New Year’s Eve Cards

Silvester und Neujahr 001

New Year’s Eve has arrived, so I am showing two old greeting cards for this occasion today.

The first card was designed by Svend Keller for New Year’s Eve 1956. The final drawing was then made by Rolf Keller. According to one letter written by Rolf Keller, it was printed in Karl-Marx-Stadt. Svend Keller received 40 copies. On the back, it is showing Svend Keller’s address in Hamburg. Both the design (see below) and several copies of the finished card (see above) have been preserved. According to that letter, Rolf Keller used the same card, with his own name instead of his son’s, and at least one other friend of Rolf Keller also used this card, with a slightly different text.

The text is a poem that is a bit hard to translate since for occasional poems like these, the content is partially suggested by the rhyme, which makes some parts sound strange in the translation. However, let me try to give a rough translation so you can get an idea of the content even if rhyme and rhythm are lost:

Old Chronos, father of times

Driven by constant change

Puts above the world theatre a


Raise your glasses already for prologues

In a moment, the curtain is going to be lifted,

for the new play.

Does harp or timpani sound more up-to-date?

Who will be the tree and who will fell it?

If you are sitting in the loge or in the gallery,

Uplifting from the scenery

And lots of happiness wishes you

Svend Keller

According to the logo and signature, the card was drawn by Rolf Keller, but it was designed by Svend Keller. Here is the design, a pencil drawing. The text, in Svend Keller’s handwriting, is on the back side. With a pen, he has sketched the layout (drawing on top, poem under it), in one of the top corners:

Silvester und Neujahr 002

Note that Svend Keller, who liked swing music, had drawn a modern drum kit. Maybe he had a contrast between classical music and jazz in mind here. His father, however, replaced this with a classical set of timpani.

The second card, shown below, was made by Rolf Keller for 1954/1955. I suppose he made it for private purposes as well, to send it to his own friends and acquaintances. It does not have a printing license code which it would have had if it was made for sale. The text is a self-tinkered poem again that I am not translating here. The basic idea, fitting to the drawing, is that some parcels of good wishes, contentedness, good time etc. are being sent to the recipient.

Silvesterkarte_1955 001

60 years have passed, but the message remains the same: I wish everybody the best for the new year!


Advent Calendars 5


This series was intended to comprise four articles. In Germany, the four Sundays before Christmas are know as “Erster Advent” (“First Advent”), “Zweiter Advent” (“Second Advent”) and so on, and this gave rise to the idea to put the material I had into four articles. However, after I had published the last article, more material turned up. So today, we are opening the 24th window of the advent calendars to see what is behind.

The picture above was sent to me by one of my sisters. It is obviously the back side of the “St. Niklas Bahnhof” advent calendar described in Advent Calendars 2. In that article, I had written that the back side was missing from the calendar I have. The text on the calendar is saying that it is showing the city and behind is the village. This “Niklasdort” (the destination of the tram on the front side) can be seen above. The shops here are those of  a cooper and of a blacksmith. The inscription on the big house reads “Gemeindeamt Niklasdorf” (“Municipal Office Niklasdorf”). “Dorf” means village, and “Niklas” refers to St. Nicholas.

Another back side, or rather a photograph of one (probably made from the original design) turned up among the materials kept by my mother. In this case, I do not know to which advent calendar it belongs. This page is slightly longer than A4, if it is original size it might belong to one of the larger advent calendars. In the scanned image above, a part of the mountains and sky is cut off since it did not fit exactly on the scanner available to me at the moment. From the distribution of the pictures I suspect it belongs to the “Christmas Bridge” design shown in Advent Calendars 3. I am not sure because all I have of that calendar is a photograph made directly from the original design. It did not show the numbers of the doors so I don’t know exactly where they were. If they where distributed in a similar way as most of the picture elements in front, along the bride (from top right to bottom left) and along the train (from top left to bottom right), it would fit this back side that also shows such a distribution. However, this is at this time just a hypothesis. If some calendar of this type should turn up in some collection, one could check if this is true, but at this time, I can only speculate. However, this is clearly the back side of an advent calendar.


Rückseite Adventskalender 001

Christmas Greeting Cards

Weihnachtskarte 004

Wether you celebrate or don’t celebrate, and whatever you celebrate at this time of the year, I send “season’s greetings” to everybody.

Before the internet came along, sending such greetings was often done with post cards, so let me share some old cards here designed by Rolf Keller in the 1950s. Like the advent calendars shown in the previous articles, he designed these cards for the publisher “Lederbogen Verlag”. In fact, post cards where one of the main articles produced by that publisher.

