Apart from having the Bauhaus school as a major influencer in its aesthetics, Berlin has had its own dramatic points in history, with the post-World War II being probably the most significant in terms of rupture, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when the city catalyzed the urge for the country to be reunited. Isolated places tend to create very strong identities. Other examples are North Korea, Japan, Cuba, to mention a few. But Berlin has played center stage in the 20th century history. Not only as the home of the Third Reich (its name was actually planned to become Germania, had Germany won the WWII), but before that, as the place of the Weimar Republic, and more recently, and artists’ most beloved city in the world.
If synthesis could be considered an art, the book West-Berlin Grafik-Design – Graphic Design behind the Iron Curtain is a design masterpiece depicting the importance of the visual culture associated with the city, especially when looked from the perspective of a long cold war, when communism and socialism had to confront each other not only as a viable economic model that made possible good living standards, but systems that also provided culture, the ultimate indicator of developed societies.
This little book cannot be underestimated. It is packed with design, which is many times an invisible, and yet powerful, conduit of culture as a whole. Its creators are constantly using hidden language, symbolism, metaphors, and all strands of subtleties to communicate something much deeper, which we are living in real time. It is probably one of the most powerful translators of culture. A5 is the publisher commanded by Jens Müller, who at the age of 36 has already published over 10 books. He is obsessed with research and will have the patience to find subjects that will attract the attention of creatives, looking for insights in visual culture. Might be a school or movement (book on ULM), an outstanding designer (book on Ralf Müller), just to mention two examples.
The book brings some quite unknown facts, like for example the “Berlin Layout” by Anton Stankowski, considered to be the first modern corporate identity system for a city. Another good example are the many book covers by Christian Chruxin, who designed the publications of left-wing publishers with the aesthetics of Swiss Style. The book is about a period when design was in full swing to become one of the engines of the post-war society, where consumption of all sorts and especially choice, had to be convened to the mass public. And these two things were maybe the most tangible aspects of the “first world.” It was also employed to display a society of civility, organized and informed. From posters to signing of public transport, from book covers to brands, the book shows how much we still have in common with those times in terms of aesthetics. Having the privilege to be able to look back decades ago can be an illuminating experience.
West-Berlin Grafik-Design – Graphic Design behind the Iron Curtain should be read by all young creatives too, who need to put in context what they are creating today. It is not always easy to assess cultural inheritances, especially because we want to feel creators of something new and need to feel pride about it. But more often than not, it is by encountering points of convergence with the past that we find our common traits, and a destination to share. The building blocks of design are as complex as in any other field, and these particular period in Germany is a relevant display of how design plays a significant role in the formation of our culture even to this date.
Author: Jens Müller
Title: West-Berlin Grafik-Design – Graphic Design behind the Iron Curtain
Buy the book here.