Beyond Dieter Rams: A new exhibit debunks the myths of mid-century German design

inline VDM Deutsches Design Tim Wegner laif Mauerfall Berlin 1989

From 1949 to 1989, Germany was break up in two and stood at the middle of Chilly Battle tensions. The Federal German Republic in the West and the Soviet-aligned German Democratic Republic in the East had been bizarro variations of one another, their shared historical past and language skewed by way of the lenses of geopolitics, financial methods and propaganda.

A new exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, reveals how these two very completely different nations had been formed by design in distinct however typically overlapping methods. The exhibition, German Design 1949-1989: Two Countries, One History, seeks to place the shared historical past of East and West in context by exploring the industrial, product, inside and graphic design tendencies that emerged in every nation, and sometimes ran parallel to one another.

[Fall of the Wall in Berlin, November 12, 1989 © Tim Wegner / laif]

“Submit-war German design historical past has solely been instructed in two separate narratives, one of the East and one of the West,” stated Mateo Kries, director of the Vitra Design Museum, throughout a current preview of the exhibition. For many years, these narratives have been rife with oversimplified generalities. “Western German design was related to Bauhaus functionalism, Japanese German design was related to retro-socialist design cliches, like cheapish colourful plastic objects,” Kries says. “We needed to point out with our mission that actuality was way more complicated and extra attention-grabbing.”

The exhibition explores the various forces that formed the two nations over these 40 years, from the preliminary division and post-war rebuilding to the eventual reunification course of of the early Nineties. The exhibition contains materials from the collections of the Vitra, in the former West, and the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Dresden, in the former East. Curators additionally pulled in objects from establishments, archives, and design faculties all through Germany. Greater than 250 particular person displays are on show.


The exhibition explores how, regardless of the division, influences and even product designs transcended borders. “Each nations had been nonetheless linked, not solely by way of language and historical past, but in addition by way of design and materials tradition,” says curator Klára Němečková, of the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Dresden, the place the exhibition might be proven later this 12 months. She factors to things like so-called backyard egg chair, a modernist chair that folds up like a make-up compact. The chair, designed in the West by Hungarian designer Peter Ghyczy, was solely produced in the East, making its space-age gloss mistakenly related to the East.

[Peter Ghyczy, untitled (called Garden Egg Chair/Senftenberger Egg), 1968, © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Jürgen Hans]

Although the East is usually extra related to kitsch, the exhibition reveals that designers there responded to its distinctive situations to create some timeless work. One of the most profitable items of East German design is the Simson S51 bike, which epitomized the East’s open design rules. With clearly outlined components like a gasoline tank, motor and seat, items might be individually repaired or changed. It was a response to the materials shortages in the East, but in addition prolonged the life of the bike.

Earlier than its division, Germany had a powerful design tradition that influenced the evolution of design after the nation break up. All through the exhibition, tinges of Bauhaus modernism and its predecessor the Deutscher Werkbund may be detected in objects and designs from each side.

Notable examples embody the plexiglass-topped report participant and phone mixture nicknamed “Snow White’s coffin,” designed by Dieter Rams in the West for Braun, and authentic globe lamps that might be utilized in numerous lighting configurations inside the Palast der Republik, the now-demolished dwelling of the East German parliament and a middle of cultural life in East Berlin. Different highlights embody the pictogram designs by Otl Aicher for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and modular furnishings methods by the famend East German designer Rudolf Horn.

[Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot, StereoPhonosuper (called Schneewittchensarg), 1956/60, © Vitra Design Museum, photo: Andreas Sütterlin]

“For a very long time, the dominant opinion was that in the GDR no impartial aesthetic tradition was attainable as a consequence of the communist state construction, so the design tradition of the Federal Republic was thought of superior,” says Němečková. “We need to present that East German design was not inferior to the West.”

However whereas design could have developed in some related methods in each the East and the West, they had been nonetheless very distinct locations. Kries says the exhibition shouldn’t be meant to disregard these variations. “We’re emphasizing and likewise discovering similarities and parallels and cross-pollinations throughout the partitions which have been ignored for too lengthy,” he says.

The exhibition runs at the Vitra Design Museum till September 5, and a few of the exhibition is accessible by way of a series of online events over the subsequent few weeks. After a run at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Dresden later this 12 months, a global tour is deliberate.