Case study 3: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30
In December 1928, Colin Ross and his family embarked on a journey for Australia. The trip, lasting 17 months, would lead them through Oceania and to China’s south coast as well as Gandhi’s Salt March. The writing, lecturing, and filmmaking inspired by this trip shows Ross following established recipes, but also casting for new styles and audiences.
Arriving back in Germany in the spring of 1930, Ross would fashion two travel books from the journey: Der unvollendete Kontinent (1930) covered the stay in Australia, Haha Whenua - das Land, das ich gesucht. Mit Kind und Kegel durch die Südsee (1933) focused on the trips through New Zealand, the Territories of New Guinea and Papua and other areas of the South Sea. Both books find Ross incorporating the two main characteristics of his brand into his reporting: a focus on matters of geopolitics, pondering Germany’s place in a world after the Great War; and the generous use of his wife Lisa and his children Ralph (5 years old) and Renate (14 years old) as recurring characters. A short book on India, Umstrittenes Indien (1931) and some new chapters on India and China in revised editions of his older books Heute in Indien (first edition: 1925) and Das Meer der Entscheidungen. Beiderseits des Pazifiks (first published in 1924) also show Ross working in his well-established travel reporter mode.
But this trip also coincided with a new direction in Ross’s writing. Having added Australia to his collection of continents visited, he aimed to ponder the state of the world in a more general manner. In 1929, while Ross is in Australia, Brockhaus publishes Die Welt auf der Waage. Der Querschnitt von 20 Jahren Weltreise. The book, in which Ross prophesizes a dawning age of political and spiritual upheaval, becomes a bestseller. His 1932 book Der Wille der Welt. Eine Reise zu sich selbst continues in this direction of a somewhat nebulous cultural philosophy inspired by Oswald Spengler. Both central concepts of this book (like Ross’s interpretation of “taboo”) and travel experiences recounted in it echo episodes in Ross’s travel books from the 1928-30 trip.
In his filmmaking, Ross tried something different as well. The feature-length travelogue Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien!, which premiered in November 1930, is Ross’s first sound film. Except for two studio-recorded sequences shot in Berlin, all sound was dubbed during post-production. Berlin reviewers noted the strangeness and innovation of seeing a Ross film with the filmmaker commenting his footage not live in person, but on the soundtrack. While much praised in the press, the film lost money for Ufa and publishing house Ullstein, which had financed the journey. Ten years would go by until Ross made his next film. By then, his travel reporting—occasionally surprising and politically uncommitted around 1930—had become overdetermined by the exigencies of Nazi propaganda.