The Man Outside
In May 2021, the whole of Hamburg reread Wolfgang Borchert’s post-war drama »The Man Outside« and celebrated the author’s 100th birthday as part of the »Hamburg liest« literature festival.
Nefeli Kavouras, one of the organizers of the festival, had the idea to place quotes from the play on doors that were important in Borchert’s life. She asked me to develop a lettering style that would connect the play and its period of creation immediately after the Second World War with the present day.
Lettering-Zitate für das Literaturfestival »Hamburg liest«
Reseach, stylistic development, lettering and digitization
Lettering aus Vinyl geschnitten
ca. 70 cm breit
The research: handwriting in the postwar period
My first idea was obvious: »I’ll just imitate the author’s handwriting.« But Wolfgang Borchert’s handwriting seems modern and hardly suggests which era it comes from.
So I researched what kind of writing and lettering existed in public spaces in the immediate post-war period. The decisive idea came from a photo of a message written in chalk on a bombed-out house wall in Cologne. The writer mixed Sütterlin script and the Latin letters we use today.
I don’t have the image rights for the photo, but if you are very curious, you can look at it on the website of the NS-Documentation Center of the City of Cologne.
Taking up the principle I had seen in the photo for the design of the quotes, I developed a connected script that incorporated some elements of Sütterlin script: angular, broken rounding on letters like »n« and »m« and a bow on the »u«. I also replaced some Latin letters with their Sütterlin equivalents.
To keep the typeface from looking nostalgic, we decided that it shouldn’t look too handmade. Instead, I redrew it with vectors to give it clean shapes with smooth edges. In production, we also chose bright yellow vinyl–it’s easy to see on dark panes and looks quite contemporary.
From hand drawn lettering to vector shapes
We decided to have a plotter cut the quotes out of vinyl instead of me painting them by hand. This way they’d be easier to remove after the festival and we could put quotes in more places. For the plotter, we needed clean letterforms without too much detail, so I traced the text with vectors.
The quotes in public space
Two weeks before the literature festival, Nefeli Kavouras placed the quotes from »The Man Outside« at locations in Eppendorf, the Hamburg neighborhood where Wolfgang Borchert grew up in the 1920s: in front of his birthplace, on the door of his school, on the window of the University of Hamburg.