German Myth 8
The Autobahn Myth
An Autobahn Timeline
German Misnomers, Myths, and Mistakes
Copyright © 2001-2005 Hyde Flippo
The Automobil-Verkehrs- und Übungsstraße GmbH is founded on 23 January in Berlin. The private AVUS GmbH is supported by racing and financial interests. Its engineers design a race/test track consisting of two 8-meter-wide lanes separated by a 9-meter median strip.
Construction of the "intersection-free" AVUS begins in Berlin. The AVUS runs 9.8 km from a former railroad line (Halensee-Nikolaisee) to the Teltow Canal in Charlottenburg. Not fully completed until 1921 because of World War I, the AVUS is essentially a closed race and test track. In 1921, the industrialist Hugo Stinnes purchases the roadway and expands it to four lanes running a distance of 19.5 km. Only much later does it become part of Berlin's public road network. Today the former AVUS is part of Berlin's A115 autobahn.
The 130 km (80 mi) Italian autostrada between Milan and the northern Italian lakes becomes the world's first limited-access expressway. But unlike the later German autobahn, it is a toll road and does not have divided lanes until later. Dedicated on 21 September 1924, the autostrada between Milan and Varese is designed by Piero Puricelli, a friend of Benito Mussolini.
The Studiengesellschaft für den Automobilstraßenbau (Stufa) begins planning and theoretical research for a German highway network. In 1926 it publishes the "Vorentwurf zu einem Kraftwagenstraßennetz Deutschlands"an ambitious plan for a 22,500 km German superhighway network. (Today's German autobahn network is only half that length.) Later in the 1920s Stufa would become HaFraBa (below). 1924 is also the year when Germany's first traffic signal goes into service at Berlin's busiest intersection, the Potsdamer Platz.
Under the leadership of Willy Hof, chairman of the German Chamber of Commerce, the Verein zur Vorbereitung der Autostraße Hansestädte-Frankfurt-Basel (HaFraBa) is founded on 6 November. It will do the actual planning and research required to build a modern highway system for Germany. HaFraBa's name in English would be the "Association for the Planning of the Hanseatic Cities-Frankfurt-Basel Motorway." Although HaFraBa originally planned to finance its "cars-only" highways with toll charges and restaurant and gas station income, German law soon prevents charging any toll for motorways. (Today's autobahn is financed by taxes on gasoline/Benzin and oil/Öl, which helps explain their high cost in Germany. There is now a German autobahn toll system for trucks only. Austria and Switzerland charge for a vignette or sticker required for cars driving on the autobahn.)
Planning begins for a new limited access highway running between Aachen and Cologne. Because of the worldwide depression, the project is later limited to a shorter 20 km stretch between Bonn and Cologne. Construction finally starts in 1929 but the project won't be completed until 1932 (see below).
First use of the term Autobahn. HaFraBa's public relations head, Kurt Kaftan, coins the term and also uses it as the title of the organization's official magazine, which begins publication in this year. HaFraBa begins planning a Germany-wide network of free, limited access, multi-lane highways, a plan that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis will later claim as their own.
Construction of the Cologne-Bonn autobahn begins in Octoberusing mostly human labor and very few machines in an effort to create jobs in a period of high unemployment. The mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), is a big supporter of the project. This first German autobahn segment will be completed in 1932, a year before Hitler comes to power.
On the 4th of July, the Reichstag, with the NSDAP (Nazi) party in the majority, votes down HaFraBa's plans for a German autobahn network. Little do they know that only three years later Hitler will take power and ceremoniously open the first Reichsautobahn near Frankfurt (in Sept. 1933).
The First International Autobahn Conference in Geneva, Switzerland considers a European system of superhighways with twin goals: job creation and promoting international friendship. This initiative is sponsored by the International Employment Office in Geneva and its director, Albert Thomas.
The Bonn-Cologne autobahn, begun in 1929, is completed in August. Cologne mayor Konrad Adenauer opens the new motorway on 6 Aug. with the words: "So werden die Straßen der Zukunft aussehen." ("This is how the roads of the future will look.") Today this segment is part of the A555 autobahn. Adenauer will later become West Germany's first chancellor, serving as Bundeskanzler from 1949 to 1963.
Adolf Hitler becomes Reichskanzler under Hindenburg. In June the Nazis take over HaFraBa and rename it the Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Autobahnbaus (GeZuVor), placing it under the Reichsbahn (state railway). Soon the new Gesellschaft Reichsautobahnen begins to centralize highway planning and road construction. Hitler inaugurates "his" autobahn network with the so-called "first cut of the spade" (erster Spatenstich) near Frankfurt on 23 September. This would have been impossible without the earlier work of HaFraBa and Stufa in the 1920s.
In June the Nazis name the civil engineer Dr.-Ingr. Fritz Todt (1891-1942) to the office of Generalinspekteur für das deutsche Straßenwesen, making him the "supreme commander" in all matters related to highway planning and construction in the Third Reich, and second only to Hitler himself. The former head of HaFraBa, Willy Hof, steps down after realizing that his ideas are now being ignored by the Nazis.
After Hindenburg's death in 1934, Hitler assumes total power as the leader (Führer) of Germany. The first new laws regulating autobahn planning and construction in the Third Reich are introduced. From 1933 to 1938 Germany adds 3000 km (1860 mi) to its autobahn network. (Later, in 1938, the creation of the Organisation Todt combines German military and highway planning.)
The job of GeZuVor is largely taken over by regional Oberste Bauleitungen der Reichsautobahnen (OBR), with Fritz Todt overseeing all autobahn projects.
Thomas Harris MacDonald, the chief of the U.S. Bureau of Roads, travels to Germany to see the Reichsautobahn designed by long-time Nazi Fritz Todt. During his visit MacDonald meets with both Todt and the Führer.
In September Germany invades Poland and starts the Second World War (der Zweite Weltkrieg).
By this year, only another 800 km (500 mi) had been added to the autobahn total since 1938. The Third Reich was not able to finance both the war and its planned 6000 km autobahn system. Ironically, the war prevented the completion of the autobahn that was supposed to help support it. Even with the use of Russian prisoner of war labor, Germany's resources were strained to the limit. With 3860 km completed (much of it war-damaged, incomplete, or unusable), all autobahn construction was halted on 3 Dec. 1941. In Germany today, there are about 11,000 km (6830 mi) of autobahn.
Fritz Todt is killed in a plane crash in East Prussia on 8 Feb. There is speculation that Hitler had a hand in his death. His successor is the architect Albert Speer.
Copyright © 2001-2005 Hyde Flippo
BACK > The Autobahn Myth
WEB > The Autobahn Today (The German Way)
German Misnomers, Myths, and Mistakes
Those tales you've heard about German chocolate cake, Frau Blucher, jelly doughnuts, and Thomas Nast may not be true.
Subscribe to a free newsletter!
OUR GERMAN FORUMS