Das Wagensreich

Today the San Francisco Chronicle published my review of Andrea Hiott’s Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle. If nothing else, this must be one of the few pieces ever written that mentions both Bruce Springsteen and Adolf Hitler – and in the same sentence, no less.

You can find the review here. Here’s a bit from the piece.

The Beetle’s rise is in many ways synonymous with the ascent of the Third Reich, and the bulk of Thinking Small traces the political and economic conditions of the Reich. Apologies to Bruce Springsteen, but Hitler was born to run. The monster couldn’t drive, but he loved car culture. Hitler’s psycho-pedantry furnishes a minor theme. For instance, after seizing the Chancellorship, Hitler addressed the Berlin Auto show.  “In the next five years,” Hiott writes, “millions of Germans would die in Hitler’s war, but there he was, lecturing them about traffic accidents.”

Hitler’s autoeroticism connected to his martial dreams. By motorizing Germany and building easily navigable autobahns – the creation of a WagensReich – Hitler satisfied his fetish for German technical superiority while mobilizing a wartime population. This is well-turned soil, but Hiott masterfully aggregates an impressive amount of scholarship then overlays the Beetle’s history of failed designs and blown production schedules onto the well-known contours of the 20thth century.


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