Martin Conrads


In Dorothy Bryant’s feminist science fiction novel The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You (1976; first published in 1971 as The Comforter), a man has a car crash, skidding off the road in California. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself on an other-worldly island. Its inhabitants are mute yet happy dream-beings with healing powers, who help him to find his way back to civilisation transformed.



In 1974 English author J.G. Ballard produced a dystopian novel, Concrete Island. After his car speeds off the motorway in suburban London in an accident, a man ends up in the seemingly deserted wasteland between the motorway entrance ramps. The steep, high walls around the junction keep him trapped on this island in the midst of civilisation. As time goes by, he discovers the paradisiacal side of this involuntary holiday, and in his isolation the castaway discovers a new sense of happiness.



In his 1973 novel Crash (adapted for cinema in 1996 by David Cronenberg), English novelist J.G. Ballard explores the relationship between chrome and sex, highways, and desire, and examines the eroticism of the car. In the novel, set mainly on motorways around London’s Heathrow Airport, the characters find sexual satisfaction and fascination in serious self-inflicted injuries from deliberate crashes. Their ultimate goal is to cause a car accident with actress Elizabeth Taylor, which will prove fatal for one of them.



Bridget Driscoll is presumed to be the first pedestrian to die in a traffic accident involving a car (on 17th August 1896 in London). At the end of the proceedings against the driver that caused the accident, Arthur James Edsall (who was not subjected to a criminal trial) the investigating judge stated that he hoped nothing like this would ever happen again. The first fatality in an accident with a motorized vehicle was Irish scientist Mary Ward; on 31st August 1869, whilst accompanying her cousin’s sons in a steam-driven car they had constructed, she fell off as they turned a bend and was run over by the vehicle.



In the video for Rabbit In Your Headlights by the English band “UNKLE” (1998, directed by Jonathan Glazer), cars collide with or swerve to avoid an agitated man in a parka walking amid the traffic in a busy road tunnel in a manic frenzy. Finally he rips off his jacket, and stands, immobile and naked to the waist, his arms stretched out in a Christ-like pose, awaiting the fatal collision with the next car speeding up behind him. When the car crashes into the man, it explodes around him, yet he remains standing, unscathed.



On 19th September 2008, whilst working at the scene of an accident on Interstate 95 in St. Lucie County (Florida), firefighter-paramedic Cynthia “Cindy” Economou swiped the severed foot of crash victim Karl Lambert and took it home to train her body-recovery dog, although the foot could have been reattached. Lambert, whose lower leg was amputated after the accident, sued her for damages in early March 2011. Economou, who was convicted of “petty theft” and given a probationary sentence in a 2009 trial concerning the same incident, argued during that trial that the foot, which had been jammed in the crashed car, seemed unusable when she freed it from the wreckage: “It was an unrecognizable mass of flesh. It wasn't a clean cut. You couldn't even recognize it as a foot. If I had thought it was somehow reattachable and usable, I would have gone to my commander”.



Estimates of the number of deaths along the Berlin Wall vary. These figures generally ignore the people on the West Berlin side who chose the Wall as a place to commit suicide. At the corner of Gartenstraße and Bernauer Straße in the former West Berlin district of Wedding, the course of the Berlin Wall formed a rough right angle. Here, adjacent to the walled-up entrance to the S-Bahn station exactly where the two straight sections of the Wall intersected, most suicides in the 1970s and 1980s involved people driving into the Berlin Wall, taking advantage of the steep incline of the Bernauer Straße and a number of reinforced concrete barriers at this spot.


Hendrick Collision Center

The only search result you find on Google Maps if you search for “car crash” links you to the Hendrick Collision Center in Crash Lane, Cary, Wake, North Carolina 27511, USA.



Near the small town of Sauðárkróksbraut on the Hegranes peninsula in northern Iceland, a road was to be built in the late 1970s over Tröllaskarð (Troll Pass). Several rocky outcrops would have had to be detonated for the road project. However, by chance medium Hafsteinn Björnsson discovered through contact with the spirit world that the pass was cursed and that the builders would face retaliation if the rocks were blown up. That was because elves dwelt in those rocks. The planning authorities responded by giving the elves time to move out and decided on a different route for the road to ensure the rocks did not have to be dynamited. Ever since, there has not been a single accident on the road. The local people attribute this fortunate state of affairs to the elves, expressing their gratitude to humans for being so understanding.


