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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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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...

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