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Die Rote Fahne, #1 (9 Nov 1918) and #16 (16 Jan 1919)

One hundred years after Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered in Berlin, we take a look at the typefaces used in the socialist newspaper first published during the German Revolution of 1918.

Contributed by Florian Hardwig on Jan 15th, 2019. Artwork published in
November 1918
    Die rote Fahne, Nr. 1 from 9 November 1918.
    Source: Scan: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Die rote Fahne, Nr. 1 from 9 November 1918.

    On this day in 1919, one hundred years ago, German socialist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were tortured and murdered by the Freikorps at the end of the Spartacist uprising.

    This post takes a look at the typefaces used in Die Rote Fahne (“The Red Flag”), the newspaper founded by Luxemburg, Liebknecht and others. The first issue was published on 9 November 1918, the day that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and Liebknecht proclaimed the German Free Socialist Republic. Revolutionary workers had occupied the editorial office of the conservative Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger on Zimmerstraße 35–44. Their leader, Spartacist Hermann Duncker, announced to the journalists at work:

    “Gentlemen, the page has turned. Your pages must turn too! You understand that a victorious revolution will not suffer a counter-revolutionary press.” [100 Years of Revolution]

    Die rote Fahne, Nr. 1 from 9 November 1918.
    Source: Scan: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. License: All Rights Reserved.

    No time for details: In German Fraktur typography, it was common to use letterspacing for emphasis, in lieu of italics. This clipping has plenty of considerably letterspaced words, none of which would ask for emphasis. The goal here was to simply justify the lines as quick as possible. What’s a few stolen sheep compared to the liberation of the working class? Also note the dissolved umlauts at the bottom left (“Ueber”, “Uebernahme”): Fonts didn’t always include capital forms for ÄÖÜ, but instead had separate small pieces for the dots, which could be mounted on top of AOU. This step required some fiddling, and hence it was skipped here.

    The paper was now published under the title Die rote Fahne, in this first issue still largely using the ready-to-print composition of the Lokal-Anzeiger — and the same fonts, of course. In the 1910s, the standard letter for German newspapers still was blackletter. The headline (“Berlin under the red flag”) is in König-Type schmal fett. The deck (“Police headquarters stormed.—650 prisoners released.—Red flags at the castle”) uses a Fette Fraktur. Both typefaces had been used by the Lokal-Anzeiger at least since 1910. For the new nameplate, the revolutionists decided on Eckmann-Schrift. Was it for its winding Art Nouveau F that looks like a blowing flag? Or maybe because it was the only type available at the press in a big enough size? First cast two decades earlier at the peak of the Jugendstil craze, Eckmann is not exactly a forward-looking choice. The line below, “Ehemaliger Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger — 2. Abend-Ausgabe”, features Fette Gotisch. The small type used for “Preis” and “Pfennig” in the top right corner looks like Bernhard-Fraktur.

    Die rote Fahne, Nr. 1 from 9 November 1918.
    Source: Scan: Hans Reichardt for Klingspor Museum. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Detail from Berthold’s specimen Nr. 278 showing the bold condensed member of the König-Type family designed by Heinz König and issued by the Emil Gursch foundry in Berlin-Kreuzberg in 1907–1910. This typeface was still being used by the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger in the 1940s and even in November 1944, after the paper was merged with the Berliner Morgenpost.

    Of the two proclamations of a republic on 9 November, the one by Philipp Scheidemann was successful, and the Social Democrats emerged victorious. The Spartacist occupants were evicted from the office by troops loyal to the government two days later, but Die Rote Fahne continued publication, as the central organ first of the Spartacus League and, from 1 January 1919, of the newly founded KPD, the Communist Party of Germany. “Zentralorgan der Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands (Spartakusbund)” is set in Mainzer Fraktur. The nameplate introduced in the third issue is now spelled with a capital R and uses a display cut of the same face.

    Die rote Fahne, Nr. 1 from 9 November 1918.
    Source: Scan: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Die Rote Fahne, Nr. 16 from 16 January 1919. The exceptional situation and urgency is reflected typographically by the dissolution of the columns, resulting in unusually long lines.

    In the issue from 16 January 1919, the editorial staff addresses their readership with a big headline in the schmal halbfett (bold condensed) style of Offenbacher Schwabacher: “An unsere Leser!” The Spartacist uprising had been crushed, and more than 150 insurgents killed. The day before, the bigger part of the print run of Die Rote Fahne had been seized, and the office occupied by soldiers. Some journalists were arrested while others managed to go into hiding. The remaining staff members accused the counterrevolutionaries:

    Workers! Friends! Following the physical murders, the “socialist” government of blood-stained EbertScheidemann goes on to assassinate the spirit of the revolution, too, depriving it of its organ, … its advertising and weaponry.

    At that time the issue went to print, the editors Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, whose names are listed in the center of the masthead, had already been murdered.

    Die rote Fahne, Nr. 1 from 9 November 1918.
    Source: Scan: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Detail with nameplate and masthead in Mainzer Fraktur.

    Die rote Fahne, Nr. 1 from 9 November 1918.
    Scan: Hans Reichardt for Klingspor Museum. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Detail from Berthold’s specimen Nr. 278 showing Mainzer Fraktur fett. This face probably originated at the Stuttgart-based foundry Bauer & Co., which was acquired by the H. Berthold AG in 1897. It was issued in 1901, “initiating the new movement in the creation of Fraktur types” — Friedrich Bauer.


    • Eckmann
    • Mainzer Fraktur
    • König-Type
    • Offenbacher Schwabacher
    • Fette Gotisch
    • Fette Fraktur
    • Bernhard-Fraktur
    • unidentified typeface



    Artwork location

    2 Comments on “Die Rote Fahne, #1 (9 Nov 1918) and #16 (16 Jan 1919)”

    1. Jan 16th, 2019  11:07 am

      Dan Reynolds points me to a detail in the first nameplate: While the Fa pair is gappy, the ro pair looks like it’s kerned: the o extends more to the left than the rightmost point of r. In letterpress printing, this can only be achieved with kerning. The revolutionary printers certainly didn’t waste any time on the finer points of letter spacing. This suggests that Eckmann-Schrift came with fitted pairs or, more likely, pre-kerned sorts, for bigger sizes. And indeed the specimen by the Rudhard’sche Gießerei includes another example that looks like it features a kerned r.

      Eckmann was incredibly popular in the 1900s. By 1918, though, it has largely fallen out of fashion, Dan reckons. At least some type must have been stocked at the press of the Verlag August Scherl still. Anyway, the nameplate in Eckmann didn’t last long. It was used only for two issues of Die rote Fahne. The second one from 10 November can be seen here. The next issue could be published only a full week later, on 18 November, now produced at a different press, with different types and a nameplate in Mainzer Fraktur.

    2. Dan Reynolds says:
      Jan 16th, 2019  1:49 pm

      Thank you, Florian! Both for the blog post, and for your comment. Indeed, now that you mention that the newspaper was printed at August Scherl, I am reminded that they were an early-adopter of the Eckmann typeface.

      Back when Eckmannpsysch came out last year, you posted the scan of a page from the Rudhard typefoundry’s first complete specimen brochure for Eckmann. That page included a list of all of the prominent printers who had alreay bough the Eckmann type, including Verlag August Scherl in Berlin.

      So perhaps “Die rote Fahne” was composed with those fonts. Or maybe they used up their sorts so much that, at some point before 1918, they had ordered more Eckmann type from Rudhard (the company rebranded itself as Gebr. Klingspor in 1906).

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