Travel Texts and Moving Cultures

German Literature and the Mobilities Turn

by Anita Perkins (Author)
Monographs X, 240 Pages


How does the experience of travel transform culture over time? This question is at the heart of this book, which brings together two main areas of scholarship: the cultural analysis of German literature and film and the emerging field of mobilities studies, which places movement and travel at the centre of human experience. The author grounds her analysis in two main concepts or ways of being: dwelling, or remaining in one place, which connotes stability, groundedness and permanence; and mobility, or travel to other destinations, which connotes movement, change and uncertainty.
Travel Texts and Moving Cultures provides a comparison of travel writing from two significant periods of global social change: historical (1770–1830) and contemporary (1985–2010). The study includes literature such as Georg Forster’s A Voyage Round the World (1777), which recounts the young German scientist’s journey to New Zealand with Captain Cook; Erich Loest’s Zwiebelmuster [Blue Onion] (1985), which exposes the travel desires of East Germans before the Wende via a semi-autobiographical narrator; and Bernhard Schlink’s Die Heimkehr [Homecoming] (2006), which recontextualises and deconstructs Homer’s Odyssey in the present moment through a son’s search for his father. Whereas a culture founded on mobilities and a desire for travel emerges in the historical period, the contemporary period reveals an increasingly mobile world in which travel is regarded as a human right. The approach taken in this book sheds light on the ethics of ever-increasing mobility and problematises the possibility of homecoming.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction: Goethe’s Stein des guten Glücks
  • Part I An Emerging Mobilities Culture
  • Chapter 1: The Sattelzeit, 1770–1830
  • Chapter 2: Sattelzeit Journeys
  • Part II The Contemporary Period of New Mobilities
  • Chapter 3: The Turning Point, 1985–1995
  • Chapter 4: Post-Wende: Global Crisis and the Changing Role of Writers and Filmmakers
  • Conclusion: Mobility and Mobilities Today
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Thank you always to my wonderful family and friends.

For their editorial work and for providing me with the incredible opportunity to publish this book, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to series editors Professor Tim Mehigan and Professor Gerhard Schulz, and to commissioning editor Laurel Plapp.

I would like to thank my amazing PhD supervisors, Dr Simon Ryan and Professor Tim Mehigan. They were exceptionally supportive, kind and inspirational throughout the entire PhD process as well as during all my years at the University of Otago.

Natasha Murachver, thank you bringing this book to life with your beautiful cover illustration. ← vii | viii →

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Introduction: Goethe’s Stein des guten Glücks

In a quiet corner of Johann von Goethe’s Gartenhaus1 in Weimar, Germany, sits a sandstone sculpture that bears the name of Stein des guten Glücks, or Stone of Good Fortune. From here, this analytical journey begins. Aesthetically speaking, the sculpture is quite simple in form – in essence, it is merely a globe resting atop a cube. Yet, if one enquires into the cultural meanings behind the creation of the stone monument from a mobilities perspective, one is inevitably led down a path toward asking some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. A mobilities approach raises questions of physical and emotional movement, identity formation and relationships, and the continual search for ideal balance in life.

“Agatha Tyche gegründet!” wrote Goethe in his diary on 5 April 1777.2 This was the day on which the Stein des guten Glücks, sculpted by and designed in collaboration with the Leipzig artist, Adam Friedrich Oeser, was erected in Goethe’s garden. Müller-Wolff explains the concept behind the form of the sculpture and how it relates to the Greek goddess of fortune, Tyche:

Goethe […] setzte seine Vorstellung von einem auf die geometrischen Körper des Würfels und der Kugel reduzierten Denkmal durch und schuf damit ein abstraktes Gleichnis für die gegensätzlichen Kräfte, die das Leben bestimmen. Auf dem mächtigen steineren Kubus, der Festigkeit, Stärke und Ruhe versinnbildlicht, lagert die Kugel als Symbol des Verändlichen, des Dynamischen und damit zugleich als Sinnbild der Zeit. Die römische Glücks- und Schicksalsgöttin Fortuna, die diese Kugel in unberechenbarer Bewegung hält und so für Zufall, Geschick, Glück und Unglück sorgt, entsprach weitgehend der griechischen Göttin Tyche. “Agatha Tyche,” nach ← 1 | 2 → der Goethe den “Stein des guten Glücks” benannte, steht im Griechischen speziell für das gütige Geschick und damit für den günstigen Ausgang aller Dinge.3

From this quotation one may venture that the Stein des guten Glücks provides an appropriate symbolic entry point for this study in two main ways. First, one might relate the idea of “the contrary forces which direct life” to the overall theoretical approach adopted here which is derived from John Urry’s and Mimi Sheller’s “New Mobilities Paradigm”.4 More specifically, the stone relates to the constant negotiation between two seemingly opposed ways of being: dwelling, or remaining in one place, on the one hand, and mobility, or travelling to other destinations, on the other. Connotations of dwelling, one could argue, are invoked by the cube that forms the base of the sculpture, “which symbolizes firmness, strength and peacefulness”. This relates to ideas of groundedness, permanence and strength; the earth that supports us, yet to which we – especially the travellers among us – do not wish to be bound. The sphere which rests atop the cube may be said to be representative of the concept of mobility itself, that is, “as a symbol of mutability, the dynamic […] in unanticipated movement”. This sphere or globe relates to ideas of change, fluctuation, fate and uncertainty. Movement or journeying can entail wondrous possibilities, but equally unforeseen danger or suffering. If the sculpture is then considered as a single form, it may be regarded as symbolic of humankind’s ever-changing and contradictory experience of travel – from something to be avoided or endured, to an educational experience, to a fundamental human right – and of the desire to represent these experiences in a variety of expressive modes.5 ← 2 | 3 →

