Strange Days – Arno Schmidt and Darmstadt 1955-1958
Technische Universität Darmstadt (DE)
- 5 Jan 2020
The writer Arno Schmidt was originally supposed to teach at the HfG, the Ulm School of Design. Nothing came of it, however as Schmidt and the HfG's first head, Max Bill were instead destined to come into conflict with Bill angrily walking off and Schmidt taking off to live in a tiny hamlet on the edge of a heath. While you can imagine something like this taking place in 1950s post-war Germany, when the country was still rebuilding itself, in retrospect, it is still surprising. But historiography shows us that aside from the economic miracle and the suppression of its Nazi past, other things were happening in Germany – there were language games with and without a political background, modest signs in formal reductionism in architecture, machines and typography, some structural and systemic thinking in music and sociology, for example.
In amongst all these developments there was also Arno Schmidt, living in Darmstadt between 1955 and 1958. His first literary successes were already behind him, but his major works were yet to come. The Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and the Technical University of Darmstadt are now devoting a major project to Schmidt, including exhibitions and readings at various locations, supplemented by a box catalogue that takes a look at Schmidt's card index boxes in design terms. A new typeface is also being presented here; and product design is represented by an exhibition of furniture from the 1950s, and even a care packageis on display. The history of the Braun-Snow White Coffin (a popular name given to the Braun SK4 audio system from the 1950s)also has a role to play here, especially since Schmidt commented on Braun products at least once. Following the first event at the Design Department of the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences on the subject in 2015, the exhibition can therefore be seen as a continuation of Bernd Rauschenbach's study on the subject of design and Arno Schmidt from 1989. All in all: Anyone who is sympathetic to the preoccupation with design as not only an economic, but also a cultural topic should consider visiting Darmstadt Strange Days, and reading Arno Schmidt. His lectures are a good place to start for newcomers and then of course also his novel Gelehrtenrepublik (The Republic of Scholars).