German Industrial Design in the Holy Land – A Short Overview on Israeli-German Design-Relations

German Industrial design in the holy land was quite unthinkable after 1945. But since the 1960s designers from Israel and Germany came again in touch. In this short overview I will discuss the relations of the West German Industrial designers to Israel from the 1960s to the 1980s. I will argue, that personal relations were much more important than institutional connections, as one might think.

The beginning of the diplomatic relations between Israel and the FRG in the year 1965 was a kind of a breakthrough. After the Shoah relation with Germany, as the country of the enemy, was a controversial topic in the Israeli society. With the first steps of the Reparations Agreement from 1952, Adenauer and Ben Gurion laid the basics for diplomatic relations in the future. They came thirteen years later by a diplomatic agreement between Bonn and Tel Aviv. With this it became easier for privates or economical connections between West Germany and Israel. It is also important to mention that East German design was hardly unknown, because the GDR had no connections to Israel. East Berlin supported the so-called PLO, like the USSR and other countries from the Eastern Block did, and had no diplomatic relations to Tel Aviv.

Visit of Konrad Adenauer in Tel Aviv, May 1966, Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P092350, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Industrial Design was far away from being the post important point at the cultural or economical relations between the two countries. But anyhow, in the 1960s the design connections started growing. They are an interesting point for a transnational design history to study, how the relation between two states came in touch. I will show in the following two parts, that the relationship between these two countries was more based on personal than on institutional connections.

Institutional Connections

First a lot of West German politicians, industrialists, and designers in the 1960s were very much interested in a connection. Looking into the historical sources, the national socialism, the Shoah or the Second World War, were neither not used as a references nor even mentioned. The Germans as well as the Israelis were much more interested in a design exchange of ideas and goods, bounded with an economical connection. Even after Israel became a member of the International Council of Industrial Design Societies in 1969, the industrial designers of both countries came regularly together.

But after the Six-Day-War in 1967 things went more difficult for German design in Israel. After that, many West German companies were frightened to present their consumer goods in Israel, because they expected as a result a boycott by Arabian states. The Yom Kippur War from 1973 made things even worse, so West German companies and authorities became more careful with their engagement in Israel.

This is also example to show, that a design network had not to go via institutions but can use the personal networks. Because the personal than the institutional connections characterized more the design relations between Israel and the FRG. For example the German Design Council – as state founded institution – planed to show an exhibition in Israel since the end of the 1960s.1 The financial support should come from the Federal Foreign Office in Bonn. In particular Gustav Stein – managing director of the German Design Council and member of the West German Parliament – pushed the idea of a design exhibition in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem forward. But the idea was postponed many times. The background was the fear of a boycott by Arab countries, if companies would present their goods in Israel. So they asked the authorities in Bonn and the German Design Council to postpone the exhibition until the idea was dropped. Till the end of the Berlin Wall, there was no Israel or German design exhibition, it first changed after the German reunification.

Personal Connections

Now in the second part, I will give some example how a personal network between Israel and the FRG brought the industrial designers from the two states together. This is important, because as I would argue, most of the connections between Israeli and West German since the 1960s came on a personal way via designers themselves. In the following I will give three examples from each decade to visual this.

In the year 1965 the “form” – the most important West German magazine at that time – published a first reportage on Israeli design. In it Moshe Kohen described the current status of industrial design in Israel. The country was characterized by a lot of migration, thus the Israeli authorities had to build fast but with quality a new livelihood for newcomer in the Holy Land. Following the author design had a very strong position in fulfilling this task. Beside that, the reportage informed the West German readers about the institutions, universities, and the economical situation, the Israeli designer were dealing with in the 1960s.2 It was remarkable, that historical references of design history – one might immediately think about the Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv or German architecture sights in Jerusalem or Haifa – were not mention in this article or else where later.

The design connection between Israel and West Germany put on current issues and not reflection history. For example, the article author Moshe Kohen was part of the most important design school in the FRG. Kohen graduated in 1963 at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm. His diploma thesis in the field of product design was on dishes, supervised by Gert Karlow, Leonard Bruce Archer and Horst Rittel.3 Thus Kohen was an design expert, who was trained in Southwest Germany and worked later in Israel. So Kohen is one example for the personal network between both countries. It is a pity, that his binational design biography is not in the focus of the design history till today.

