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Alternative Worlds

Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900

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Edited By Ricarda Vidal and Ingo Cornils

In an attempt to counteract the doom and gloom of the economic crisis and the politicians’ overused dictum that ‘there is no alternative’, this interdisciplinary collection presents a number of alternative worlds that were conceived over the course of the last century. While change at the macro level was the focus of most of the ideological struggles of the twentieth century, the real impetus for change came from the blue-sky thinking of scientists, engineers, architects, sociologists, planners and writers, all of whom imagined alternatives to the status quo.
Following a roughly chronological order from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present, this book explores the dreams, plans and hopes as well as the nightmares and fears that are an integral part of alternative thinking in the Western hemisphere. The alternative worlds at the centre of the individual essays can each be seen as crucial to the history of the past one hundred years. While these alternative worlds reflect their particular cultural context, they also inform historical developments in a wider sense and continue to resonate in the present.
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1 Atlantropa: One of the Missed Opportunities of the Future

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If we can imagine it, we’ll probably be able to do it.

— MARGARET ATWOOD

I love those who strive for the impossible.

— GOETHE, Faust II

Figure 1: Herman Sörgel, Schaubild von Atlantropa (Map of Atlantropa), 1932. Note the dams at the Dardanelles and Gibraltar as well as the land connection between the Italian peninsula and Sicily. The Gibraltar dam would be built across the shallowest, rather than the shortest, part of the Straits. It curves gently from Tarifa in Spain to Tanger in Morocco across a stretch of 23 km. The city of Tarifa and some of the adjacent land would be destroyed in the process of the construction. © Deutsches Museum Munich, archival signature: TZ 04602. ← 19 | 20 →

In the spring of 1928, a Spanish newspaper published an article by the German architect Herman Sörgel which proposed the creation of a Eurafrican super continent by building dams across the Strait of Gibraltar and the Dardanelles and partially desiccating the Mediterranean Sea (see Figure 1). The dams would contain vast hydroelectric power plants which would provide power for the entirety of the new continent. Initially called Panropa and later renamed Atlantropa, the new continent was presented as the solution to European problems of over-population, unemployment, lack of natural resources, and a limited energy supply. Though Atlantropa was based on a racist colonialist world system where a unified white Europe would control the African continent and its resources,...

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