To type or not to type
I recently designed a Franz Beckenbauer desktop, and I wanted to include his nickname - 'Der Kaiser' (The emperor). Although the idea was to link his playing style with the Bauhaus design philosophy, I felt the typography for such a grandiose nick name deserved something a little more decorative. A quick google image search for old german fonts found this:
Tannenberg Fett. Perfect. Bold, chunky, vintage but still very legible + undeniably German in flavour - looks like it could have come off a German craft beer label. That was that, and I went ahead and put it into the desktop designs.
All was well until I went to write a blogpost about the desktop, and did some research about the font. That was when I came across a free font download site that labelled it as the 'Tannenberg fett Nazi Font'.
I bit more googling, and I discovered that Tannenberg Fett and other black letter fonts like it had been widely used by the Nazi's in their propaganda material. According to this fantastic article, 'gothic' or 'black letter fonts' were widely used throughout 12th century Europe, but as it was being phased out in most places, the Germans doubled down on it's use. By the time Hitler was in charge, its use was considered a point of German nationalist pride.
Hitler, the canny operator that he was, recognised that it's design was less legible than other modern typefaces, and thus an impediment to the spread of the German language. In a dramatic about face, the typeface was banned and labelled a Jewish innovation. Ironically, they used the very fonts they were banning in the letter they sent out to inform people of the ban.
In anycase, their use had been so pervasive, that it seems the font is still considered synonymous with the Nazi's and their ideology even today. This presented a conundrum, as it would not have been ideal to suggest that Mr. Beckenbauer was a Nazi emperor. To type or not to type - that was the question. There is a fantastic discussion on Typophile with well thought out arguments both for and against that had me going one way then the other.
My personal view leans towards us being able to use them. I understand that while everyone can agrees the typeface is innocent, the perception of it is not. However, it is a really nice typeface, and unless we start to use it in new contexts, it will never shake it's negative associations. We need to reclaim it from the Nazis. As it is, another solution presented itself during the course of my research. I came across this great rethink of black letter typefaces by Martin Wenzel.
The redesign was far more approachable, and a more comfortable fit with the cartoon illustration of Beckenbauer. It also better complimented the stark futura font, while retaining enough character to playfully differentiate itself for its roll as the nickname. This was a better solution altogether and meant I didn't need to make a decision at all!