Another prominent example is the visit of 1973 by Julius Posener – by this time head of the German Werkbund – together with Wend Fischer – director of the Neue Sammlung in Munich – and Wilhelm Wagenfeld – a famous German product designer.4 The three important German designers were invited to an exhibition vernissage in Jerusalem, where the design by Wagenfeld was shown to an Israeli audience. All three were also guests at the new permanent exhibition on Israel design in the Israel Museum. Posener wrote fascinated about the welcome address by Teddy Kollek, the famous major of Jerusalem by that time. Especially the biography of Posener could be worth to have a look at, because he was forced to emigrate after 1933 to Palestine due to the National Socialism in Germany and later came back to Germany. Via Posener there could be a strong connection between i.e. the German Werkbund and Israel, but this needs more archival research in the Posener Archive in the Academy of Arts Berlin.

The last example is the personal exchange in design education. The Siemens designer Jens Reese gave in the end of the 1980s a design seminar series at the famous Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. In these seminars he taught his ideas of creativity methods. Especially his visual permutation methods – a kind of elemental design method – were widely asked by the Israeli design students. Reese was also interviewed by the “form” on his impressions about Jerusalem, Israel and the design there. He gave an interesting overview on Israel design education, difference between continental Europe and the Holy Land as well as his experiences from the design courses at Bezalel.51 Rat für Formgebung, Tätigkeitsbericht 1970, pp. 15.

2 Kohen, Mosche (1965): Briefe aus Tel Aviv – Design in Israel, in: form (31), p. 10-11. Very similar to that was the article Steiner, Simon D. (1966): Design in Israel, in: Industrial Design (5), pp. 68-71.

4 Posener, Julius (1973): Besuch in Jerusalem, in: Werk und Zeit (7), p. 7.

5 See Unknown (1986): Spinner gesucht, in: form (114), p. 78 and Reese, Jens (1988): Mit traumwandlerischer Sicherheit gestalten… in: form (121), pp. 23-25.

Arianna Giachi: Die Design-Journalistin

Arianna Giachi (1920-2011) wurde in Davos geboren und studierte in München, Florenz und Freiburg Philologie. In Freiburg wurde sie bei Hugo Friedrich mit einer Arbeit Dante Alighieri promoviert. Nach dem 2. Weltkrieg kam sie 1946 als Literatur-Redakteurin zu der Zeitschrift „Gegenwart“. Seit 1958 lebte Giachi als freie Journalistin in Frankfurt am Main und übersetzte ungefähr 30 Bücher von Pavese bis Natalia Ginzburg aus dem Italienischen ins Deutsche.

Als freie Literatur- und Kunstkritikerin der FAZ kam Giachi seit Ende der 1950er Jahre mit dem aufkommenden Thema Design in Berührung, welches sie über Jahrzehnte kritisch begleitete. Besonders in den 1970er und 1980er Jahren verfasste Giachi für die FAZ viele Beiträge zu Designthemen in der Bundesrepublik. Hierbei besprach sie beispielsweise aktuelle Ausstellungen oder Buchprojekte die sich mit dem Thema ,Design‘ beschäftigten. Daher sind ihre Texte für designhistorische Darstellungen zur „Bonner Republik“ von großer Bedeutung. Denn Giachis Berichterstattung wurde unter den Zeitgenossen vielfach rezipiert und ihr Urteil war zum Teil „gefürchtet“. Ihre Beiträge bieten daher einen reichhaltigen Überblick zu Themen im westdeutschen Industriedesign der Zeit. Für eine Kurzbibliographie von Giachi zum Thema Industriedesign siehe diese Literaturlisten (fertige Bibliographie/XML-Ausgabe)

Neben ihrer publizistischen Arbeit engagierte sich Giachi beispielsweise im Werkbund und wurde 1970 erstmals in den Vorstand des Hessischen Werkbunds gewählt. Im Jahr 1972 untersuchte Giachi im Auftrag des Rats für Formgebung die angestoßenen Reformen der Designer-Ausbildung. Dieser sogenannte Giachi-Bericht zur postulierten „Designer-Ausbildungskrise“ bildete eine zentrale Diskussionsgrundlage für die Reform der Design-Curricula Mitte der 1970er Jahre.

1993 erhielt Giachi für ihre publizistische Lebensleistung den Preis des Deutschen Kunsthandwerks. Zusammen mit beispielsweise Elke Trappschuh und Gisela Brackert war Giachi eine der bekanntesten westdeutschen Designkritikerinnen. Arianna Giachi verstarb 2011 in Frankfurt am Main. Leider befindet sich kein persönlicher Nachlass von Giachi im Frankfurter Stadtarchiv, der ihre Verdienste für die historische Forschung zugänglicher machen würde.

An IT-Revolution in the Graphic Design after the 1970s?

