main page Zeitgeister The Cultural Magazine of the Goethe-Institut

© Unsplash / Jeremy Bishop Highway


This edition is dedicated to the motorway, with all its magic and contradictions. We take you on a journey through almost 100 years of “Autobahn” history in Germany, with a few detours onto the highways of Africa, Asia and America. Safe travels!

Berthold Franke Legend, Heimat, traffic jam

From the darkest chapter of the 1930s and unlimited speeding across the German countryside to kilometre-long congestion – Berthold Franke looks back on almost one hundred years of (West) German Autobahn history and deep into the German soul.

© Unsplash / Arkadiusz Radek Legend, Heimat, traffic jam – the German Autobahn

Music and Motorways The very best highway songs

Babe, that highway’s a-callin’, sings Joan Baez. Jump in the car and pop a cassette in, we proudly present the very best highway songs for your enjoyment. So wind down the window, feel the wind on your face, turn up the music and enjoy. It’s called freedom.

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images Joan Baez 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama

Saskia Trebing Art on the motorway

Motorway artists don’t have it easy. They have to grab the attention of passing cars with their artworks. What do they do? See for yourselves!

Image by Verena Hütter Cubes and cylinders by Guy de Rougemont on the French Autoroute A4 near the city of Reims

Spillages Easy go

Drums with leaked contents, escaped pigs, slimy messes: goods transport accidents frequently have surprising consequences. We’ve gathered together a few particularly nice examples for you.

© Unsplash / Simona Sergi   Spills – Easy go

Benjamin Steininger Curves and Concrete

What do you know about the chemistry of gravel and the art of curve design? Not much? Then read this article, because the Autobahn knows a lot about us, we know little about it, and that’s going to change right now.

© Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash Curves and Concrete

Psychological test Which motorway are you?

If you were a section of motorway in Germany, which one would you be? The different parts of Germany have a very diverse character. Where do you fit in best? Answer the questions and find out with our psychological test.

Illustration by Koadmo Psychological test – Which motorway are you?

Heimat Autobahn

Pop culture and Autobahn Autobahn – The Band

Everyone knows the Kraftwerk track “Autobahn”, so we can skip that feature. But wait, wasn’t there something else? In his article, Stefan Kloo reveals the legendary and curious history of the band Autobahn. 

© Universal Studios, 1998 Screenshot from the Big Lebowski showing the Autobahn Album cover

Marta Krus A Journey Through Nothingness

Motorways are non-places, because no one ever spends time there. Yet – or perhaps precisely because of that – stories are written on them, one story for each car. An essay about a car journey from Poland to Germany, about leaving and arriving. 


Christian Werner Motorway seen through the windscreen

Jan Künemund Idyllic wilderness or the rest stop

Need to stretch your legs, have a quick espresso or pop to the loo? That’s by no means all that happens at motorway services and lay-bys. Such rest areas lead a secretive double life: in the gay scene they are known as cruising spots where people meet to have sex. Jan Künemund has documented the history of motorway services as places of sexual dissidence.

Christian Werner The Garbsen Nord motorway service area

Scott Carrier Germans on Harleys

In southern Utah, the highways pass through a breathtaking landscape. On a deserted stretch of road lies a German dentist. He has parked his Harley Davidson and is staring up at the sky in awe. Scott Carrier tells his story.

© Unsplash / Jorgen Hendriksen Germans on Harleys

Mental Jamming

Playing with Numbers Statistical poetry

Head for a traffic jam with Jörn Müller and see what happens when statistics become unruly: circumnavigating the equator, multi-level congestion and minimalism in spreadsheets.

© Unsplash / Girl with red hat Statistics Poetry

The end of the traffic report Standstill in Lederhose

Now that Deutschlandfunk has taken its iconic traffic reports off the air, some obscure places with marvelous names like Wandersleben, Hannoversch Münden-Hedemünden, Herzsprung, and Lederhose have also disappeared from the media — if not the map — of Germany. This is an homage.

© Eric Terrade / Unsplash Standstill in Lederhose

Video Up the junction

A car enters a motorway intersection, drives onto the exit slip road, sweeps arounds a huge loop ramp – and then? Watch this video to find out what happens.

© iStock / Fascinadora Up the junction

Congestion research How jams happen

Congestion expert Michael Schreckenberg explains the causes of tailbacks: roadworks, accidents and weather are amongst them – and all of us: the drivers.

© Unsplash / Davide Ragusa When will we get moving again? Nothing annoys drivers quite as much as pointlessly sitting in a traffic jam.

Around the World

Three Portraits Life on the Autobahn

For many people, the Autobahn is an important part of their everyday life. A lorry driver, a road patrol driver, and an environmental activist talk about their lives with, near, and on the Autobahn.

Photo: Fabian Steiner Road patrol driver Kathleen Andersohn

Climate and Autobahn Tree stitting in Germany

When sections of forest are to be sacrificed for construction projects, they are usually not far away: activists who occupy the forest. A featuure about forest occupations, everyday life in the forest and alternatives to the capitalist system. 

Photo: Lena Maurer The photo shows a tree house high up in the branches of a pine forest.

Photo reportage Tokyo’s expressway network

Tokyo’s city motorway was the first Metropolitan Expressway in the world. Today it’s part of a dense network of highways extending throughout the metropolitan region – in which there are 40 million inhabitants. In this photo documentary article, Yu Minobe brings you some contemporary impressions of this road network and explains its history.

Photo: Yu Minobe Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway extends for a total of 327 kilometres and is characterised by its snakelike curves

Motorway in Kenya Nairobi Expressway

The Nairobi Expressway is intended to relieve traffic in the Kenyan capital. But right from the start, there were also critical voices. In this photo reportage, Julian Manjahi and Eliphas Nyamogo show what the structure looks like and what people have to say about it.

© Jalapix / Manjahi Njoroge Anastacia Kemunto

Christian Werner From L.A. to Garbsen Nord

Photographer Christian Werner loves the motorway. He has put together a “best of” compilation of his photos for our Autobahn Special, featuring a range of impressions from Los Angeles to Garbsen Northbound Services.

Photograph: Christian Werner The Garbsen Nord motorway service area

Photo Reportage South Africa’s diverse road network

Roads are the beating heart of South Africa's infrastructure. Barry Christianson has embarked on an incredible journey across the country to capture the country's diverse roads – from dusty tracks to modern city motorways.

Photo (detail): © Barry Christianson Waste trucks make their way down the road towards a waste processing plant.