Reading Stories

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“Oma-Ebersdorf ließt vor und Svend lauscht…”

(Grandma Ebersdorf is reading to him and Svend is listening…)

How much is in these three little dots…

Rolf Keller’s mother was living in Ebersdorf, near Chemnitz (nowadays a part of the city). His other grandmother was living in Hamburg, so there was “Oma Ebersdorf” and “Oma Hamburg”.

This pencil sketch by Rolf Keller, made in the 1930s, is showing my father as a child, sitting in a chair and listening while his grandmother is reading stories to him. Maybe when he was much smaller, he was sitting already in this same chair, and now, already a bit too large for it, he was making himself small again inside that chair to listen to the stories. Then, his grandmother took the heavy book from the bookshelf, put on her glasses, sat down besides him and started reading…

He told me about it when I was a child myself. His grandmother would, for example, read the stories of Wilhelm Hauff to him, for example “Zwerg Nase” (The Dwarf Nose). I remember my father reading this (and many other stories) to me and my sisters. Nothing can be compared to the feeling of having stories read to you when you are a child. And when my daughter was small, I discovered the joy of reading stories to a child, again something special that cannot be compared to anything. I continued it even when she could read already herself, at our shared pleasure.

“… She went so slowly that it was three quarters of an hour before she reached a remote part of the city, and finally stopped before a tumble-down house. Then she drew a rusty old hook from her pocket, and inserted it skillfully into a small hole in the door, which sprung open with a bang. But how surprised was little Jacob as he entered! The interior of the house was splendidly fitted up; the ceilings and walls were of marble; the furniture of the finest ebony, inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl; while the floor was of glass, and so smooth that the boy slipped and fell several times. The old woman then drew a silver whistle from her pocket and whistled a tune that resounded shrilly through the house. In response to this, some Guinea-pigs came down the stairs; but, as seemed strange to Jacob, they walked upright on two legs, wore nutshells in place of shoes, and had on clothes and even hats of the latest fashion. …”

A long thread of story reading and, earlier, story telling connects us back through the generations into earliest times, and at the same time into the world of the stories. “Once upon a time…”, “Es war einmal…”, “Mukashi, mukashi, o-mukashi…” – many languages have such formulas that enter the child and the reader into that realm of stories, the only real magic words. The chair, the carpet, the curtains disappear, and in their place, a different world appears…

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Town Canal in Holland

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In 1944, Rolf Keller spent some time in Holland. He was there as a soldier. We have little exact information on this time since most of the letters he wrote home during the war (many of them illustrated) where destroyed in a fire (I am going to publish the few extant examples here at another time). However, there is a number of drawings and sketches from Holland, some giving names and places, some without exact information on the where and when. It is obvious that Rolf Keller was a great admirer of Dutch architecture.

I don’t know where exactly this pen drawing was made. The tower looks like that of the Weigh House (containing a cheese museum) in Alkmaar. If you look at pictures of that town on the internet, you also find exactly that type of draw bridge and exactly that type of hand rail on the bridges. However, I was not able to find any point on the map of the city that would provide exactly this view. It might be that this is somewhere else, not in Alkmaar, it might be that I have not studied the map of the town well enough or that places have been changed.

However, it is also possible that this drawing does not show any actual view but was composed by the artist, combining different elements he saw or sketched while walking through the town, something like an ideal concentrate of that town, combining the different elements that provide the beauty and atmosphere of these Dutch and Frisian Towns, the canals, the bridges, the trees, the houses and the typical towers.

Industrial Logos 1 – VEB Bohrmaschinenfabrik Saalfeld

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On March 15th, 1957, while working on the industrial fair in Leipzig, Rolf Keller sent a brochure “Halle 20” to his son, Svend Keller. This brochure lists the companies exhibiting in hall 20 of the fair in that year. This hall was dedicated to the East German machine tool producers organized under the organization of “WMW”, a large association of publicly owned (i.e. state owned) comanies.

In the 1957 brochure, Rolf Keller had marked those logos of exhibiting companies that he had designed or re-designed. It turns out that he was involved in the design of the logos of more than half of all those companies.

I am showing here one of the logos. Those of you who are just interested in art might not find this interesting, but some of you might have studied graphic design or might be interested in the history of industrial graphics design.

All of the logos in the book are printed in blue color. Perhaps there where guidelines based on the available printing technology, but I don’t know. Maybe the goal was to produce a common look and feel for all WMW companies.

The logo shown here belongs to a producer of “High duty drilling machines” called “VEB Bohrmaschinenfabrib Saalfeld”. There still is a machine tool industry in the town of Saalfeld, but I do not know if they are connected to that 1950s GDR-company (I am trying to find out). It might be that a company still exists that owns the rights for this logo but I was not able to find out so far.

