Mobility as the ability to cross borders
In this account of his 1922 journey eastward, Ross spends more time describing border crossings than he does discussing the lands through which he travels.
Chapter 1 of Ross’s account of his journey to the East opens with a scene of a border crossing: “The international train London-Paris-Warsaw is buzzing like a swarm of bees. Whoever travels a lot knows without consulting a watch or a timetable: border”. Ross positions himself as “one who travels often” and who is able to cross borders successfully, almost fluidly. Throughout the text, Ross describes customs agents, passport controls, stalled trains, and stalled movement, yet in almost every instance, he is able to follow his intended itinerary, often because his German identity is respected and admired by those with the power to control border crossings. Again and again, the reader encounters scenes of privileged access: “In the customs office, again endless waiting. But when they hear that I’m a German, I see friendly faces everywhere along with the assurance that they can’t stand the English”. (93)
The focus on mobility in Der Weg nach Osten can be frustrating for today’s reader: we want to learn more about the places Ross travels through, hear more about the people he meets, their cultural practices, their ways of life. But these topics all take a back seat to the attention paid to Ross’s mobility, his modes of transportation, and, most emphatically, his ability to cross borders. For the German reader of the early postwar period, these scenes of mobility would have been very attractive. Trapped, as Ross describes them in the foreword to this book, inside Germany’s reduced postwar borders, his readers would have been alert to the factors enabling Ross’s movement: the notion that, outside of Europe, Germans are respected, their engagement (particularly economic) desired.
Colin Ross. Der Weg über die Mauer. In: Der Weg nach Osten: Reise durch Rußland, Ukraine, Transkaukasien, Persien, Buchara und Turkestan. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus; 1923; 13-17.