These Christmas greeting cards where published in 1956. They just show landscapes in winter, with no other reference to Christmas as the text “Herzliche Weihnachtsgrüße” (a greeting formula literally meaning: “affectionate Christmas regards”) or “Ein frohes Weihnachtsfest” (“Happy Christmas Celebrations”). For the first card, Rolf Keller obviously used the sketch shown in Houses and Trees on a Hill. When I published this sketch, I was not aware that he had used this motive in a post card. By comparing the two, you can see how he turned a sketch (that had not been done in winter) into a finished product. He used to have a sketchbook in his pocket most of the time and sketched anything he found interesting. This gave him a reserve of motives that he could access when he needed them. Some of these sketch books are extant and I will show those sketches bit by bit on this blog. I don’t know if he just used the group of buildings on the sketch here and put it into a different terrain or if what looks like a hill with several buildings on the sketch are actually two sketches put together on the same page. At least, the sketch can be dated by this to having been made latest 1956, but it might be much older.

In the case of the other cards, I don’t know of any sketches that fit. These might be products of fantasy, or the sketches they are based on have not been preserved. The style, especially of the last two, resembles some motives we have seen on the advent calendars.

Weihnachtskarte 003

Weihnachtskarte 001

Weihnachtskarte 002

You may find these postcards kitschy or you may find them beautiful, it depends on your taste. What a postcard means depends on who sends it, who receives it and what is written inside, independent of its artistic qualities. These ones where never sent. Or, they are being sent now, for the first time. Wherever you are and whatever you do these days, I wish everybody a nice time.

Advent Calendars 4


To round up this series, I am going to show a few more calendars. I received the picture above from a collector. One of my sisters has a copy of this calendar and also sent me a picture of it but since the image I received from the collector is of higher quality, I choose to post the latter instead.

This calendar, showing a city scene with a Christmas market and a church tower, is stylistically similar to the one with “St. Niklas” station, shown two weeks ago, as well as the city scene with “Hotel Blautanne” and the “Turmblick”, shown last week (these three are actually my favorites). According to the print license code, it was printed or published in 1955, so it was probably designed either 1955 or the year before. The publisher is again Lederbogen Verlag. The size is approximately A4.

Behind the train line, we see the inscription “Kinderpost” (“Children’s post office”) on one building. The shops at the market place are “Puppenstube” (“doll’s house”) and “Konsum”. Konsum was a chain of cooperative shops and restaurants in the GDR. “Café Pieps” is “Café Tweet”. There are Christmas market stands “Süßer Max” (“Sweet Max”) and “Naschkätzel” (maybe translatable as “little sweet tooth”). “Rostbrater” is a stand where you can get roasted meet. In the right lower corner we can read: “Remove after Christmas the back side, it will show something nice in addition”. In the left lower corner, you see Rolf Keller’s logo and name. Below we read “Remove the back page after Christmas, it is showing something beautiful”.

A copy of this particular calendar is currently on exhibition in Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Schlossbergmuseum (see here), where one can also see other advent calendars from different artists and different times.

The same collector who sent me this picture also sent me pictures of two more advent calendars designed by Rolf Keller, shown below. They are somewhat different from the calendars we have seen here so far. In the first one, the motives are similar to the one above, but the much smaller display window creates a very different impression. We see a “Puppendoktor” (“Doll doctor”, i.e. a shop where dolls could be repaired; in the house where Rolf Keller was living, there actually was such a “Puppendoktor” and this probably gave the inspiration here), “Spielwaren” (“Toys”), and a bakery (“Bäckerei von Meta Schnupp”) and a pub (“Gasthaus zur Zapfe”, a bit surprising on a picture for children).


The idealized world shown on this calendar is not very realistic. This is even more so on the next calendar that also differs from the other ones in its close up view. There is a Christmas star, similar to the ones we have seen in several other advent calendars, and again a moon. However, this time it is not the crescent moon with a face but a full moon with the “man in the moon”. We have to read the inscriptions to the left to understand why the children in the picture are so excited. These signs read (from top to bottom): “Nikolaus” (St. Nicholas), “Christkind 2x klingeln” (Christ child, ring twice), and “Heinzelmann, 3x klingeln” (“Heinzelmänchen” are another type fairy tale character, although they don’t have any connection to Christmas). The sign on the door reads “Sandmann wohnt jetzt Nr. 7”) (Sandman now stays in no. 7). The inscription on the mail box reads “Wunschzettel” (wish lists). In some areas of Germany, the Christmas gifts are thought to be brought by “Weihnachtsmann”, a figure akin to Father Christmas or Santa, in other areas it is Nikolaus (who, however, has his own day on December 6th), in other areas it is the “Christkind”.

