1981-1990ArchitectureDocumentaryGermanyHartmut Bitomsky

Hartmut Bitomsky – Reichsautobahn aka Highways to the Reich (1986)

“We shall make sure that this work will not be separated from those who built it.” (Adolf Hitler)

Legend has it that Hitler came up with the idea of the autobahn while he was in prison in the twenties, and for this reason it was also called “Adolf Hitler’s road”. But neither Hitler nor any other Nazi invented the autobahn – the industry had already worked out the plans before 1933. What the Nazis, however, did invent was the “aesthetic of the autobahn”: it was supposed to be a cultural monument – “not the shortest but the noblest connection between two points”. The autobahn was planned as an artistic work of construction and was elevated to an object of art.

Did it have any function other than this? Was it a kind of façade with nothing behind it? Just as with every vacuum, that of the autobahn had to be filled up with something as well, and here it was with myths, pictures, legends and harassment of tourists and with a crazy economy.

In the story by Reinhard Lettau about the construction of just such a Potemkin village, in the end the people who have built a small town like this begin to settle down and proceed to fill the phantasms with life. This is also what happened with the autobahn.

The economoc significance of road construction at that time was modest, its impact on the employment situation rather marginal, and from the viewpoint of transport engineering the autobahn was unnecessary – after all, who owned an automobile? It also did not play an important role with regard to the military (although this was asserted again and again, especially by the nazis themselves) – during the war the autobahn was abandoned and neglected. What function did the autobahn have? It is almost impossible to admit that such an enormous project could have been planned without knowing anything about how it would be used.

1985/86 35mm, b/w, standard format, optical sound, 91 min.
Written, Edited, Narrated and Directed by: Hartmut Bitomsky
Camera by: Carlos Bustamante
Big Sky Film Berlin, West German Broadcasting (WDR) Cologne

It received the Adolf Grimme Award in Gold

While it lacks the range and analytical bite of his previous Images of Germany (1983), Hartmut Bitomsky’s 1986 feature documentary about the enormous auto route built by the Nazis does create some interesting reflections on this massive and monumental project. Alternating archival footage of the construction and contemporary interviews with some of the workers with kitschy propaganda films made by the Third Reich, which attempted to “sell” the Autobahn to a recalcitrant public, Bitomsky puts together a kind of cultural history that may be long-winded and dry in spots, but that still adds up to an absorbing document about a monument designed to provide “not the shortest but the noblest connection between two points.”

1.26GB | 1h 27mn | 640×480 | avi


Subtitles:English Hard

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