The Ulm aesthetic

Otl Aicher biz card

On a hill called the Kuhberg (literally: “cow hill”) outside the town of Ulm, halfway between Munich and Stuttgart in southern Germany, sits a complex of low raw concrete buildings where Germany rebranded itself after the Nazi era. Now a museum, it was once the Hochschule für Gestaltung (School of Design, HfG), where, between 1953 and 1968, a group of young West Germans connected to the wartime resistance created what was has always seemed to me to be an anti-Nazi aesthetic. The project was intended to contribute to democracy in West Germany. But the visual style they developed, influenced by the Bauhaus, came to define the image of the Bonn Republic. The clean, modern style associated with Germany has its origins in the HfG. Continue reading

Thoughts on Buchenwald

Buchenwald

Perhaps no other place in Germany embodies Adorno and Horkheimer’s idea of the “dialectic of enlightenment” more than Buchenwald. The concentration camp, which I visited for the second time last weekend, is located on the Ettersberg, a hill just five miles away from Weimar – the home of German classicism. It therefore provides a particularly powerful illustration of the intimate connection between German culture and German barbarism. In fact, in 1937 the camp was literally built around an oak tree at which Goethe is supposed to have sat and discussed literature and life when he lived in Weimar in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In a sense, therefore, Buchenwald – which President Obama visited last year – stands, more than any other concentration camp or death camp, for Nazism as a Zivilisationsbruch, or civilisational break.

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