Kraftwerk – “Autobahn” / “Morgenspaziergang” German single sleeve
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What do Futura, the autobahn, and the Volkswagen Beetle (which can be seen driving at the right) have in common?
They all were conveived around the same time in the Weimar Republic. They all were embraced by the Nazis, but weren’t tainted by this stigma, and are still popular today.
Paul Renner’s Futura was announced in 1926 and released in 1927. Despite its designer’s expressed opposition to the Nazis, it’s said to have been Adolf Hitler’s favorite typeface, and was prominently used for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, then the capital of Nazi Germany. Today, it’s still one of the best-known and most popular typefaces.
“The idea for the construction of the autobahn was first conceived in the mid-1920s. […] Just days after the 1933 Nazi takeover, Adolf Hitler enthusiastically embraced an ambitious autobahn construction project.” — Wikipedia. To this day, the German autobahn enjoys worldwide fame for having no speed limit, and is a symbol of freedom to many. (Only in recent years, more and more people question the sanity of this view.)
The original design for what became the Beetle was conceived by Béla Barényi in 1925. Advanced by Ferdinand Porsche, the idea was realized with heavy support from Hitler. Dubbed the Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen (“Strength Through Joy Car”), the Beetle became a staple in the Nazi propaganda. Today, it’s rather associated with the positive story of the Wirtschaftswunder in democratic post-war Germany. Successor models were still built in 2019.
Furthermore, Futura was Volkswagen’s corporate typeface for a long time, of course. See Futura in use for the ads by Volkswagen of America from the 1960s:
it’s said to have been Adolf Hitler’s favorite typeface
What’s documented is that, in a speech from 1934, he took a stance against reactionary party members: “Your cosy gothic soulds fit badly with the age of steel and iron, glass and concrete” [translation by Christopher Burke], and spoke out against “street signs and typescript in true gothic letterforms” [as in blackletter]. Hitler saw the necessity of a modern approach to all aspects of life, from transportation (see the autobahn and the KdF-Wagen) to communication, in order to pursue his goals of a German world empire. To quote Burke: “The Nazis soon realized that modernity, which they continued to denounce in abstract terms for propaganda purposes, was integral to their military and economic aims.” This insight eventually led to the infamous decree from January 1941 which made Antiqua (i.e. roman type incl. sans serif) the “normal” letter and banned blackletter for official use in Nazi Germany.
As for Futura in particular, one can find various in-use examples from the Nazi years and by the Nazi party, including prestigious ones like the aforementioned Olympic Games. There’s also anecdotal evidence that Hitler himself liked Futura. In Die Schwabacher, Philipp Luidl points out that, in a design competition for a certificate, Hitler chose an entry using Futura. In a contribution to Futura. The Typeface, Steven Heller mentions that the catalogs produced by Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, – which included watercolors by the Führer for sale – were set in Futura. One such cover and a few other visual examples are shown in an excerpt from the book published on It’s Nice That.