Die Rote Fahne, #1 (9 Nov 1918) and #16 (16 Jan 1919)

Typography

Die Rote Fahne, #1 (9 Nov 1918) and #16 (16 Jan 1919)

On this day in 1919, one hundred years ago, German socialist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were tortured and murdered by the Freikorps at the end of the Spartacist uprising.

This post takes a look at the typefaces used in Die Rote Fahne (“The Red Flag”), the newspaper founded by Luxemburg, Liebknecht and others. The first issue was published on 9 November 1918, the day that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and Liebknecht proclaimed the German Free Socialist Republic. Revolutionary workers had occupied the editorial office of the conservative Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger on Zimmerstraße 35–44. Their leader, Spartacist Hermann Duncker, announced to the journalists at work:

“Gentlemen, the page has turned. Your pages must turn too! You understand that a victorious revolution will not suffer a counter-revolutionary press.” [100 Years of Revolution]

The paper was now published under the title Die rote Fahne, in this first issue still largely using the ready-to-print composition of the Lokal-Anzeiger — and the same fonts, of course. In the 1910s, the standard letter for German newspapers still was blackletter. The headline (“Berlin under the red flag”) is in König-Type schmal fett. The deck (“Police headquarters stormed.—650 prisoners released.—Red flags at the castle”) uses a Fette Fraktur. Both typefaces had been used by the Lokal-Anzeiger at least since 1910. For the new nameplate, the revolutionists decided on Eckmann-Schrift. Was it for its winding Art Nouveau F that looks like a blowing flag? Or maybe because it was the only type available at the press in a big enough size? First cast two decades earlier at the peak of the Jugendstil craze, Eckmann is not exactly a forward-looking choice. The line below, “Ehemaliger Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger — 2. Abend-Ausgabe”, features Fette Gotisch. The small type used for “Preis” and “Pfennig” in the top right corner looks like Bernhard-Fraktur.

Of the two proclamations of a republic on 9 November, the one by Philipp Scheidemann was successful, and the Social Democrats emerged victorious. The Spartacist occupants were evicted from the office by troops loyal to the government two days later, but Die Rote Fahne continued publication, as the central organ first of the Spartacus League and, from 1 January 1919, of the newly founded KPD, the Communist Party of Germany. “Zentralorgan der Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands (Spartakusbund)” is set in Mainzer Fraktur. The nameplate introduced in the third issue is now spelled with a capital R and uses a display cut of the same face.

In the issue from 16 January 1919, the editorial staff addresses their readership with a big headline in the schmal halbfett (bold condensed) style of Offenbacher Schwabacher: “An unsere Leser!” The Spartacist uprising had been crushed, and more than 150 insurgents killed. The day before, the bigger part of the print run of Die Rote Fahne had been seized, and the office occupied by soldiers. Some journalists were arrested while others managed to go into hiding. The remaining staff members accused the counterrevolutionaries:

Workers! Friends! Following the physical murders, the “socialist” government of blood-stained EbertScheidemann goes on to assassinate the spirit of the revolution, too, depriving it of its organ, … its advertising and weaponry.

At that time the issue went to print, the editors Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, whose names are listed in the center of the masthead, had already been murdered.

Detail from Berthold’s specimen Nr. 278 showing Mainzer Fraktur fett. This face probably originated at the Stuttgart-based foundry Bauer & Co., which was acquired by the H. Berthold AG in 1897. It was issued in 1901, “initiating the new movement in the creation of Fraktur types” — Friedrich Bauer.

Scan: Hans Reichardt for Klingspor Museum. License: All Rights Reserved.

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