Kraftwerk – Autobahn (non-UK version)

Author: Colin | Published: 30/6/09



Artist Kraftwerk
Title Autobahn
Label Vertigo
Year 1974
Designer Emil Schult
Music Electronic
Notes Kraftwerk are widely recognised as the most influential group since The Beatles, indeed I’d go one further, but put that down to my being a lifelong fan. Given that their legacy is widely misperceived as being coldly robotic, this cover might be seen as an oddity. However, if you recognise the absolutely essential human half of the man machine equation and unblock your ears to hear their essentially Romantic approach, then this cover design becomes more comprehensible.

Admittedly, it’s still something of a shock to anyone only familiar with the UK road-sign version (as I was until only a few years ago). It’s the child-like nature of the graphics that’s initially so puzzling: the stylised sun, mountains and clouds, the collaged cars, the lack of proper perspective and the dashboard (with the group visible in the rear-view mirror and the designer Emil Shult in another, smaller mirror on the left). Again, with more knowledge of the group’s thinking it makes more sense. Kraftwerk were huge fans of the Beach Boys – “wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn” sounds very reminiscent of the American west coast group. Also, their nascent intention even at this early stage of their career was to make industrial-age pop music. In this light, the cover design is much less forbidding, more human and approachable than the formal iconography of the motorway sign (here applied perhaps for consistency’s sake as a sticker). Even so, it’s difficult to believe those four guys in the back would go on to record Man Machine and Computer World.

The group’s visuals for their seemingly endless Minimum Maximum tour conflate both approaches and display period illustrations of empty motorways and carefree drivers, a time long gone that’s illustrated sonically at some concerts by the starter motor struggling painfully to engage the engine. By the way, the driver of the Merc on the left? It’s probably Florian Schneider, co-founder of the group. He owns a large fleet of classic Mercedes cars.

See also:
Autobahn (UK version)
Minimum Maximum CD/DVD box
Neon Lights 12″
Pocket Calculator 7″

A little further reading:
A Kraftwerk Overview
Minimum Maximum DVD review
Minimum Maximum CD review
Kraftwerk 2004 concert review


  1. Nice post and I love this era of Kraftwerk. The human side.

    One interesting note is that the guy on the right used to be Emil Schult the designer but they replaced him with Wolfgang Flür who had joined the group after the LP was recorded. You can see the original art with Emil on the re-issue. Kraftwerk have always had a thing about re-writing history but it’s nice to see Emil where he should be.

    Comment by Mr Nordstein — August 22, 2010 @ 3:45 pm
  2. Thanks for commenting. I’m probably misunderstanding you, but I believe this is the original design – I guess you’re referring to a pre-release version. I have the individual remasters (sent to me to review), but I missed this. As I say in the notes above, Emil is visible in the reflection of a small mirror on the dashboard to the left of the steering wheel.

    One day I’ll treat myself to the box and feature it here…

    Comment by Colin — August 22, 2010 @ 5:54 pm
  3. PS As a Kraftwerk loyalist, I’m not sure whether I agree that they rewrite their history, I favour the view that they do constantly refine their work ;-)

    Comment by Colin — August 22, 2010 @ 5:57 pm
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