal Ministry of Transport, also determines the economic well-being and woe in Spain, Greece, Italy as well as in Scandinavia, Poland and Benelux.

In view of this importance, it is surprising that so far no one has dared to take a photographic inventory of the German autobahn. Perhaps many have found the task too daunting. In any case, that would not be absurd if you consider that the photographer Karl Johaentges worked on his illustrated book “Die Deutsche Autobahn” for ten years. For the book that has just been published, he has unwound 30,000 kilometers on the highways over the course of this time.

But it was even more important to find the positions that were able to illustrate the main topic that was currently being worked on as aptly as possible. Whatever one might think of in connection with the autobahn – traffic jams, construction sites, re-routing, renovations, all kinds of intersections, viaducts, tunnels, signage, car-free Sundays, snow removal, wetness, accidents – everything can be found on at least one of the 192 pages of this great book. The unfinished for ages, the A1 in the Eifel, the abandoned one at the former Dreilinden checkpoint, or the first, the “Nurautomobilstraße” between Cologne and Bonn, now known as the A 555, have also found their way into the volume. Just like rest areas, the truck stops that were added a little later, motorway churches or night construction sites.

Photo gallery

a book

“The German Autobahn”

The portrait of this world-famous feature of Germany also shows those who live directly on the edge or under the autobahn. Sometimes voluntarily, sometimes forced, makeshift or generously protected by noise barriers. Photographer Johaentges has also given space to those people who work on or on the autobahn. In addition, the book shows bizarre things, such as the largest Hindu festival in Europe, which every year goes over the colorful stage under a motorway bridge of the A 2 near Hamm and is reminiscent of the collective cleaning baths in the Ganges. Except that the “Ganges” is being replaced by the Datteln-Hamm Canal.

Karl Johaentges did not limit himself to the often laborious taking of photographs – many of the pictures were taken with the help of a gyrocopter, for example. He also tried to produce accompanying texts with depth. Because the German autobahn did not fall from the sky. Rather, it is part of a millennia-old story that began with the beaten path.

Incidentally, the construction of the motorway in the narrower sense was by no means a “flash of inspiration” from Hitler. The origin of the idea lies in Kaiser Germany. The idea of ​​an “automobile traffic and practice road” was born in 1909, and the AVUS began building in 1912. The USA, with its high density of motorization, had already built the first expressway in 1906, and in Italy the first section of the “Autostrada” went into operation in 1924. In 1929 the planning of the four-lane and completely crossing-free road Cologne – Bonn began, three years later the then Mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, opened it. There was no median, even with crash barriers. A center line separated both directions. Tempo 120 was allowed. A level to which Germany could fall back almost 90 years later.


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