Thomas Nevin
Ernst Junger and Germany

Being able to afford and being permitted travel abroad under Hitler's regime constituted an extraordinary privilege. Economic recovery made vacationing expensive if not impossible for most working Germans. Roads were primitive and car ownership exceptional. In 1934, the ratio of people to cars in Germany was 96:1; in the United States, 5:1. The Third Reich early projected the Volkswagen as 'the car for millions' that would show 'how true socialism looks: that the good things of this world are not for one class of people alone but for the whole productive Volk.' Construction of the seven-thousand-kilometer Autobahn, the Fuhrer's showpiece—'Coming centuries will say, "These are the roads Adolf Hitler built"'—progressed at an average of 1 km a day in the spring of 1935. By June 1936 three hundred kilometers were completed, and one thousand by that October. Well-publicized engineering advances notwithstanding—was constrained by Germany's dependence upon imported rubber and by the furtive priority of military rearmament.

There were few admissibly advertisable places for travel abroad: tiny Lichtenstein; Iceland, where 'Nordic features predominate'; and Finland, with its 'culture-people of Nordic stamp.' The dirigible Graf Zeppelin carried the wealthier to Rio de Janeiro, the Hindenburg to America. By ship, one could visit Madeira, the Greek isles, or Morocco on three-week cruises. Norway, Portugal, and Brazil were havens. It is a substantial measure of Junger's financial security in the thirties that he was able to afford three of these approved routes of tourism abroad. His wife, burdened with two small children (a second son, Alexander, was born in 1934), remained at home.

'Innermost within me I have maintained, so I hope, an untouchable portion of elementary freedom wherein I know how to prize the value of all good, natural things,' Junger wrote to his brother, Fritz, from Norway in the summer of 1935. He spent the late summer and autumn of 1936 in Brazil with stops at the Azores and Morocco; April and May of 1938 on Rhodes. He kept careful journals on each tour, anticipating that he might not see such places again for a long while. He took no camera; it mechanizes remembrance, he complained.

Visiting Norway, he felt he had stepped away from historical time, back to a world where one needed no names and dates; even heroic deeds impinged no more upon memory than did the northern lights. The Norwegians occupied a realm of elementary powers, where 'the pure anarchy' of enchanted isolation opened onto 'the blue depths of metaphysical space [and] the mind refreshes itself in unseen chambers.' Entering a land unmarked by war and ponderous industries he likened to going into a park's hedges for refuge from a storm.

Junger resisted his own romantic indulgence by accompanying a paramedic fisherman on his rounds among melancholies. He also visited an old woman sequestered by leprosy. He took woodland walks with fellow traveler Hugo Fischer, an old friend from Leipzig. They could stroll the whole day and see no one, absorbing the land's hidden beauty which, Junger remarks, at once saddens and cheers the heart. Here 'the elementary' of a culture's lore was literally at one's feet, in the moor's down (in Norwegian myrdun, his journal's title). From its tiny blossoms, said legend, fairies would spin and make clothing for their Erl prince.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.