Unfortunately, I am not able to date these two calendars. There is a code on the second one, but it seems to follow a different system from the ones I know, and does not include the year. If the system was changed, this calendar must be from a different year, but I cannot say if it is older or younger than the other ones. I have once seen this one offered on ebay as “around 1950”, but I don’t know if that is true. These two calendars seem to be similar in style, so they might have been designed around the same time. My mother told me that the house and the garden door on this calendar resembles the house and garden door in Grüna near Chemnitz where Rolf Keller stayed in the 1930s and where his son Svend Keller spent part of his childhood.


Note the similarity of the cat shown here to the one on the roof of the gas station on the first calendar shown last week.

The last calendar I want to show is a larger one (about 25 x 35 cm). The “Turmblick” and “Weihnachtsbrücke” shown as postcard sized copies last week must also have been of this larger size according to the caption on the pictures. This calendar is, unfortunately, heavily damaged, but I am showing it anyway. I have shown the motive already in the last picture of last week’s article, in a black and white photography that seems to have been made after the original design for the calendar. Showing the calendar itself gives us an idea about the colors. The code on the back side shows the year 1957 as the year of print or publication. There is also the “L” logo of Lederbogen Verlag. The black and white photograph of this calendar shown last week was probably indended to be sent to Rolf Keller’s son Svend Keller, who had been imprisioned as a political prisoner (see last week’s article). The fact that this photograph was made although Svend Keller was released in 1956 indicates that the design was made in 1956.


Some of the “doors” are missing, so we can see some of the motives on the back side. A squirrel, a chimney sweeper, a horse. The back side is probably similar to the one shown for the second Calendar in the first article that shows similar motives.

The calendar shows some of the recurring motives also seen in some of the others: snow, a christmas star (on one of the missing doors), a crescent moon with a face, trains, a christmas market and christmas tree, a bridge, a horse cart, old style houses and buildings, churches and church towers, mountains. If you compare the different calendars, you may find some additional recurring motives. Last week, I had already written about the probable meaning of the “toy collections” in some of the calendars, e.g. in the “Winter” calendar shown in the first article and the “Weihnachtsbrücke” shown last week.

On the bottom, we read:

Unterm Deckblatt wohlverhüllt                      Under the front page, well covered

Zeigt sich nach dem Weihnachtsfest            After Christmas becomes visible

Noch ein völlig neues Bild                             Another totally new picture

Wenn du Dir’s ausschneiden läßt                  If you get it cut out for you

The instructions for the removal of the back page on the back side contain a drawing in this case (and some very early artistic attempts of me or another child):


Picture advent calendars like these have largely disappeared. Today, shops are selling advent calendars where you find a piece of chocolate behind each door. The special joy of finding a different and unpredictable picture behind the little doors every day is something children of today are missing. In a time where children are overfed with images from the internet, from TV and from games, the sensitivity required to appreciate such old style advent calendars is probably no longer there. These advent calendars are part of a sunken world of the past.

We forget most of what is happening in our first years of life, but I still vividly remember these advent calendars from my earlier childhood. And looking at them again now, I feel in them the smile of my grandfather who made them.

Advent Calendars 3


Last week I tried to buy this advent calendar in an online auction but unfortunately, I did not get it. At least the seller allowed me to use the photograph. I knew this one before only from a black and white photograph. The photo from the auction enables us to also see the colors. The black and white copy I have has some history attached to it. So today I will present a glimpse into a dark chapter of European history. But first, let me show you that black and white copy:


In the left lower corner, we find Rolf Keller’s logo and name, integrated into the design as if it were a shop sign. We can read there “Rolf Keller” and “Grafiker” (graphic artist). Above we see an “L”-logo and the name “Lederbogen”, which is the logo and name of the publisher of this advent calendar. On top we can read “Kino” (cinema). Below that “Foto-Atelier Knips” (“photo studio snap”). “Restaurant Hotel und Café Blautanne” (Blautanne means “blue spruce” is a reference to Christmas. “Moden” (left besides the hotel’s name) means “fashion”. “Friseur Salon Schnippel” is the “hairdresser’s shop snip”. “Spielwaren” means “toys”. The gas station’s brand name “Flitzol” is derived from the verb “flitzen” which means “to speed”. The car in front of it shows “Deutsche Post” (“German postal service”). The advertising pillar shows some brand name I cannot identify, and “Weihnachten 195”. (“Christmas 195”, the last digit is “behind” the advertising pillar) There are lots of little details to be discovered in this image. The printer’s license on the back reads “A 5982 / 53 / DDR III/29/3 60 000”. This shows that in 1953, the Lederbogen Verlag had the code A 5982, as opposed to A 142 in 1956 (see the article of two weeks ago). So in the meantime the code system had been changed.

