Obituary for Ingeborg Schneider
She was not a designer, a curator, a writer about useful things, not a politician – but without her, design in Germany after 1945 would have been viewed differently. Without the quiet and conscientious Ingeborg Schneider, who has passed away after a long period of seclusion and whose decades of work at Darmstadt’s Institute for New Technical Form (INTEF) first made possible that which led to Darmstadt’s reputation as an important design location.
Born in Potsdam in 1925, she was part of the generation of anti-aircraft assistants, i.e. those who were too young to prevent the emergence of fascism, but old enough to be obliged to assist the criminal German Wehrmacht. Her acquaintance with members of the confessing church prevented worse things and, as the National Socialist regime collapsed in 1945, she arrived in the Black Forest community of Höchenschwand, where she married the Kunstdienst-Organisator (literally art service organiser, a position closely associated with the church) and German merchandise officer Gotthold Schneider; two children, Michael and Sarah, followed.
Gotthold Schneider re-established some old contacts and the family moved to Darmstadt. The Darmstadt colloquy “Man and Technology” in 1953 presented product design as a task for the new post-war culture, influenced the founding of the German Design Council and INTEF, and right in the middle of this activity, alongside her husband, was Ingeborg Schneider.
Ingeborg Schneider was a thoughtful hostess who created connections, and above all cultivated them. Her circle of acquaintances included the first German Federal President, Theodor Heuss and Otto Bartning, the architect of Notkirchen (buildings temporarily designated churches in the difficult post-war period), as well as (temporarily) emigrated and exiled people such as the architect Ferdinand Kramer and the exhibition expert Robert Gutmann. Her notebooks were full of birthdays, which had to be acknowledged in writing, later also by telephone; no call or visit went unnoticed, no tip unacknowledged. This is how she was known in the Messel-Haus in Darmstadt, where INTEF was housed for decades until it moved to the city centre. And if the managing directors, her husband Gotthold or later her son Michael, were absent, she kept the place open, invited people to visit the exhibitions and also to coffee and cake. She was the contact for countless long-term visitors and curious people, her efforts to resolve conflicts were constant, binding in tone and determined in substance. Only later on did she avoid the public due to her age and was missed at INTEF events: this had to be respected. But the high esteem remained, which was expressed not least by the fact that the INTEF commemorative publication “65+”, was dedicated to Ingeborg Schneider, in a unique copy with signatures, wishes and drawings by many people active in the cultural life of Darmstadt and beyond, including the Lord Mayor Jochen Partsch.
In describing her life’s work, it seems insufficient to note the contexts in which she was named or photographed in documentary terms. Rather, this author recommends reading a story by Bertolt Brecht, which deals with the subject of help while neglecting possible works of one’s own. The title of this narrative is “Der Städtebauer” (“The Urban Planner”).