Friedrich Kittler (1943–2011) studied German, philosophy, and romance studies at the University of Freiburg. He completed his PhD in 1976 and his habilitation, Discourse Networks, in 1984. He was professor of German at the Ruhr University in Bochum (1987–93) and subsequently appointed chair in media aesthetics and history at the Humboldt University in Berlin (1993–2008). The key representative of German media theory, Kittler was at the forefront of the German reception of French poststructuralism and is now considered one of the most important media theorists. His work ranges from the early Greek vowel alphabet to the study of computer hardware. Several of his books have been widely translated, including Discourse Networks, 1800/1900; Gramophone, Film, Typewriter; and Optical Media.
Taking issue with many official accounts, the essay traces the origins of the German autobahn back to the Battle of Verdun (1916). The military necessity to organize rigidly enforced, intersection-free two-way traffic becomes the model for the construction of the autobahn. Kittler further elaborates its martial character by connecting the movement of military equipment during war to the “tourist invasions” in peacetime.