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A GOOD number of us have recollections of the original Volkswagen Beetle, and a recent piece in the London Review of Books, September 12, 2013, caught my eye. The article, “Autoerotisch,” by Cambridge Professor Richard J. Evans, reviews a new book placing the VW Beetle into 20th Century politics, economics and culture.
Rieger’s book and Evans’ review contain lots of familiar material (e.g., the Beetle proving that small need not mean low-quality). However, the review also contains many bits that are new to me, and possibly to you too.
It’s well known, for instance, that Volkswagen is German for People’s Car. You might be aware of a similar term, Volksschlepper, the “People’s Tractor” built by Porsche between 1952 and 1963. (See www.wp.me/p2ETap-vw for my own Volksschlepping experience).
Evans notes that Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich’s propaganda minister, overworked the Volks bit with things like the Volksempfänger (literally, People’s Receiver).
Evans describes the Volksempfänger as “a cheap and cheerful little wireless [radio], with no short-wave so that listeners wouldn’t tune in to foreign broadcasts.”
There was also the Volkskühlschrank (literally, People’s Cool Closet), coveted in a country with few home refrigerators.
Originally, the Beetle wasn’t the People’s Car; it was the KdF-Wagen, Kraft durch Fruede (Strength through Joy) being a slogan of the Labour Front, the Third Reich’s successor to German trade unions.
I close with a related story. Back in the 1980s, Road & Track maintained a collection of one-page historical snippets to accommodate last-minute needs.
What with a healthy separation of editorial and advertising, those in editorial rarely knew the exact nature of a late ad. It was often, “We just got another one; it needs two-page separation from any other automaker’s ad.”
Fine. Except that the particular historical snippet chosen just happened to describe the KdF-Wagen and its official savings book supposedly leading to ownership. (Truth was, the money went directly into arms production.)
A neat mini-item, the KdF piece included a photo of a guy named Hitler with the salesman smile.
Little did R&T editorial know that the late ad immediately following this snippet was a multi-page insert from—you guessed it—Volkswagen.
Yes, there was healthy separation of editorial and advertising; but separation didn’t have to be outright antagonism. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013