There are other examples where the legal successors of the state owned companies from GDR times can clearly be identified and in one instance, I even found a company that is still using the logo as designed by Rolf Keller in the 1950s, without any changes, to this day (see the “Aue”-Logo in the blue cirlce here: http://www.blema.de/index.php?id=blema_de that also appears in exactly that shape in the “Halle 20” brochure of 1957, marked by Rolf Keller as his design). In other instances, the companies seem to have vanished completely after the German reunification.

One might ask the question what was the purpose of having logos for companies in a state planned economy like that of the GDR. But back in the 1950s, these machines where exported worldwide, so establishing brand names was important since machine tools where a mayor export article and thus an important source of forreign exchange for the GDR.

Such logos seem to have been one of Rolf Keller’s main sources of income. From his letters, we learn that he earned well from designing such logos. For example, in one letter from 22nd of October, 1957, he writes that he got the job of designing one logo for 2000 Mark and three for 1000 Mark each. This was much more that the average monthly income of a worker that, according to the information I could find, seems to have been in the 500 to 600 Mark range at the time.

(In case you, as an organization or individual, are the owner of the rights to this logo and you do not agree with me showing it here, please contact me. I will remove it in that case).

Start of School Greeting Card

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A postcard designed by Rolf Keller for Lederbogen Verlag. The text says: Best wishes for the beginning of school. This image does not show the whole postcard; I have cut off the margin (about one cm) around the picture since it had been written on.

I cannot date this card exactly. It does not show the printing license code typical of GDR printed media. The System of printing licenses had been introduce in 1951 (see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Druckgenehmigungsverfahren), so this card should be latest from 1951. A letter by Rolf Keller dated February 23rd 1959 tells us that he started working for Lederbogen in 1945  “… Lederbogen is opening their trade fair stand fort he last time. In March the have to dissolve the company, an old customer (since 45) goes down the drain that way, who brought me 6000 per year on average. Friday morning I am driving to the fair to design the Lederbogen stand.” (“… Lederbogen hält zum letztenmal seinen Messestand offen. Im März muß die Firma liquidieren, ein alter Kunde (seit 45) geht damit flöten, der durchschnittlich 6000 im Jahr einbrachte. Freitag früh fahre ich zur Messe, um den Lederbogen-Stand zu gestalten. ”) I do not know what was the reason for the liquidation oft hat company, it might have been for political reasons since many private companies in the GDR where transformed into state owned ones or integrated into larger state owned companies.

So the earliest date for the card would be 1945. However, the quality of the paper and printing is quite good and there was probably no demand for such cards directly after the war, so I think it is very unlikely that this card is from the immediate post war time. I would therefore date it to around 1950

The motive of the card, however, is older. It shows Rolf Keller’s son, Svend Keller (born in 1928), as a young boy (around 1935) in the Kellerfamily’s apartment in Chemnitz, so probably Rolf Keller used a sketch or photograph from the 1930s as a basis for this card.

Pentecost Greeting Cards

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While in the US, Pentecost (or Whitsun) is only a church holiday and, as a consequence, only known to Christians, in Germany, where it is called “Pfingsten”, it is a public holiday and since the following Monday (called “Pfingstmontag”) is also a holiday, even non-Christians know it. As a result, people (used to) send each other greating cards, even if the religious connection is not always there, as is the case in these examples. They obviously belong to the same style and series as the New Year greeting cards shown here, designed by Rolf Keller in 1956 for the publisher Lederbogen Verlag.

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I don’t know where Rolf Keller took the motives for these cards, but it was likely somewhere in the Erzgebirge mountains south of Chemnitz, where he was living.

Zooming In and Zooming Out

My contribution to the cooperative blog project “Journey of a photograph”. The journey will be going on now…

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Nerve impulses running down the spinal cord, triggering muscle cells – mitochondria pumping protons and electrons to provide the energy to move a muscle. The muscle contracts and the fingertip touches the release button, triggering a cascade of electronic signals, calculations, movements of electromechanical parts, chemical reactions inside a battery, a shutter opening, photons flashing inside and triggering chemical changes in the particles of the film. A myriad of smallest and shortest events and processes combine to produce that short “click” that indicates that a picture has been taken. The photographer looks away and her mind and eye turn on something else.

A short moment in her life. The moment she pressed the trigger of her camera. Clouds, trees or bushes, houses, the horizon, the sun. Motion blur. Lens Flair.

The photograph was shot while in motion, maybe from a train or a car. The hexagonal spots of lens flair…

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