The so-called computerization of the western societies at the beginning of the 1970s shaped many social subregion. But concerning the work of the graphic designers in the three decades until the new millennium it was a far-reaching change. Some has argued – and in my point of view this would be an outstanding thesis for a research project – that this was a revolution for the profession of the graphic designer.

First civil constructions for design with computers where made in the USA and Western Europe in the 1960s. This so-called „Computer Aided Design“ was in the 1960s widely discussed i.e. under the West-German industrial designer for finding new ways in the production design. Anyhow not before the 1980s CAD was used in this way. Even some are arguing that this way of developing design by computers came in the factories not before the 1990s. So it was a long way to go until the industrial designers used CAD in their daily working life.

In contrast to that the neighbor profession of the graphic designer was highly affected by this computerization. So looking at this, it is easy to argue that this all changes the workflow of the graphic designer totally in the time from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. Even before the Time Magazine elected the personal computer as „man“ of the year in 1982, the work support by microchips changed a lot in the graphic fields. First typewriters with electronic assistants started modifying the way of writing not only in offices. With the appearance of first personal computer i.e. the development of new fonts or the printing technics were not anymore a secret knowledge to only a few anymore. Not the airbrush, pencil and ruler was the standard equipment, the PC was the new tool for all graphic designer.

The project „Graphic Means“ lead by Briar Levit at the Portland State University is planning a film about this transformation of work in graphic design. As the trailer shows, this film project wants to demonstrate these revolutionary changes with original cinematic material as well as with different eyewitnesses.

“Design for City Environment” – The Interdesign Seminar 1980 in Tbilisi

The idea of a city as an environment for living came on the agenda of the designers during the 1970s. This was connected for the designer with an interdisciplinary approach, especially with architects and city planners. One prominent example for this is an international seminar in Georgia in the fall 1980.

The seminar “Design for City Environment” was held from the 6th to the 18th October 1980 in Tbilisi. It was organised within the seminar series by the Soviet VNIITE in cooperation with the ICSID, the IAA (International Association of Art), the ISOCARP (International Society of City and Regional Planners), the ICOGRADA (International Council of Graphic Design Associations), the ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites), the IFI (International Federation of Interior Designers), the IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architects), the UIA (International Union of Architects) and the WCC (World Crafts Council).1

The 34 participants came from the USSR and from Western countries.2 The professions were widely mixed, thus designers, architects, and met in the capital of the Georgian Soviet Republic at the regional office of the VNIITE. Tbilisi itself was chosen because of a number of its features: there was a combination of a national tradition as well as modern architecture. The city was with over a million inhabitants hugh and had a situation with special climatic conditions.3

View via Tbilisi, Lotkini is in the center behind the trinity cathedral

The interdesign seminar had the aim to find methods to build the environment of a big city within an urban growth and a massive increase of population.4 To study such questions the participants looked at the Lotkini district in Tbilisi (ლოტკინი), were 17 000 new accommodations were planned. During the interdesign the (international) experts tried to find answers on functional, aesthetic, and socio-cultural problems. Questions like the functional organization of a district, the public services, greenery, design and visual communication, and applied arts. The designer especially looked for aspects on graphic design, secondary architecture, and usability. At the end of the seminar the participants submitted a general concept for the district development for housing, industrial complexes, transport infrastructure, and public spaces.5

View via Tbilisi

The “Interdesign 1980” was the first seminar with international and interdisciplinary cooperation, which tried to solve problems of building a human environment. Furthermore it was a kind of opening for the Soviet Design authorities – like the VNIITE with Yuri Soloviev – to Western experts.6 But this seminar also showed also how limited the possibilities of ideas and plans were. At least only few points from the interdesign seminar found their way into the Lotkini district.

1 Unbekannt (1980): „Stadt-Design“ als Interdesign-Seminar in Tbilissi vom 6. bis 18. Oktober 1980, in: form (90), p. 80.

2 Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, GDR, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Venezuela and the Soviet Union.

3 Unknown (1980): Interdesign ’80 Tbilisi/USSR, in: ICSID-News (November/December), pp. 2-3.

5 Like footnote 3.

6 For further reading Tom Cubbin’s article ( and Yulia Karpova’s PhD thesis from 2015 (, pp. 328, are an excellent starting point.

Industriedesign und Kunst auf der documenta in Kassel

Heute eröffnet mit der documenta XIV eine der wichtigsten Ausstellungen für zeitgenössische Kunst. Auch für die Designgeschichte in der Bundesrepublik war diese Ausstellungs-Serie zwischen den 1960er und 1990er Jahren immer wieder eine hervorgehobene Bedeutung.

