The volume, the constant roar of the traffic – the cattle critters don’t seem to care. The main thing is dry. The stoic herd, which is lying in a meadow at the Duisburger Kreuz, has obviously accepted the gigantic structure above their heads as a protection against the weather. The fat restoration clamps that stick next to the concrete pillars under the building pose no threat to them.
It is different for the viewer of the picture from Michael Tewes’ opulent illustrated book “Auto Land Scape”, who meanwhile thinks of the renovation backlog of the former German model infrastructure when the keywords motorway and bridges are mentioned.
The selection from the 800 photos that were taken during Tewe’s six-year photographic exploration of the no man’s land on the streets is dedicated to the autobahn as an architecture in its own right. “Auto Land Scape” can also be seen as an exhibition in the Deutsches Museum in Munich until October 31st.
If you roar along the railway in your car, you will definitely get an idea that it is the largest contiguous 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 automaniacs. Against all ecological and economic reason. It is impossible for anyone driving on the road to grasp the effect of the road on the landscape.
This is exactly what Tewe’s large-format photographs do, depicting 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, the noise protection walls, rest area furniture, gas pumps, building materials, multi-storey car parks, emergency telephones, motorway churches, signs.
And almost poetic still lifes like the dark tire marks in a parking lot, the double circles of a pool of oil shimmering in rainbow colors and the decorative cracks in a lost side mirror.
In view of the majestic concrete arches that rise above green forests and behind half-timbered idylls, terms such as “grandness” and “elegance” certainly come to mind. The fascination also lies in the dimensions and the sheer amount of material that was used, says the photographer.
But an aesthetic exaggeration of the mobility routes is not Tewe’s intention. On the contrary: the photos unmask the landscape-overarching, even destructive force of the traffic lanes. They also show the dreary non-places that arise on the edge of the transit space that seals fields, forests and meadows.
Under the pressure of increasing average speeds and growing traffic, post-war motorway construction has moved far away from the ideal of the 1920s and 1930s, when civil engineers and landscape architects propagated a reconciliation of nature and technology and planned routes based on natural beauty.
A romanticizing motif that suited the National Socialists, who devoted the greatest propaganda efforts to the construction of the “Streets of the Führer” together with the “Volkswagen”. The fact that the first autobahns opened in 1921 (the Avus as a non-public race 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 comprehensively analyzed their propagandistic image of traveling by car on curved concrete strips that are 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’”.
In “Auto Land Scape”, the introductory essay by Thomas Zeller takes up this myth, which planted the seeds for the close relationship Germans have with the Autobahn. A road that today is largely separated from the landscape by noise barriers, crash barriers and other structures.
The fact that the Autobahn has to disappoint the mobile society’s expectations of efficient progress is due to the tin snakes, which in traffic jams at zero kilometers per hour take the meaning of the structure to the point of absurdity. 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 shades of gray of concrete and asphalt have an effect on him. The Autobahn drama, on which people fall victim to accidents, only appears as an inside view of an empty wrecked vehicle. Stopping suddenly on expressways can be deadly.