The MODERN BLACKLETTER

Hannah's picture

Hey Everyone,

I'm not sure how active this forum is? As a New Zealander I am currently doing major project, here is my central question:

The black-letter Fraktur was Germany’s national choice of typeface style, however because it was terminated almost indefinitely by Hitler in WW2 I propose this question: can validity be restored to the typeface style, fraktur, which was defaced and became an index of inhumanity?

How does everyone see the reputation of blackletter today?
- negative/positive etc

What i'm really wondering is how can i start restoring validity? How can i design a typeface that is sensitive and honouring its history? One that moves people because of the context it is placed in. My original interest in blackletter was a link through from my empathy to the victims of WW2. Is their a way i can get that kind of empathy into the blackletter? Lots of questions - do i really want to get that empathy coming through (i.e.bringing back the past), like a memorial???

Hannah's picture

Here are some research process so far in exploring what treatment can help make blackletter modern (however these are majoritively from Hitler's influence, so not specifically this style for today) - exploration of positive negative space, heirarchy, text etc.

Budget? Any thoughts?




Geoff Riding's picture

You should pick up a copy of Blackletter: Type and National Identity by Paul Shaw and Peter Bain as I think it'd provide some answers to some of your questions.

Geoff Riding's picture

> Here are some research process so far in exploring what treatment can help make blackletter modern

Look no further than Underware's Fakir!

BTW, what do you mean by validating? Are you trying to put an end to the association of blackletter to the Nazis and heavy metal?

dan_reynolds's picture

Blackletter of course has such a rich and varied history that the whole 1933–1941 period is just a blip in its continuum. But most young Germans do not care. They seem to dislike blackletter, mostly because they want to distance themselves from the past, espcially the Nazi past. (Blackletter's hey-day, say 1450–1800, is not a period that modern Germans can associate with either. Almost nothing in their daily lives has anything to do with it. Blackletter was also highly tied up with Religion, especially the Protestant Reformation. As most young Germans are not religious, this is just one more strike against blackletter).

Fortunately, the world is much bigger! Even if the Germans never use blackletter again,* there are still plenty of other people left to like it.

I think that the reason that Blackletter isn't seen so often anymore is because almost none of the blackletter fonts available for computer users today are optimized for smaller text sizes. Note that Underware's Fakir is a new, and brilliant, exception.

* Even this will never happen. Museums, beer labels, and heavy metal bands will always be with us ;-)

timd's picture

http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/device/wexford-oakley/

An example of a modern Blackletter, distinctly British rather than fraktur though. It seems to me that to try to produce a typeface that restores validity* and honours history is going to be difficult, but it would be interesting to see how you propose to go about it, even if you decide that a memorial is inappropriate or too difficult to achieve.
*I would like to understand more your meaning
Tim
Museum, beer labels, and heavy metal bands will always be with us Yay

dezcom's picture

There was a very interesting Typophile weekly challenge involving blackletter a few months ago which several people contributed some quite intriguing examples. It may have been the first one. I will do a search for it.

ChrisL

dezcom's picture

I should have known that date since it was my birthday. At any rate, here is the link:

http://typophile.com/node/17366

ChrisL

hrant's picture

Hannah, the question you ask is on the mind of many people these days.
In fact there has been extensive discussion of this topic on Typophile!
Make sure to take a short vacation and use the search function. ;-)

Here's something small from me:
http://www.themicrofoundry.com/ss_fraktur1.html

Also, you wonder how Germans view blackletter today.
I think this is an important question, because they
are (mostly) the "owners" of it (although certainly
other people should, and do, make fonts in the style).

My impression is that it's still strongly negative
overall, but there are cracks now visible (including
in the German stigma over WWII as a whole) which
will probably eventually open up to reveal the light.
Politically, I think that the displeasure that many
Germans feel towards contemporary Israeli behavior
is helping this along, in an implicit way.

hhp

Isaac's picture

You might also look into what Paul Renner had in mind for futura in this regard.

