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).
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:
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.