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Travel Texts and Moving Cultures

German Literature and the Mobilities Turn


Anita Perkins

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.

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Conclusion: Mobility and Mobilities Today


Bernhard Schlink’s Die Heimkehr (2006)

In his novel Die Heimkehr Bernhard Schlink invites intense reflection on the reader’s part regarding the topics of home and homecoming via the complex relationship between a son, Peter Debauer, and his absentee father, John de Baur.1 Schlink examines how people of different generations in post-Second World War Germany attempt to deal with issues of self-formation and strained familial relationships in the shadow of a National-Socialist past. Here one may identify a break with the idea of Bildung in the traditional (viz. Sattelzeit) sense; how can one possibly undergo a process of self-formation when a period of history in one’s home country is forever marred by an evil dictatorship and acts of mass genocide? Is history in the contemporary period of new mobilities still tied to a particular place of major relevance to a sense of cultural identity? Father and son demonstrate different approaches to these quandaries. Peter searches for his own way to find home and to come to terms with a personal past which includes a childhood split between an idyllic life with his grandparents in Switzerland, a mediocre life with his less than affectionate mother in Germany, and the constant absence of a father he knows little about. In contrast, his father, a former Nazi party member, finds ways to absolve himself of any association with or responsibility for the past. He takes practical measures by moving to the United States of America, assuming a new name (changing...

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