Hannah's picture

First of all...thanks everyone for the many replies!! I have had a good look around on the Typophile site and it is good to have that pool of information when it's not necessarily out in books everywhere.

Blackletter:Type and National Identity and Paul Renner's book have been a great kick start for my research. They are full of good information. I have briefly compared Futura and Fraktur/blackletter/ww2 in an essay. However, as the tutor pointed out, I need to consider that these are on completely opposite poles. Futura was the extreme of modernism and fraktur at the other end.

Validating
That is a good quesiton. My tutor actually asked me that the other day. Initially I am thinking that I want to bring a positive aspect to blackletter and something fresh compared to what it has taken on leading up to it's demise.
Perhaps it is more modernity that I'm wanting to inject(contemporary not historically). I realise this has been talked on typophile already.

The idea of a readable blackletter applicable for text use today sounds affable.

Most young Germans do not care
Yes, I do not know many Germans myself. Are any of you German? I spoke to a German student who is just in New Zealand for a short time. Here are his comments:

blackletter in Germany is
- very rarely seen, however...
- it is used in some modern type books
- playing with just the one single letterform
- they use the knowledge that it is old type to play around with it and use it as something completely different to the modern
- I think it is cool to bring it back to play around with but not as whole text (he must be one of the few who like??)
- they always use the very traditional, never WW2 blackletter

So it appears from above it is more of a left field art in Germany??

Validity is really what I need to crack down on.

Hannah's picture

The idea of honouring the blackletter in accordance with its positive memories of the past is still something of interest to me. Then presenting these positive lights of blackletter in an inspiring way for designers to use (one idea could be like a handbook).

Will post something more on this when I've thought about how I might apply this idea.

hrant's picture

I forgot something:
To me the most effective way of re-validating blackletter would
be to make a text font, one that's subtle enough to go unnoticed
by laymen readers. That way they have no chance of rejecting it! :-)

hhp

dan_reynolds's picture

>Yes, I do not know many Germans myself. Are any of you German?

No, I am just an American. I'm a graphic designer; I live in Germany, in the area around Frankfurt, and have been studying and then working here for a little over 3 1/2 years. Blackletter has sort of been a hobby of mine for a while.

Geoff Riding's picture

Hannah, how are you undertaking this research project? Is this going to be a full thesis or a dissertation supported by a body of work? This is such an interesting research topic with practical implications and, I think, requires a lot of time and effort/passion! ;^)

I think Underware’s Fakir could be a good example/or case study of a modernised and “validated” blackletter but as it was released only recently, we haven’t really seen if the text cuts are actually used in text sizes. I haven’t seen what it looks like *in text* but it looks good, I ordered the type sampler last week to see for myself.

> * Even this will never happen. Museums, beer labels, and heavy metal bands will always be with us ;-)

This is ¼ of the reason why I prefer German and Belgian beer over many others.

hrant's picture

Although I think there's no way Fakir can work
for more than a little bit of text, I very much
agree that it does nicely help validate blackletter.

hhp

dan_reynolds's picture

At least they tried to make a text blackletter. Very noble, I think. And hats off! The whole project seems to have taken six years of work. Underware is three members, right? That is like 18 man years… (OK, I'm sure that this wasn't a full-time project, but still… wow).

>it does nicely help validate blackletter.
In terms of actual usage throughout the world, I suspect that Fakir will get mileage on the level that FF Brokenscript did. But it wouldn't become ubiquitous as Old English,* Fette Fraktur, or Wilhelm Klingspor Gotisch.

* To be fair, Old English's basic design has been in relatively constant use since 1760…

poms's picture

there are more and more young (german) people with a grafic background, who are interested in the richness of blackletter...

