Posts Tagged ‘Konrad Adenauer’

Two Common Autobahn Fallacies

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

I just have to mention the word “Autobahn,” and the eyes of my male friends light up instantly. “Still no speed limit, right?” Their question sounds like a curious mix of awe and envy because Germany’s Autobahnen (motorways) are famous for their absence of speed limits.

Autobahn Fallacy # 1

“True,” I want to tell my friends, “but also a bit misleading. There is hardly a significant stretch of Autobahn that allows you to press the pedal to the metal.” But I usually just let it go. Why not let them feel the excitement of the wind in their hair. If only for a brief moment. In reality, German motorways have no posted speed limit, UNLESS…. and that one little word changes everything. There is no speed limit for cars and motorbikes UNLESS the motorway traverses an urbanized area or unless the stretch is accident-prone or under construction. And since German summers are short, construction zones are ubiquitous. There are few stretches that allow a motorist to test the car’s muscle.

Autobahn by Langsdorf Credit: Wikipedia

Autobahn by Langsdorf
Credit: Wikipedia

Autobahn Fallacy # 2

Generally, Adolf Hitler is credited with the planning, design and construction of the German Autobahn. Another half-truth. The Nazis initially rejected the Autobahn as a “luxury road.” But after coming to power in 1933, Hitler embraced the Autobahn project as his idea. His propaganda machines called it Strassen des Fuehrers – roads of the Leader. Although about a quarter of Germany’s current motorway network was originally constructed during the Third Reich, the initial planning and design work had been done much earlier. Stufa (Studiengesellschaft fuer den Automobilstrassenbau – study group for road construction) began planning a German highway network as early as 1924, long before Hitler. Next, a private initiative (HaFraBa) designed and partially built a “car only road” from Hamburg via Frankfurt am Main to Basel in Switzerland. HaFraBa completed parts of that road in the late 1930s and early 1940’s prior to the start of World War II. And the very first stretch of today’s Autobahn was completed in 1932, also prior to Hitler’s ascent to power. It stretched between Cologne and Bonn and was inaugurated on 6 August 1932 by Konrad Adenauer, then Mayor of Cologne and later Chancellor of West Germany. The stretch of Autobahn was initially known as Kraftfahrstrasse (motor vehicle road). Today, that same stretch is called Bundesautobahn (Federal motorway) 555.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


First free West German Federal Elections

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The first free West German Federal elections took place on 14 August 1949. Following the end of World War II in 1945, the country had been divided into four occupation zones: American, British, French and Soviet. Only the people in the Federal Republic of Germany (the three West German zones) participated in the elections. The turnout was 78.5%. Earlier, Bonn had become the provisional capital of the new democratic state. As a territory under Allied supervision, Berlin’s deputies did not get to cast their votes in the elections.

Most West German parties at the time of the 1949 West German Federal elections were committed to democracy. However, they disagreed on the kind of democracy. The Christian Democratic (CDU) leader and former mayor of the city of Cologne, 73-year-old Konrad Adenauer, was party chairman in the British Zone. He wanted a moderate, non-denominational, humanist Christian democracy. The Social Democratic (SPD) leader, Kurt Schumacher, pushed for a left-wing, patriotic party. He strongly opposed the earlier merger of the SPD with the Communist Party (KPD) in the Soviet zone and called Adenauer “Chancellor of the Allies.”

CDU/CSU President Konrad Adenauer

Konrad Adenauer
First President of the Federal Republic of Germany

In the first free West German Federal elections, the Christian Democrats formed a coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Conservatives (DP). Together, they obtained 31% of the votes. The Social Democrats achieved 29.2%. Therefore, on 15 September 1949, Konrad Adenauer was elected the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. He had made sure that the votes of the predominantly Social Democratic deputies from West Berlin did not count and later stated that he “naturally” had voted for himself. Adenauer held the office until 1963 and was re-elected three times. Schumacher assumed the chair as the minority leader of the SPD, ran for President of West Germany, but was defeated by FDP chairman Theodor Heuss.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.