Jens Friebe

Most incidental appearance of a car accident in a song title: Das mit dem Auto ist egal, Hauptsache dir ist nichts passiert (Never mind about the car, the main thing is you’re OK)(Jens Friebe, 2007).



It was the morning of 31st. August 1997 in the “Hybrid WorkSpace” at “documenta X”: director and performance artist Christoph Schlingensief was just starting the next part of his theatre performance Mein Filz, mein Fett, mein Hase – 48 Stunden überleben für Deutschland (My Felt, My Fat, My Hare, 48 Hours Survival for Germany), which had begun the previous day, when he heard that the Princess of Wales and her partner had been killed in an accident. He immediately incorporated the news into “Survival,” singing “Lady Di is dead, Dodi, Dodi, Dodi...”, whilst the actors travelling with him danced to the tune of Staying Alive on sandbags piled up in front of the building. The audience, which had not yet heard about what had happened in Paris, thought it was a macabre joke. Later the same day Schlingensief was arrested by the police (and subsequently released), because he had hung up a poster proclaiming “Kill Helmut Kohl.” The German Press Agency DPA reacted with the headline “Scandal at documenta: Princess Diana and Kohl insulted”. Mein Filz, mein Fett, mein Hase – 48 Stunden überleben für Deutschland is probably the first art project to pick up on, disseminate and process the car crash in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel.



The probability that the last person killed in a car crash will have the surname “Li” is growing by the hour. Not only is “Li” the most common surname in the PR China, but an unofficial survey (2007) reveals that it is also the surname found most frequently in Canadian phone books. As the National Bureau of Statistics of China announced in a communiqué on national economic and social development on 28th February 2011, the number of private cars in the PR China numbered 40.2 million in 2010, an increase of 28.4%.


M 25

London Orbital: A Walk Around the M25, published by British author Iain Sinclair in 2002, addresses the M25, the approximately 122-mile-long motorway ring around London, where the first car broke down just one minute after the motorway was officially opened on 29th October 1986 by Margaret Thatcher. Since then this ring road has been plagued by traffic jams; the solution became the problem. As Sinclair explains, the M25 is simply too successful and is used for all kinds of different purposes – by thieves out on the prowl, by sex workers heading to the car parks where they work or by Londoners who simply want to go to the furthest limits of their city. For his book Sinclair actually spent months walking anti-clockwise around section after section of the M25, with various companions accompanying him part of the way, always within earshot of the traffic; perhaps, as one of his companions speculated, in order to find out where this road leads.


Nuclear energy argument

obreidenbach @schlingel omg wolfram says it's 500,000 per year car crash fatalities worldwide. That's 12 million since Chernobyl.
Twitter -
1 day ago – full conversation thread

schlingel @obreidenbach They do count car crash fatalities.
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1 day ago – full conversation thread

obreidenbach @schlingel but you are right on data. Nobody counts global car crash fatalities. But they count nuclear fatalities.
Twitter -
1 day ago – full conversation thread


Ol Kuntz Guest Home

In the video for What It Feels Like for a Girl (2001; director: Guy Ritchie), “Ol Kuntz Guest Home” is the name of the old people’s home where Madonna, in a yellow Chevrolet Camaro she has just stolen, picks up an elderly lady. “Pussy” and “Cat” proclaim the licence plates on the car in which the two ladies – the younger hyperactive at the wheel, the older dazed in the passenger seat – set off on a high-speed joyride, roaring around Los Angeles by night. At the end of the video Madonna deliberately rams the car into a post, shattering the car to smithereens – in spectacular slow-motion. When it was first released the video was only shown in the middle of the night on MTV and VH1 because of its depiction of violence. One hotly debated question is whether the “Ol Kunt” and the “Pussy Cat” might be after all the same person at different ages, which would undermine the theory that this Madonna video is ageist. A more likely hypothesis is that the singer wanted to use this double crash death to make a statement about self-determination in the euthanasia debate.


Paul is dead

The theory that Paul McCartney collided with another car and died in November 1966, after which he was replaced by a lookalike.



