Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level





Laurence Hare

Committee Member

Thomas Goldstein

Second Committee Member

Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon


Social sciences, Automobile, Car culture, Consumer culture, Consumerism, Germany, Volkswagen


This thesis explores the changing cultural meanings that the Volkswagen took in Germany in an attempt to understand the cultural exchange between the United States and Germany. In sum, it establishes that the car takes a distinct cultural form in the two countries governed by unique and particular historical developments. Over the last decade researchers working with car cultures have realized the long standing error of taking American values associated with the car as a normative marker of global car cultures, yet no one has suggested a working methodology to ensure that non-normative meanings are captured in analysis. I suggest that this problem arises from studying single aspects of the car in isolation. The methodology that I propose looks at design, production, marketing, and consumption as a system where meaning can be produced, interpreted, and reassigned at the various stages. This wider approach allows for a non-normative analysis of car culture. This helps to demonstrate how the development of the car culture becomes more distinct through transatlantic interaction. I propose that the incursion of culturally significant foreign products causes shifts and redefinitions in the domestic market making the product a way to evaluate one’s own identity.

The present work plots these various identities to capture the large trajectories of German car culture. I challenge the notion that there were necessarily different cultures of production and consumption in the United States and Germany which could explain the divergence in the two nation’s car’s cultures. When discussing the Weimar Republic I highlight Germany’s interest in motorization visa-vie developments in the United States. The section on the Third Reich places the creation of a Volkswagen as a lynchpin for the Nazi’s entire ultranationalistic modernization policy which carried meanings of their particular vision of racial community. The post-war section identifies the ways that the Federal Republic reinterpreted the Volkswagen making it a symbol of the economic miracle of the 1950s, and ultimately, a way to contrast the republic with the Nazis era and win international validation.