The Fraktur/Antiqua dispute

We came across these three beautiful Deutschmarks from 1914, 1923, and 1924. The ligatures of the font, the graphic work and these acid, deep, colours tainted by age are just fascinating. What took us by surprise though were the deeply rooted ideological connotations behind the used typeface. German script or Fraktur caused a century long typographical dispute up against the Antiqua typeface.

The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 by Napoleon led to soul searching in German cultural values and unity. Fraktur with its dense script was to become the embodiment of German virtues as depth and sobriety whereas Antiqua was argued a shallow and light typeface. It was a social, religious and political argument. The Antiqua font stemmed from old Latin typefaces and was favoured by poets and philosophers such as Goethe and Nietzsche, it was also chosen by Jakob Grimm of the Grimm Brothers. Goethe’s mother however pushed her son to remain ‘for god’s sake- German, even in his letters’. Otto Von Bismark notoriously refused to read ‘German books in Latin letters’. Added irony perhaps is the demarcation that it played in the Catholic/ Protestant publications as Fraktur was created on demand of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I for catholic literature and yet from the 19th century onwards Antiqua was for catholic publications and Fraktur protestant. In all the arguments presented in favour of Fraktur my personal favourite is noted in a 1910 publication by Adolf Reinecke. Die Deutsche Buchstabenshrift, claims among other things, that German script does not cause nearsightedness and is healthier for the eyes than Latin script.

Hitler eventually settled the emotional debate of Fraktur. Although the original font to NAZI propaganda, for all the nationalist reasons stated above, German Script was banned in the 1941 Schifterlass (edit on script) as it was said to be of Jewish origin. One possible reason for this reversal of fate of the fonts was the readers outside of Germany were no longer familiar with Fraktur which would have made for a difficult access to propaganda for non German speakers. Another said reason is Hitler’s own dislike for the font as recorded in a 1934 declaration to the Reichstag:

‘Your alleged Gothic internalization does not fit well in this age of steel and iron, glass and concrete, of womanly beauty and manly strength, of head raised high and intention defiant… In a hundred years, our language will be the European language. The nations of the east, the north and the west will, to communicate with us, learn our language. The prerequisite for this: The script called Gothic is replaced by the script we have called Latin so far…’

The Allies then resuscitated the font, in the money printed by their interim government. After the Second World War the Sutterlin script was reinstated in schools taught as an additional script but it would soon disappear against Latin cursive.

Today most old letters, diaries would be hard to decipher and accessible only to a select few. Fraktur is still present in everyday life but the more complicated letters are sometimes formed with the use of Antiqua. About 500 000 people in the Western Hemisphere still read Gothic Script largely due to the fact the Amish and Menonnite printers still use the script. Apart from some small, sectarian organisations the font is almost inexistent in Germany today.