>- very rarely seen, however…
rarely, but not very rarely.
In my neighbourhood (Germany/Stuttgart Süd) is much more blackletter around, as in (Hi Dan) Germany/Wiesbaden ;).
Fraktur, Schwabacher, even Sütterlin. OK, you won't find an advertisement for a new notebook set in Fraktur ;), but a lot old-style restaurants, streetnames set in fraktur, beer-labels, s.o.

hrant's picture

Question:
Is there more blackletter in former-East-Germany than former-West-Germany?

hhp

dan_reynolds's picture

Yes, Thomas, but the problem with the use of blackletter is that it exclusively limited to historic, display applications. Like the town museum in Wiesbaden's suburb, Mainz-Kastel… Its sign (Heimatmuseum) is set in Fette Fraktur. Naturally withOUT the long-s ;-0

All of the modern street signs in Mainz's historic district are set in a Textura. And of course one sees blackletter all over old buildings. And on beer and wine labels. But these things are all old, and don't speak very well to younger generations.

I do like how younger designers play with blackletter on posters and flyers. Yet I get a feeling that a lot of this is just because that sort of thing is done so much (more) in other countries.

Of course lots of young German designers are interested in blackletters. But compared with younger designers in other countries, the proportion is smaller. Blackletter was all over 1990s graphic design in Florida. And London has more blackletter throughout the city (both old and new) than anywhere in Germany (although there it is textura/old-english instead of fraktur).

Even Mexico, as is discussed elsewhere here, has more blackletter integration in the daily visual culture than Germany in 2006.

If I were to oversimply, I would say that Germany's visual culture, typographically speaking, is all about sans serif typefaces (AG, Helvetica, Univers, Frutiger, DIN, DIN again, DIN again and again, Meta, etc.).

dan_reynolds's picture

Hrant:
>Is there more blackletter in former-East-Germany than former-West-Germany?

Albert Kapr wrote that the DDR (East Germany) published far more books per year in Fraktur than the West did. But I have a feeling that there is more blackletter in the open environment in the West, as West Germany rebuilt more of its old building after the war than the East Germans did.

Kapr also wrote (in 1993) that young East German designers did not associate Fraktur with the Nazis at all. This may be because they were taught history differently. And/or they hadn't had as many war movies made in the East as West Germany (and Hollywood) made.

Neo-Naziism is more prevalent now in the former East, however. They use a lot of blackletter, although they use a lot of heavy condensed sans serif type, too. Probably more than they use blackletter, even.

Hannah's picture

>Is this going to be a full thesis or a dissertation supported by a body of work?
It's my fourth/final year. An honours year where we I think do a kind of visual thesis you could say. We do not have to write a big final essay. Though some other departments like Industrial do have to. We started research second half of last year. Have written essays etc. Now up to the stage where we start designing through the question we have formed from all our research. End of year we have an exhibition. I didn't know anything of this topic when coming into it. Yes, with our projects, they say, they end up being big topics with much more potential to go further. Therefore, I have considered a further year of study will be very beneficial. I still greatly value your imput, thanks.

What initially captured me was that the political powers of WW2 enforced blackletter and then banned it from all printed ephemera (and this was only a typeface, but this helped show some of the extremity of the time). I have been passionate about blackletter through this background.

>Bit of Ignorance
I'm glad you described to me a bit of what the German streets of blackletter look like. And some other countries.

>The Interviewee
He is from Bremen, if that is anything of interest.

Hannah's picture

Here is a small booklet - visual argument - which will give you an idea of where I was a month back...

Hannah's picture

Just to let you know I am not going to use the style of WW2 blackletter above, as it is not appropriate to be used today.

Stephan Kurz's picture

I think the division of blackletter typefaces in "WW I" and "WW II" style is not appropriate as well. It was already pointed out that blackletter typefaces have a much longer history. Also, different fraktur/blackletter faces were used during the NS regime, not only Tannenberg and its fellow 'Schaftstiefelgrotesk's.
These are to a certain degree (and under ideologically alarming conditions) also trying to modernise blackletter.
Political/ideological afflixion of typefaces is always a matter of context and of usage and reception in a certain (collective) disposition of perception.

Dave G's picture

You probably have already, but if you haven't you should check out this related thread on Blackletter in Mexico beautiful work

http://typophile.com/node/17496

poms's picture

To expand the good posting of Stephan Kurz in another direction:
Every giraffe is a mammal, but not every mammal is a giraffe.