Die 1955 erstmals ausgerichtete documenta verstand sich während der sogenannten Wiederaufbauphase der Bundesrepublik besonders für zeitgenössische Kunst. Auf der documenta III im Jahr 1964 wurde erstmals auch ,Design‘ präsentiert. Denn parallel zu der regulären Ausstellung zeigten Arnold Bode und seine Mitorganisatoren in der Räumen der Werkkunstschule Kassel Arbeiten aus den Themenbereichen ,Graphik‘ und ,Industrial Design‘. Die Verwendung eines anglo-amerikanische Begriff für die industrielle Formgestaltung war damals in der Bundesrepublik relativ neu. Neben Werke von damals schon international bekannten Gestaltern wie Mies van der Rohe, Arne Jacobsen, Charles Eams und Gerrit Rietveld wurde ebenfalls Arbeiten aus dem bereich des technischen Industriedesigns gezeigt. Hierbei wurden Investitionsgüter, Brücken und Büromaschinen von Marcello Nizzoli, Eliot Noyes oder Klaus Flesche ausgestellt. Für den Kurator und damaligen Leiter der Neuen Sammlung München Hans Eckstein war bei dieser Präsentation besonders wichtig, dass bei der Gestaltung von Gebrauchsgegenständen eben keine ,Kunst‘ angewendet werde sondern vielmehr eine sogenannte Ingenieurskunst wirken müsse.1

Eine solche Darstellung wie von Eckstein war Mitte der 1960er Jahre für zeitgenössische Designdiskurse nicht untypisch, betonten doch beispielsweise die Dozent_innen und Studierende der HfG Ulm, dass Design eben keine Kunst sei. Als Konsequenz daraus wurde ,Design‘ in Kassel die nächsten beiden Jahrzehnte nicht mehr gezeigt. Arnold Bode versuchte zusammen mit Robert Gutmann 1972 ,Design-Expo‘ in West-Berlin zu organisieren. Grundgedanke hierfür war es parallel zu den olympischen Spielen 1972 in München und der documenta V eine international ausgerichtete Präsentation zur Produktgestaltung zeigen zu können. Nach internen Probleme bei der Organisation übernahm Herbert Lindinger im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft die weitere Planung der ,Design-Expo‘. Letztlich wurde das Projekt aber durch die sowjetische Militärverwaltung gestoppt, die eine solche internationale Ausstellung der Bundesrepublik in West-Berlin als eine Neutralitätsverletzung des Status von Berlin sah.

Bei der documenta VI im Jahr 1977 wurde dann Gerhard Bott, damals Generaldirektor der Kölner Museen, mit einer Design-Ausstellung in Kassel parallel beauftragt. Seine Präsentation „Utopisches Design“ erschien beispielsweise der Designjournalistin Elke Trappschuh jedoch schlicht verwirrend und teilweise fehlgeleitet.2 Es war daher wenig verwunderlich, dass diese Darstellung von Produktgestaltung von den zeitgenössischen Designern kaum wahrgenommen wurde.

Erst im Jahr 1987 zeigte die documenta VIII wieder Design. Beauftragter hierfür war Michael Erlhoff, der später fachlicher Leiter des Rats für Formgebung und dann Professor für Designtheorie in Köln werden sollte. Im Kontext von postmodernen Gestaltungsdebatten, die seit dem „Design-Forum Linz“ von 1980 die Profession prägte, verschwammen wieder die Grenzen zwischen ,Design‘ und ,Kunst‘. In seinen fünf Thesen zum Design betonte Erlhoff daher auch, dass „von seiten der Kunst wie von seiten des Design die Abgrenzungen zwischen beiden Bereichen ins Wanken“ geraten seien.3 Akteure wie Stefan Wewerka die bewusst an der Schnittstelle zwischen beiden Teilbereichen agierten, symbolisierten solche Perspektiven recht anschaulich.

Pavillon von Stefan Wewerka für die documenta VI, Photographie von Rüdiger Wölk, CC BY-SA 2.5

Die Anwesen- und Abwesenheit von Produktgestaltung auf der Kasseler documenta ist daher ein anschaulicher Indikator dafür, wie das Verhältnis von Design und Kunst von zeitgenössischen Akteuren zwischen den 1960er und 1990er Jahren immer wieder neu gedacht und verhandelt wurde.
1) Hans Eckstein (1964): Unsere Gegenstände – Zur Eröffnung der Design-documenta, in: form (27), S. 2.
2) Elke Trappschuh (1977): documenta 6: „Utopisches Design“, in: form (79), S. 40.
3) Michael Erlhoff (1987): 100 Tage in Kassel: Kunst und Design zur d8, in: form (118), S. 22.