The “Third Reich” experience begins in the middle of an empty rolling landscape of woods and fields on the autobahn linking Berlin with the now Polish port city of Szczecin – formerly German Stettin. It is not something that drivers of sleek BMWs, Mercedes or Audis relish.
Just 86km out of Berlin, the four-lane motorway turns into a pot-holed, crack-riddled menace, so jarring that even the most ardent German speed freaks are forced to slow down. The 4km stretch is the last surviving original section of “Reichsautobahn” built during the Nazi era. It was completed in 1936 and proved useful for the Nazi invasion of Poland three years later. Now, almost 80 years after its construction, Germany’s transport authorities have announced plans to rebuild the section completely.
“The state of the autobahn has become unbearable,” says a spokesman from the nearby border town of Gartz. The news has nevertheless come as a disappointment to autobahn history experts such as Reinhardt Arndt. He says that because of its “ history and the surrounding scenery” the motorway is his favourite.
After the war the Polish-East German border area was a backwater. Nowadays Germans who live there head to Szczecin to shop. The city is much closer than Berlin and, unlike in the German capital, many supermarkets stay open on Sundays. The surge in cross-border traffic has prompted the “Reichsautobahn” makeover. A certain Austrian who claimed credit for the autobahns would be furious...