Regards Thomas

saidlechat's picture

hi Hannah,

your theme sounds interesting, in fact I am doing my thesis about nearly the same thing. I want to find out if Blackletter has to be always in the corner of the Nazi-Beer-tradition-skateboard-punk-corner, or if it is possible to use it in a modern way.
Which I found strange is that the usage ranges from traditional conservative to alternative extremist. It's quite paradox.

For the use of those Naziblackletter fonts. For me it is not just that they are politically problematic, they are also of no estetic quality. They resemble the brutality and primitivity of this regime. So I wouldn't use them simply because they are one of the worst fonts ever.By the way I am german :) If you want I can share my research with you, as we are working the same field. I am also trying to focuse on how blackletter is seen outside Garmany as I feel we Germans are more delicate about those historical connotations than the rest of the world. Over all they are not german fonts they came from France, so they are really not ours...

timd's picture

In your post of the booklet on the WW2 outlines page is an interesting ü which made it through to Restore which, I think, has some mileage in it.
Tim

Cristina Paoli's picture

I think blackletter is much more than a Nazi letterform. Of course its Nazi connotations are strong, but that is just a tiny bit of its history. Blackletter existed many centuries before Hitler and hopefully will survive many more after him.

Hanna, I would suggest you to look into the letterform itself. Check out the shapes, ornaments and strokes in the letterform. I believe there is where you could find the contemporary validation you are looking for.
Blackletter has a delicate, precise anatomy. Is a very crafty and passionate letterform. Is a whole parallel universe to roman type!

I suggest you to check out: Albrecht Durer’s: Of the just shaping of letters.

hrant's picture

I'm pretty sure Felix was talking about the substyle of blackletter that was used a lot by the Nazis - the so-called "jackboot" style. Otherwise I wouldn't have let his "they are also of no estetic quality" go without a strong counter. :-) Although somebody might still muster a moderate counter even to that narrower claim.

hhp

crossgrove's picture

Hannah,

There is a bunch of material that can help you make stronger links between blackletter and Sans or Antiqua forms. See the Renner biography by Burke, and also Renner's own book, "Eine Jahresgabe der Typographischen Gesellschaft". In it are many illustrations of his deliberate experiments to somehow synthesize blackletter and Antiqua forms. He approaches the idea several different ways, and manages to come up with several interesting developments. You might examine how elements of Blackletter can be incorporated or evolved to be relevant or functional in modern printing. There's also a wide continuum of forms between blackletter, Uncial and Antiqua that you could consider.

Yaronimus-Maximus's picture

yay! a good blackletter thread.
personally i really love blackletters of all kinds and shapes. as a jew who lived with the knowledge of the jewish holocaust (and lost a relative who was a victim of the german nazi’s actions), i still love blackletters. but i also “feel” some blackletters as “dangerous”, “brutal”, and “frightening”, and it allures me even more.
what you intend to do is important, because it’s you may bring this beautiful style to a rebirth, and clean it from the other connotations of “nazi,medieval,punk-rock,whatever”.

unfortunately, there are well known common feelings about the blackletters. however, as people said here - the black letter was the text face of culture and knowledge from the medieval age, and that cannot be ignore.

some of the blackletters faces scream “kill” or violence when you see them. but i think that there is a way for inovation, mabe if you analyse the graphic language of the styles and try to avoide it, or at least be concious of it.. if a foreign designer who has never seen blackletters before will stumble upon them, he will probably note two things which are apart or together.
1. sharp edges
2. too much detailes
3. high width contrast in the letters parts.
now i don’t want to exagarate, (i might be totaly wrong because there is a big variety). these are some of the features and qualities that are not always there, but it sums up what i was seeing. i think that some of the fraktured letters look violent, or jumpy.

in my opinion there are some readability problems. sometimes i see faces with german letters which are not so known to the non germans. other times i couldn’t understand which letter is a certain capital.

i agree with Hrant. i think that i havn’t seen many existing digitised fonts that are good for long texts, because there is a strange readability streaming problem. that is to say - the reading is not easy and flowing. there is a cavity that needs to be filled with a good modest and simple yet elegant blackletter. one that doesn’t scream, bite, or eat you, and who isn’t too much detailed.. it could be a good start to develope.