Much of Goethe’s work revolves about an exploration of antinomies. As well as conveying these ideas through the medium of the garden sculpture, he wrote poems that engaged with permanence and stability as well as transience and change. A first version of the poem “An den Mond” was written at around the same time the Stein des guten Glücks was erected.6 The subject of “An den Mond” undergoes a kind of spiritual journey (indicated by the phrases “[m]eine Seele” and “mein Geschick”) in an evocative natural setting and narrates this experience in an address to the moon.7 To begin with, there is an atmosphere of peace and calm underscored by the phrases “Still mit Nebelglanz” and “Lindernd deinen Blick”.8 But this tranquil mood soon yields to a sense of threat and loss in the face of volatile change, which is sparked by the sight of the flowing river (“Fließe, fließe, lieber Fluß! / Nimmer werd ich froh, / So verrauschte Scherz und Kuß, / Und die Treue so”).9 Some three decades later, between 1801 and 1803, Goethe wrote another poem with similar thematic concerns entitled “Dauer im Wechsel”.10 As the title suggests, one possible interpretation of this poem is a search for meaning and a sense of stability during a time of increasing change and speed. The opening lines read: “Hielte diesen frühen Segen, / Ach, nur Eine Stunde fest! / Aber vollen Blütenregen / Schüttelt schon der laue West”.11 Furthermore, in addition to adjusting to outward transitions or changes in nature, as illustrated in the allusion to Heraclitus’s formulation, “Ach, und in demselben Flusse / Schwimmst du nicht zum zweitenmal”, Goethe also suggests that one’s own sense of identity and point of view changes over time: “Mauern siehst du, siehst Paläste / Stets ← 3 | 4 → mit andern Augen an.”12 These two poems, written some thirty years apart, appear to demonstrate a kind of gradual coming to terms with the ambiguity of life on the part of the author. Still, Goethe does not appear to resolve in any final sense the question of an ideal balance between permanence and change or dwelling and mobility. With reference to the poem “Dauer im Wechsel” Gray writes: “It is perhaps significant in this connection that the rhythm and rhyme scheme continue to race on toward the end as though no whole solution, reflected in sound as well as sense, had been found.”13

How might the Stein des guten Glücks “as a symbol of the age” also relate symbolically to the periodisation of this study? My analysis takes into consideration those periods of human history that have been identified by historians and other scholars of human society as fundamentally significant in terms of world-impacting cultural, social and political transition and which, moreover, are marked by dramatic and irrevocable changes in cultural mobility, such as those which occur around such an event as the French Revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). These transitional periods are analysed in this study from the perspective of writers and filmmakers of selected travel texts.14

As noted above, the Stein des guten Glücks was erected in 1777. The concept behind this stone sculpture (“Festigkeit, Stärke und Ruhe” vis-à-vis “d[a]s Verändliche[.], d[a]s Dynamische[.] [,…] Bewegung”) implies that Goethe, at this point in time, while having a thorough knowledge of Greek Antiquity, was also already reflecting on ideas of movement versus stasis, of stability versus uncertainty as they were being experienced at that time. Goethe was responding to the changing society around him in which a culture founded on mobilities was slowly emerging. This would ← 4 | 5 → explain, in part, his problematising of the link between Greek culture and the realities of the present he was living through:

During the latter part of 1776 and the beginning of 1777 there is no evidence to show how he regarded the Greeks[,] nor how he related them to his struggle. But the position of Greek culture in modern life exercised him much during this period, both as a personal and as a social problem.15

Despite a gradual opening up to the idea of the benefits of travel at this time, embarking on epic journeys for educational purposes was by no means commonplace, especially near the commencement of the period I am calling, after Reinhart Koselleck, the Sattelzeit.16 This is perhaps one of the reasons why Goethe chose to keep his Stein des guten Glücks in his private garden, away from the critical gaze of the general public: “Da Goethe den ‘Stein des guten Glücks’ in seinem eigenen Garten aufstellte, mußte er auf dessen allgemeine Verständlichkeit für den Betrachter keine Rücksicht nehmen.”17 Still, in his own work and in the company he chose to keep, one can see a clear and enduring interest in the cultural possibilities of travel. This is made evident in the appearance of his 1795–6 Bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre,18 in which a young man leaves his home village to go out in the world and experience what travel can make possible in his ← 5 | 6 → life. This narrative was possibly in part influenced by an amicable meeting between Goethe and Georg Forster, renowned naturalist, circumnavigator and author of the 1777 travel text A Voyage Round the World,19 in Goethe’s house in Weimar in September 1785.20 Another example which demonstrates Goethe’s enduring interest in the cultural possibilities of travel can be found in his travel narrative Italienische Reise.21 Italienische Reise documents his travels around Italy from 1786–8 and was originally published in 1816/17:

It was above all antiquity – the Rome of Winckelmann and the Rome of Greece – which Goethe discovered on his Italian journey. He was moved by Raphael and Paladio and by the Italian landscape and sky. […] He was refreshing his roots of poetry by the escape from the abstemiousness of Weimar to the license of Rome.22

Goethe’s Italian Journey is thus significant in terms of the liberating experience of travel and the impact of this of Goethe’s poetic development.