In summer 1973 rock singer Suzi Quatro brought out her second single 48 Crash (written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman). The lyrics, which are actually about male menopause (which fairly often occurs at 48), above all reflect mechanistic, auto-mechanical notions of masculinity. In this song, Quatro, who has a Hungarian background and was later profiled in the documentary Naked Under Leather (the title alludes to the 1968 feature film, Girl on A Motorcycle/Naked Under Leather with Alain Delon and Marianne Faithfull) reflects a whole host of fantasies on the merging of man and machine, as celebrated in J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash, published at almost exactly the same time:

You've got the kind of a mind of a juvenile Romeo-o
And you're so blind you could find that your motor ain't ready to go-o o-o
You're so young, you're a hot shot son of a gun
You're so young, but like a teenage tearaway soon you'll be torn and you'll run

Crash, Crash, 48 Crash (Crash)
Crash, Crash, 48 Crash (Crash)
Crash, Crash, 48 Crash (Crash)


Rolf Dieter Brinkmann

A reading by German author Rolf Dieter Brinkmann in the English town of Cambridge, in April 1975: utterly on the ball, with great clarity he rapidly came up with carefully considered responses to the questions addressed to him after his reading and underscored, when the audience asked him about the performative dimension of his poetic art, that the character of his words only unfolds when they are spoken. One example of this: the poem he had just read out in English beforehand, From Walt Disney, which includes a description of someone being run over by a tram. Brinkmann outdid himself with a magnificent performance of this piece, greeted with wild applause from the audience. A few days later Brinkmann was run over and killed by a car in London.



From 1927 until his death 25 years later, German architect and engineer Herman Sörgel (1885–1952) worked on plans for a gigantic project, initially called Panropa, later renamed Atlantropa. With the help of a 35-kilometer-long dam in the Strait of Gibraltar he intended to restrict the inflow of water from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean to lower the level of the sea by around 200 metres. This would, in Sörgel’s calculation, have produced 600,000 square kilometres of new land and created unprecedented energy generation capacity. Sörgel’s plans envisaged a bridge right across the Mediterranean from Tunisia to Sicily, creating a seamless road and rail link between Africa and Europe. This would open up new possibilities for Europe to utilize Africa’s resources, in keeping with Darwinist and colonialist principles: the struggle for survival viewed as a struggle for territory. On 4th December 1952 Sörgel was cycling along Munich’s Prinzregentenstraße when he was hit by a car. A few weeks later he died of his injuries. The driver of the car fled the scene of the accident and was never caught. Atlantropa never became a reality. 



”Possible #Japan #nuclear #meltdown is like a #car #crash in slow motion. You know what can happen, but you cannot stop it (it seems).”



In winter 2003 a puzzling intervention in reality stood for days at a busy downtown intersection in Berlin, where Danziger Straße crosses Prenzlauer Allee: right after it had crashed into a post, a car was painted white and emblazoned with the abbreviation  ”UN”.



The design concept to celebrate Berlin’s 750th anniversary, which included large-format sculptures along West Berlin’s showcase boulevard, the Kurfürstendamm, was vehemently attacked by conservative politicians and reporters in Berlin, as well as by some local citizens when the implementation phase began. In the public debate, art experts purportedly reflecting the voice of the people were particularly agitated about Wolf Vostell’s Cadillacs encased in concrete, entitled Zwei Beton-Cadillacs in Form der Nackten Maja (Two Concrete Cadillacs in the Form of the Naked Maja), a work addressing the way in which “car drivers dance around the Golden Calf 24 hours a day” (Vostell), with some criticism even involving bomb threats against the organiser, the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein.



Azura Beebeejaun from Worcester in England just happened to be playing dead when the Google Street View car drove down her street. Although media reports claimed that after complaints from horrified local residents Google had removed the image of the girl lying face down by the edge of the road, Beebeejaun can still be seen lying on the tarmac looking as if she’s just been in an accident (Middle Rd, Worcester WR2 4HT). You might almost think – a not entirely far-fetched scenario – that the Google Street View car might have caused the ‘accident,’ giving the whole situation a faux-tragicomic note.


X Factor

On 11th October 2009 Robbie Williams was just leaving the studios of TV casting show The X Factor in a chauffeur-driven Chrysler when the vehicle ran over an 18-year-old paparazzo named Steven.  Whilst Steven suffered only minor injuries in the incident, Williams is reported to have burst into tears when he got out to check on the young man On The X Factor Williams had presented the single Bodies from his Album Reality Killed The Video Star. An excerpt from the lyrics:

Bodies in the way of me
Bodies in the cemetery,
And that’s the way it’s gonna be



The nirvana of the car crash.


Zum Stadtkrämer

The name of the Klagenfurt bar visited by Austrian politician and Governor of Carinthia, Jörg Haider, before his fatal crash on the night of the 11th October 2008 when he drove into a concrete pillar at an estimated 142 km/h in his official car, a VW Phaeton, with a blood alcohol level of 1.8‰.


Translated by Helen Ferguson