(im sorry if my english is a little hard to understand).
cheers and good luck!!
yaron

saidlechat's picture

hrant:

Of course I was only talking about those "schaftstiefelgrotesk"ones!
I love blackletter fonts and what the Nazis did to them was sort of a violation. Never to forget that they also shamefully used the good old ones. Unfortunately present day Neonazis have no idea which fonts where used in Nazi times, so that you can see Old Schwabacher on those fascist's shirts, which makes the image of the blackletter even worse.

Yaronimus:

There are a lot of good and readable Blackletter, it's just they are not/ or not properly digitized yet. Take for example Unger Fraktur, a very light and gentle font.
Also I think it's a matter of custom to read those fonts.
And to forget about some letters like the long-s (I know some of you might want to kill me for this, but the long-s is to forgotten to be reintroduced) or to sligthly adjust some of the Letters that are problematic like the small k, z or the x.

For a great selection of Styles you may want to see a recently released book (sorry only in German, but there's not too much text to read) named "Fraktur mon amour" editor is Verlag Hermann Schmidt.
It comes also with a cd with some free fonts.
Sadly the free ones are of the worst quality I ever saw. But at least it's free and there are some pretty rare ones on it.

hrant's picture

> Unfortunately present day Neonazis have no
> idea which fonts where used in Nazi times

Even more unfortunately, present day non-Neonazis
have no idea that blackletter does NOT equal Nazi. :-/

The thing is, blackletter is very strongly (if not entirely) German, and the many people who equate -or at least strongly associate- Germans with Nazis* will have an especially hard time getting over blackletter's stigma. Not that these types of people generally want [us] to get over it to begin with.

* Such as Sarah Silverman, who jokes that "schadenfreude"
means "Look, that Jew fell down" in German. But of course
some people are allowed to be racist. In the US, they might
even get applause if it's the right kind.

hhp

Yaronimus-Maximus's picture

saidlechat
"And to forget about some letters like the long-s"

that long S is a beautiful letter. so simple yet so elegant!

"named “Fraktur mon amour” editor is Verlag Hermann Schmidt"

yea i've been drooling over that :)

saidlechat's picture

Yaronimus:

I totally aegree, I like the long-s too.
I just wanted to say that if Blackletter is used in our days, especially outside Germany it will not be understood, so we (type addicts) know it should be there, but for the sake of understanding and readability we just don't use it. After all typography is to be read and understood and such letterforms don't help it anymore.
Originally the long-s served also to structure words better.
You can find it also in some Antiqua fonts, it was not a special Blackletter character.
But still long gone those times...

Tholan's picture

On these logos you can still find the long s (taken from wikipedia)

Newspapers:
Aftenposten [1] Logo Norwegische Zeitung
Aventurischer Bote (Begleitmagazin zu Rollenspiel) [2]
Bayerische Rundschau [3]
Bonner Rundschau
Cellesche Zeitung [4]
Dithmarscher Landeszeitung [5]
Düsseldorfer Nachrichten (Westdeutsche Zeitung -)
Goslarsche Zeitung [6]
Idsteiner Zeitung (Wiesbadener Tagblatt - Rhein Main Presse)
Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung [7]
Kölnische Rundschau [8]
Leverkusener Anzeiger
Lippische Landes-Zeitung [9]
Maschseebote (Mitteilungsblatt bei Hannover)
Märkische Oderzeitung [10]
Münsterländische Tageszeitung [11]
Neue Rheinische Zeitung (Internetzeitung) [12]
Oberbergischer Anzeiger
Oberhessische Presse [13]
Oldenburgische Volkszeitung [14]
Ostfriesen-Zeitung [15]
Ostfriesischer Kurier
Schwäbische Zeitung [16]
Traunsteiner Tagblatt [17]
Westfälisches Volksblatt [18]
Westfälische Nachrichten [19]

Productnames with long s:

Dingslebener (End-s wäre zu erwarten) [20] Brauerei
Eschweger Klosterbräu [21]
Fürstenberg [22] Brauerei
Gilden Kölsch (inzwischen auf Rund-s umgestellt) [23]
Hasseröder [24] Brauerei
Jägermeister (Kräuterlikör)
Kurfürsten Kölsch (Bier) [25]
Maximilian Kölsch (Bier) [26]
Staufenpost (Papierwaren)
Warsteiner Brauerei
Mariacron (Weinbrand)
Münchener Kindl (Enzian-Schnaps)

hrant's picture

> for the sake of understanding and readability we just don’t use it.

But:
1) Things change.
2) We can help them change. (And maybe we even should.)

hhp

Yaronimus-Maximus's picture

imagine a children's blackletter book with all those german letters. :)
it's all a matter of education i guess.

hrant's picture

Hey, that's actually a brilliant idea!
Children start with no prejudices.

hhp

poms's picture

>Children start with no prejudices.
parents won't buy the book (in 2006)...

If the history of blackletter would be a part of education, there were less klischees and beside the "the good old times, heavy metal/punkrock/hiphop and nazifont" something else. There was/is a total ignorance in the field of education, that leads to prejustices and dumb klischees (Same old story: Yesterday i saw a reportage in german TV about soccer-hooligans visualised with a blackletterfont...)

And we surely need some new designed blackletter textfaces to check out what is possible.

Regards

Hannah's picture

Wow! All your comments guys are great, and a rich source information.

YARONIMUS-MAXIMUS
Thanks heaps for your comments on blackletter. The notion of cleaning blackletter or bringing a positive light (away from the traditional, alternative subcultures, nazi's etc) is exactly what i'm wanting to do!

Question (to all): Would you agree that blackletter has not been the same since WW2 and there after?

(There is so much to comment on...I will gather my thoughts and post again)

ANOTHER Question (to all): What are your views specifically on the blackletter letterforms and their structure? Even if you love blackletter, is there anything that doesn't sit right for you in the modern context of today?

hrant's picture

In its richness, blackletter is against the
dominant contemporary power: Modernism.

hhp

Hannah's picture

Could that link back to how in Germany and other countries there is the immergence of typographers/designers who are experimenting with the blackletter form as something different to the typical of our contemporary culture - namely thinking of the contemporary sans serif.

Isaac's picture

>>Children start with no prejudices.
>parents won’t buy the book (in 2006)…

I'd buy it.

I think Hrant's observations about the divergence of forms (on his website) helping recognition is what makes blackletter attractive. Or at least it makes me curious about what new ways type designers might look at it. And now his comment about modernism has got me thinking too.

poms's picture

@Hannah
Have a look at this "blackletter"/sans-experiment, what do you think about it?
http://www.slanted.de/812

Hannah's picture

>poms

That is a very interesting and unique modernised blackletter.
Definitely here it has been used as a display font, but I can't tell if it has been used for the text titles?
They are kind of awkward shapes yet they still seem to work well together, perhaps because I'm not used to seeing this kind of display font.
The numbers I like the best. Their rounded edges remind me alot of the bauhaus below.

The designer has taken the broken and angled characteristics of blackletter and made a feature out of them in this typeface. I really like the idea of doing it that way, makes it a bit simpler anyway. I wonder what inspired them?

Placing the blackletter with the pink (contemporary use of colour) also makes it more modern and friendly.

They are still quite quirky letterforms however, and perhaps that's something of blackletter that will always be seen when made today? Maybe?

hrant's picture

You just reminded me of a very interesting "unintended" blackletter that has made it into the mainstream: the Yellow font of the recently redesigned British telephone directories, by Jurgen Weltin - here's a sample:

He incorporated those "shears" into the curves as a way to implement trapping stylishly, but until people (including myself and at least one other person) pointed it out he didn't realize that he was giving the font a blackletter feel! And it's quite interesting that Weltin is German...

hhp

Hannah's picture

yes, that is really an abstract version of blackletter, perhaps its extreme.

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