The back of the copy looks like this:

 CCF14122014_00000 (2)

There are some marks and inscriptions. What do they mean?

In 1945, the Russians had occupied the east of Germany which was later turned into a satellite state of the Soviet Union called the “Deutsche Demokratische Republik” (DDR or GDR in English). This was during the reign of Stalin. Inside Russia, there existed a large system of prisoner camps, known as the GULAG (an excellent book about the history of the GULAG is Anne Applebaum’s “GULAG A History”). After 1945, the ministers running these camps, the “NKVD”, extended this system into Germany. Opponents of the regime, or people declared to be opponents, where arrested.

On February 2nd, 1950, Svend Keller, Rolf Keller’s son, had been arrested. Sometime earlier, he had left the party. He probably also had made some critical remarks and had been denunciated. A military tribunal of the Soviet army sentenced him to “25 Jahre Strafarbeitslager” (25 years punishment labor camp) for some standard made-up charges: “anti-soviet agitation, anti-soviet espionage and distribution of anti-soviet literature”. He eventually spent six and a half years in prison. This prison, in the city of Bautzen, was actually one of the westernmost “Islands” of what is known

Svend Keller’s parents could occasionally visit him. They where also allowed to send parcels and letters. Pictures in letters where normally not handed over to the prisoners, but the prisoners normally had the opportunity to look at them. In a letter to the administration of the prison, written on June 21st, 1953, Rolf Keller wrote: “I politely beg you to show my son the two enclosed photocopies of my works”. These photocopies might have been copies of advent calendars. The inscriptions on the back of the photograph above and some other ones (see below) clearly show that they had been sent to the prison. They were probably handed over to Svend Keller only when he was released in 1956.

In the left upper corner we read (handwritten) “An Svend Keller 88E” (“to Svend Keller 88E”). In all the letters to the prison’s administration, he is always referred to as “Svend Keller 88E”. In the middle we read “Entwurf Adventskalender 1953 Vorderseite” (“design advent calendar 1953 front page”). Besides that there is a date 2nd Sept. 1951. This could indicate that the picture arrived in the prison already in 1951, but I don’t think so. In the left lower corner, there are dates from 1953: 23rd July 1953 and 24th August 1953. The 1951 date seems to have another meaning, maybe referring to some decree that applied here or something like that, but I have not identified it yet in his file. The prison was in the control of the GDRs ministry of the interior from 1951 on, maybe there is a connection with that (before that, from 1949 on, it had been controlled by the ministry of justice). The letter mentioned above arrived in the prison on 23rd June 1953. It is possible that this is one of the copies mentioned in it. The right lower corner is marked K 39 in read. I don’t know what that means, maybe the number of the room where he was imprisoned.

There is also a copy of the calendar I have posted last week, with the same markings on the back. The inscription here reads: “Entwurf Adventskalender 1952”, so this one (published, as we know, in 1953) was designed in 1952. According to the printing license (see above) the first one was either published or at least printed in 1953 as well.


Note that the little numbers of the doors of the advent calendars are not there, so these are actually copies of the designs or printing lithographs (see the previous article), not of a finished calendar. In addition to these A4-sized copies that had been folded to fit into a small envelope, I have two more pictures, the size of large post cards and on card bord material. On the back sides of these, we read: “Svend Keller 88E”, “- 1975 -” and “- 2. 9. 51”. 1975 is the year in which Svend Keller would have been released if he had actually spent 25 years in prison. These cards also have a small red seal stamped on the back that might belong to the photographer. Here are the two cards:

CCF14122014_00000 CCF14122014_00001

The caption of the left one reads: “Advent Calendar “Christmas Bridge”. Orig. size 25 x 35 cm”. The caption of the right one reads: “Advent Calender “Tower View”. Orig. size 25 x 35 cm”. Note the “Mother Holle” motive that you also find in the calendar I posted two weeks ago.

My sister sent me a picture she snapped of another such copy that is in her possession. Compare the moon and star motive here with the ones on the calendar I posted two weeks ago:


Last week, comparing the “winter” advent calendar from my first article with the “St. Niklas Station” I posted last week, I noted that I found the “winter” design comparatively chaotic and I suspected that Rolf Keller might not have had the time in 1956 to think up a design with a unifying concept. However, my mother pointed out to me that the objects shown on that calendar were objects from Rolf (and Svend) Keller’s apartment and many of them had been Svend Keller’s toys in his childhood. So there was a unifying concept: Rolf Keller probably made that design with his son in mind, planning to show it to him in prison as a recollection of home (the same might be true for the “Christmas bridge” motive). So that calendar might be directly connected to the fact that Svend Keller had been imprisoned. However, he was then released in mid-1956, probably before that design had been sent to him.

