Volkswagen Beetle: from Nazi icon to freedom symbol
2 May 2007
A lecture examining the Volkswagen Beetle's rehabilitation from Nazi Propaganda tool to American icon will be given by Dr Bernhard Rieger on 8 May.
The Beetle successfully overcame its Nazi past to become, by the mid 1950s, the biggest selling car in Germany and a potent symbol of the West German 'economic miracle'. However, as Dr Rieger explains, this association still had problems for the export market: "The Beetle's National Socialist beginnings presented a major obstacle to exports to North America and Western Europe because of postwar anti-German sentiment abroad. Nevertheless, the Volkswagen captured international market shares because, given its diminutive size, low engine power, and 'cute' shape, the car's harmless appearance conveyed none of the aggressiveness associated with Nazi Germany."
This was particularly apparent in North America which embraced the car whole-heartedly: "The Beetle achieved its greatest success in the United States, where in the absence of home-grown competition, it became the best-selling small car during the sixties. A transformation in American public opinion that began to conceive of West Germany as a Cold War ally rather than a former war enemy also aided Volkswagen sales across the Atlantic."
Dr Rieger will discuss how, from being accepted among America's middle classes as a safe, reliable and economic choice, the Beetle became adopted by the counter-culture as a symbol of non-conformism: "The fact that, despite its origins in the Third Reich, the Volkswagen became an international symbol of freedom and irreverence raises the question how and why the Beetle - and only the Beetle - allowed for this staggering range of cultural aspirations."
The lecture, which is part of the STS Seminar Series will take place in room G3, 22 Gordon Square from 5-6.30pm.