In the 21st century, travelling has become part of everyday life. It’s the subject of communication everywhere: on blogs and through photos shared online, in travel literature, documentaries and commercial media. But when and how did travel become such a central topic?

To mark its 150th anniversary, the Kunstbibliothek is investigating this question through an exhibition. It has set out on a voyage of discovery through its many different collections and gathered together works from all areas – architecture, book art, photography, graphic design and fashion design – to create an ABC of Travel. The panorama spans from mediaeval pilgrimages to expeditions in the age of colonialism and humanistic ‘grand tours’, through to the jet-setting and flashy advertising of the mass tourism of the 20th century.

The exhibits take the viewer through an alphabetical tour of the concept of travel in all its complexity – from A for Album to Z for Ziel (destination). Under B for Bericht (report), for example, we find travel reports, from Jacques de Bourges’ account of his visit to China in 1671 to Melchior Lechter’s Indian travel diary of 1912. Under C for Cartography, Theodor de Bry’s America (1596) and early map-books meet posters from the 1920s. D for Dampfschiff (steamship) and E for Eisenbahn (railway), prints and photographs illustrate the links between travel and modes of transport. Under N for Nations, Baroque playing cards, early books of national costume and illustrated broadsheets divide the world into regional types. Under T for Tourism, travel posters, from 1880 to the present day, capture the longing for foreign places, while V for Virtual presents travel pictures for slide projectors, stereoscopes and dioramas – the forerunners of virtual travel.

A reading section in the foyer shows how travelling has also inspired recent artists’ books: conceptual artists, illustrators, photographers and designers (de)construct the landscapes they have travelled through, producing impressions of the foreign. The artist Flavio de Marco – author of the fictional travel guide Stella – has also tackled this topic. He has created works specially for the exhibition which use omissions and masking to address the role of visual habits, the imagination and wishful thinking in the portrayal of travel in the media.

The exhibition includes works by Otto Arpke, Marcus Behmer, Peter Behrens, Lucian Bernhard, Bernhard von Breydenbach, Marcel Broodthaers, Cornelis de Bruyn, Theodor de Bry, Flavio de Marco, Emil Cardinaux, Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, James Cook, Josef Furttenbach, Julius Gipkens, Uwe Häntsch, Johann Daniel Herz, Herbert Kapitzki, Julius Klinger, Elli Kowalski, Bernard Larsson, Jeanne Mammen, Erich Mendelsohn, Jakob Mores, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Emil Orlik, Rico Puhlmann, Paul Sachse, Caspar Scheuren, Jan Tschichold, Anton von Werner, Robert Wimmer and others.