Terrell on Rosenbaum, 'Bavarian Tourism and the Modern World, 1800–1950'

Adam T. Rosenbaum. Bavarian Tourism and the Modern World, 1800–1950. Publications of the German Historical Institute. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. 296 pp. $27.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-107-53085-0

Reviewed by Robert Terrell (Syracuse University)
Published on H-TGS (March, 2023)
Commissioned by Jeremy Best (Iowa State University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58449

In this ambitious analysis of Bavarian tourism from the early nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, Adam T. Rosenbaum offers fresh language for making sense of the German encounter with modernity. His central idea is that the Bavarian tourism industry developed and deployed a vision of “grounded modernity,” which he defines as “a romanticized version of the present that reconciled tradition with progress, consistency with change, and nature with technology and science” (pp. 2-3) The reissue of the book in paperback in 2020 makes Rosenbaum's work accessible to a new audience and provides an opportunity to revisit his contributions. After an initial overview of travel and tourism in Germany more broadly, the core of the book consists of four case studies: nineteenth-century Franconian Switzerland, turn-of-the-century Bad Reichenhall, Weimar-era Augsburg, and Nazi-era Munich and Nuremberg. In each, Rosenbaum demonstrates how the tourism industry sought to reconcile the markings of a rapidly changing world—from technological and industrial modernity to nationalism and mass politics—with a historically rooted sense of place and self.

The four case study chapters focus on vastly different locales and in each Rosenbaum details how tourist propaganda (promotional material produced both by polities and the tourism industry ) worked to ground modernity. In the first two—Franconian Switzerland and Bad Reichenhall—the tourism industries presented an alternative modern civilization. Franconian Switzerland offered a “simplified romanticism” to the emerging, educated middle class (p. 75). For those seeking Bildung, Franconian Switzerland provided an escape from industrializing modern cities with their pollution and growing working class. It boasted an energizing and allegedly timeless natural environment but, crucially, was replete with all the trimmings of modernity, from hotels with bourgeois kitchens to efficient mail services. It was a “a sanctuary from the modern world and an explicitly modern travel destination” (p. 85). The same was true of Bad Reichenhall, which, at the turn of the century, became not “an escape from modernity … [but] a more acceptable version of it.” The local salt and especially spa industries became the core of a bustling urban space increasingly sold to travelers as a cosmopolitan cure town. It was a place of “symbiosis with the natural environment”—a center of medicine and international connectivity rooted in the majesty of nature (p. 117).

Shifting his treatment to the Weimar period, Rosenbaum moves his focus from rural spaces and tourist towns to the major cities of Bavaria: Augsburg, Munich, and Nuremberg. In these humming cities, tourism propaganda similarly worked to ground modernity, not by embracing the natural world, but by reconciling storied pasts with contemporary relevance. In the case of both Augsburg and Nuremberg, an earlier generation of promotional material emphasized only the long-standing histories of the cities: the Roman roots of Augsburg and its central place in the Renaissance and Reformation, and Nuremberg as the “Pearl of Medieval Cities” and the home of Albrecht Dürer. In each case this strictly historical approach gave way to a synthesis of history and the present. For instance, the Weimar-era Augsburg Tourism Association increasingly sold the city as “a tourist sight and a nationalist site” (p. 159). This new approach continued to frame the city as a historical treasure but also as one of the most nationally important industrial centers and a hub of modern culture, festivals, music, and theater. In Nazi-era Nuremberg and Munich, storied pasts met contemporary relevance as the local tourism industries paired medieval and early modern pasts with the Nazi revolution: Nuremberg as the city of Nazi Party rallies, and Munich as the “capital of the movement.” Alongside the Albrecht Dürer House, the party rally grounds became a tourist destination even outside of rally season, and visitors to Nuremberg were encouraged to imagine themselves as part of those moving national events. In Munich, Nazified significance overlay Wittelsbach longevity from the plaque and shrine to the Beer Hall Putsch attached to the Feldherrnhalle, to the Monumentalist “Temples of Honor” added to Ludwig I’s Königsplatz. Nazi tourist culture, then, was neither a mere tacking on nor a revolutionary severing. Rosenbaum argues that this latest episode in grounding modernity, or “balancing the past and the present … had been the modus operandi of the Bavarian tourism industry for decades” (p. 227).

Evaluating this book from the sources up cuts both ways. Rosenbaum showcases his deep engagement with industry documents like guidebooks and the archival records of local tourism boards. Doing so allows him to triangulate both local tourism decision-making processes and the potential conditioning of tourist expectations for “what ought to be seen” (p. 15). While he excels at deploying and analyzing such sources, Rosenbaum at times struggles to reach the level of tourists themselves. The reader increasingly feels this slippage as the book progresses into the era of mass tourism. Ego documents in the book usually come from elite travelers, which would not present a problem by itself, but Rosenbaum at times jumps from tourism propaganda to tourist reception. The identities of tourists and places hang in the balance when Rosenbaum writes, for example, that tourism “was a means of creating loyalty to the modern nation-state” (p. 139). We read further that in Weimar-era Augsburg, “a Bavarian city became a German city” (p. 165). But it remains unclear for whom such claims would be the case: tourism promoters, tourists themselves, residents of Augsburg, or someone else.

Popular reception concerns notwithstanding, a delightful strength of this book is simply that it offers an opportunity to engage in a history of Germany seen from the south. Rosenbaum eschews conventional sites of modernity and modernization including the quintessential and typical case of Berlin. With this choice he successfully complicates conventional dichotomies of hyper- and anti-modernist sentiments in Germany. Framing unexpected locales like Franconian Switzerland, Bad Reichenhall, and Augsburg as sites for interrogating the German encounter with modernity already does much to ensure the value of this book in a field that largely continues to characterize modernity by its extremes. Benjamin Ziemann once wrote that in the case of the Weimar Republic, the scholarly preoccupation with Berlin at times obfuscates the crucial if ostensibly peripheral contests for the trajectory of the German nation.[1] For Rosenbaum, modernity is similarly local, enmeshed in local conditions that reveal grounding processes beyond any binary embrace or rejection of modernity writ large.

In each of his case studies, Rosenbaum leans into the provincialism of his sites. Indeed, one of the most intriguing facets of the book is that the case studies are not directly connected; Bavaria itself is not a uniform monolith but a “region of localities” (p. 8). There was no centrally orchestrated Bavarian drive to “ground modernity.” Even in the Nazi period of coordinated and totalizing dictatorship, Rosenbaum maintains that local tourism industries retained a remarkable degree of autonomy. He convincingly shows that tourist propaganda in each case sought to ground modernity differently, according to specific conditions of both time and place. The fact that “grounded modernity” looked different in each case makes it all the more convincing as a common but localized response to large-scale transformations of the modern world: industrialization, urbanization, and the emergence of new political configurations from nineteenth-century bourgeois liberalism through mass politics, up to and including fascism. That this was a phenomenon beyond Bavaria or even Germany seems to be an implication of the book, but one which—for obvious reasons of scholarly limitations—remains only an implication.


[1]. Benjamin Ziemann, “Weimar was Weimar: Politics, Culture and the Emplotment of the German Republic,” German History 28, no. 4 (December 2010): 542-72, esp. 545-47.

Citation: Robert Terrell. Review of Rosenbaum, Adam T., Bavarian Tourism and the Modern World, 1800–1950. H-TGS, H-Net Reviews. March, 2023.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58449

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