Advent Calendars 2


The second advent calendar by Rolf Keller enables us to take a look into the artist’s workshop because for this one, the original design has been preserved. Moreover, in this case I might have identified the original railway station that inspired this design.

More information on what an advent kalendar is can be found here. Before we look at the design, let me explain the different pieces of text that can be found on the picture. The railway station is called “St. Niklas Hbf”. St. Niklas (also known as St. Nikolaus, St. Niklaus, depending on the region and dialect) is German for Santa Claus. “Hbf” is an abbreviation for “Hauptbahnhof”, meaning “main station”. The destination of the tram is “Niklasdorf” (“Niklas village”). The “HO” on the kiosk refers to the “Handelsorganisation”, the largest state owned retail business in the GDR. The inscription on the side of the train is “SPEISEWAGEN MITROPA”. “Speisewagen” means “dining car”. MITROPA was the catering company for trains in prewar Germany. It was renamed in west Germany but retained its name in the east after the war. Rolf Keller’s signature and his “24” logo (referring to the year he started his own business) can be found in the left lower corner.

In the right lower corner there is a little poem.

Hier ist die Stadt                                             Here is the city

dahinter liegt das Land.                                  behind it there ist he countryside

Trennst du das Rückblatt ab                          If you cut off the back page

wird dir das Dorf bekannt                              You are going to know the village

Unfortunately, the back page (probably showing an image of “Niklasdorf”) is missing. So when you opened the little numbered windows one by one (one on each day from December 1st to Decmber 24th) you would see motives from the village scene behind.

The original design of this advent calendar has been preserved. It offers a unique view into the artist’s workshop. It is now in the possession of one of my sisters and she sent me some pictures of it. The advent calendar is approximately A4-sized. The design is about twice the size:


The painting is glued onto a piece of cardboard. The “mountains” on top are missing. A detail from the signal box shows that some parts have been cut out and replaced by others, so the whole design is made up of several pieces:


The design was then probably fotographed with a reproduction camera. The following detail from the left lower corner shows that probably some retouching was made to the resulting fotograph before it was turned into the final lithograph for printing (the right side shows the design).

Bahnhof_Code IMG_20141130_083733

The little numbers of the perforated “doors” where also not present in the design (the exception is the 24 that was integrated into the design on the signaling box), but I don’t know if they where printed separately or added in the same step in which the retouching was done.

Looking at the picture it occurred to me that the inspiration to it might have come from one of the train stations in the public transport network of Hamburg, a station called “Dehnhaide”. Here are some contemporary pictures of how that station looks today:

File:U-Bahnhof Dehnhaide Eingang.jpg




From 1919 on, Rolf Keller had been living in Hamburg for over a decade. He had many friends there and Hamburg was where he met his wife. His mother in law and other relatives of his wife where still living in Hamburg. They had been living in Hamburg Barmbek before the war and that is where this train station is. Before the war, the entrance had been in the middle (where the showcase is in the above picture). The whole area had been heavily destroyed in the war and in fact the facade of the station is the only pre-war building still standing in this area. The rounded entrance at the corner had been built when the station was rebuilt in 1950. There was a tram line in front of the station until 1965, when trams in Barmbek where replaced by busses. The design was made in 1952 (I have evidence for this, but that will be the topic of a later article) and the advent calendar was published in 1953 (according to the code printed in the left lower corner, see the left of the detail pictures above – some information on such printing license codes can be found in my previous article). Rolf Keller might have been visiting his friends and family in Hamburg between 1950 and 1952 (note that in the 1950s, the border between East Germany and West Germany was still open). On such a visit, he might have seen (and possibly sketched) this station and then used this as an inspiration for the advent calendar. I don’t know if the industrial building behind the station already existed back then but it might also have provided the inspiration for the factory building in the calendar.

The advent calendar from 1956 I have posted last week looks a bit jumbled and disorganized in comparision to this one. There, a number of toy motives where put together without any unifying idea. In this older calendar, however, there is a unifying concept and a richness of little details. Letters show that Rolf Keller had a lot of work to do in 1956, he might simply not have had the time then to come up with such a charming design. The “St. Niklaus” advent calendar was obviously done with commitment. I imagine he had a lot of fun designing this one.