In the twenty-first century, Goethe’s stone monument is no longer a private symbol of contemplation. Tourists from around the world are able to view the Stein des guten Glücks six days a week as part of organised tours ← 6 | 7 → of the garden house.23 The author is able to download audio in German about the stone, the same audio the tourist with headphones listens to while walking through Goethe’s garden in Weimar.24 Anywhere in the world, a consumer with access to the internet and a credit card can purchase a marble replica of the sculpture in black, white, yellow or red for €97.25

What do these dramatic changes reveal? Contemporary modes of access to the Stein des guten Glücks support the following general inferences about the changes from Goethe’s time to the contemporary period: mobility is no longer emerging, but rather omnipresent; and much of what was private is now publicly and internationally accessible, whether in the form of a tourist attraction or downloadable internet files. What technological forces and human desires led to this major transition and how does it impact on our everyday lives? In addressing this question and in my analyses of adapting technology and mobile human experience, I focus on the representations of events and physical phenomena and their social consequences. Rather than examining everyday lives per se, my focus is everyday lives and how they have been transformed by experiences of mobility. This is one of the issues addressed by the filmmakers and travel texts of 1985–95, such as Erich Loest’s novel Zwiebelmuster (1985)26 and Andrei Ujica’s documentary film Out of the Present (1995).27 In the process of global mobilisation something is undoubtedly gained: the traveller is now able to view the historic Stein des guten Glücks at first hand. At the same time, something is lost: a monument imbued with personal symbolic significance for Goethe is reduced to a reproducible on-line shopping ← 7 | 8 → commodity. Accordingly, in the contemporary period, it is the aim of some travel text writers – such as filmmaker Theodoros Angelopoulos, director of the 1995 film, Ulysses’ Gaze,28 and Christoph Ransmayr, author of the 2010 play Odysseus, Verbrecher: Schauspiel einer Heimkehr29 – to question the supposed advantages of the current state of the mobilised world. In this mobilised world the image of an ideal homecoming, such as that depicted in Homer’s canonical text the Odyssey, persists, yet is no longer possible in the Homeric sense of a singular journey with a successful homecoming. What would Goethe think of this contemporary penchant for mobility? It is difficult to speculate about this as he himself never quite found the answer to the question of how to find the right balance between dwelling and mobility: “Das Streben nach dem Ausgleich einander wiederstrebender Mächte sollte ihn zeitlebens beschäftigen.”30

The German term for travel or journey, die Reise, in one of its earliest forms is etymologically grounded in the concept of military mobilisation.31 The following entry for the term Reise is provided in the 1891 Etymological Dictionary of the German Language:32 ← 8 | 9 →

Reise, f., “journey, travel, voyage,” from MidHG [Middle High German of approximately 1050 to 1350]. reise, f., departure, march, journey, military expedition[.]33

In the period between the First World War and the Second World War, the German writer and intellectual Ernst Jünger contributed significantly to ideas about the economic, social and political consequences of increasing movement and mobility.34 While the work of Jünger has not been extensively acknowledged in contemporary mobilities scholarship, he is a well-known figure in German studies.35 Furthermore, an understanding of his approach is vital to contextualise the emergence of Heidegger’s concept of dwelling, which is a key theoretical idea in this study, as I set out below. This contention is supported by Tijmes’s statement: “Juenger’s work is important to consider since his influence on Heidegger is large and not well known.”36 On the other hand, sociologist Georg Simmel’s work of the early 1900s is (appropriately, if sometimes superficially,) credited as “establish[ing] a broad agenda for the [contemporary] analysis of mobilities.”37 Yet, after Simmel, it is notably Jünger who, more prominently than others, highlights new forms of mobility and the spread of mobilisation through technical-industrial societies.

Jünger sets out his argument in two essays “Feuer und Bewegung”38 and “Die totale Mobilmachung”,39 both of which were published in 1930. In the following passage, Jünger outlines the far-reaching significance of military mobilisation: ← 9 | 10 →


X, 240
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
German literature travel writing and film new mobilities paradigm
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. X, 240 pp.

Biographical notes

Anita Perkins (Author)

Anita Perkins holds a PhD in German from the University of Otago, New Zealand. She previously studied at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg and took part in the T2M International Association for the History of Traffic, Transport and Mobility's International Summer School in Berlin. She has worked as an English instructor in Germany, Japan and New Zealand. Since 2013, Perkins has been employed in New Zealand public sector roles involving foreign affairs and environmental management.


Title: Travel Texts and Moving Cultures