> short version at typebox.com
> visit ATypI's website

< back to thinking
< back to kame in november 2000
< back to home

"Digital Classicism: Five Centuries of Type & Typography"
ATypI Leipzig, Germany, 21-24 September 2000
Annual conference of Association Typographique Internationale


Oops, wrong side of the platform. Dragging my suitcase through the evening drizzle at Germany's largest train station, happy to arrive in Leipzig after 4 hours stuck on the train tracks due to a 'person accident'.
"Yes," sighs the cab driver, "we have that here increasingly..." - high unemployment rates in some of East Germany, as friends comment later.

The ATypI convention, every autumn in a different corner of the world, is the favorite event of a special clan of a few hundred people worldwide, cuddling up together for type. Unlike other conventions, business is treated low-key, while type culture is paramount. As everybody knows each other, there's no competition, since type is more like coexisiting forms of music.

Therefore, seriousness about type still means a broad mix, from notoriously experimental to lovingly researched historical detail, from stonecutting over rubylith to random programming, from home-office foundries to grand old type houses and everything inbetween -- and the shy and curious students of the local design school, providing its locale to the occasion.

An interesting juxtaposition of locations indeed: The "KonsumZentrale", headquarters of East Germany's national chain of supermarkets; and - in Leipzig's long tradition of print culture - the Workshop and Museum of Printed Arts, and the University of Graphic Design and Book Art.

At the kick-off gathering at Moritzbastei jazz cellar it's great to see old friends again, after a 2-year hiatus and before the program for the next days:
"Hot metal and cool type: A programme exploring the scope from hands-on metal to OpenType".
Aside from workshops at the museum, the presentations offer a wide range from history (appropriate for Germany, aspects of the traditional Fraktur brokenscript) over the more esoteric, as "The role of leisurely pace in human affairs" and "Aesthetics of the unfinished", leading to modern-day issues of typeface protection. Bridges are struck, such as the one between old type specimens and modern foundries' promo-art in the new book "emotional_digital".

Trying to feel the East, visiting it for the first time, after 14 years of living outside of Germany -- Leipzig with its ample public gardens, and postwar eastern architecture clashing with post-reunification western...
A 10-meters-wide relief sculpture including a large portrait of Karl Marx, just 30 meters from a public fountain with bronze figures standing awkwardly-naked above the inscription: "Of course one may sacrifice a life to a principle - but only one's own life".

The second night's big event is provided by the Type Directors Club NYC: the presentation of its annual medal to Berthold's grand old man Guenther Gerhard Lange, and the TDC scholarship to a student of the Leipzig school.
In turn, the students present a real stuffed fox to GGL for Berthold's "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog".

"Drunter und drueber": The higgledy-piggledy reception (with German "Erdnuss-Flips" snacks!) in the university's narrow hallways is followed by the annual fundraising auction of donated type paraphernalia, including Mussolini's Macchiavelli edition and a non-existing French calligraphed egg...

The freshly-brewed conference newsletter, "fracture[d]", turns out surprisingly modest but efficient on all things gossiped, such as the strange coincidence of a screwdriver borrowed from the tech team, and a mini-bar door coming undone at the hotel... ;)

Much more intriguing than the conference bookshop's plethora of lush-and-trendy design publications is the students' understated book art and design exhibited in the hallway's showcases. Maybe through a history of low-budget requirements, their work skillfully exploits 1- or 2-ink printing on what seems recycled paper and cardstock. Interesting choice of inks, and achieving a range of additional colors through overprinting, turns thriftiness into a grassroots art - unlike many designers who cannot make do without generous budgets.

"type is sexy" is the call to dancefloor action for our stiff neck and back muscles, worn thin from too many serifs, tangent points and kerning pairs. The venue, an actual shop space in prime location of downtown Leipzig, has been lovingly converted into a sexy type lounge complete with bar and DJ ("in the type house"?), video displays, hand-sawn lettering, and hundreds of colorful dots individually applied by hand... It is rented for two nights, after standing empty for years like several others around. As the students tell, there were only a half-dozen of them present for all event management, due to vacations: Cheers to their work.

The last night is the gala dinner at Auerbachs Keller, known to every German highschooler from Goethe's drama "Faust"; and off it is to "type is sexy" again, to burn calories till 5 a.m...

On the last day, Leipzig surprises with a barrel-organ festival, with performers all over downtown and on the stage of the market square. Chanterelle, yellow boletus and morels are 'at large' due to the humid past summer. For lunch, the most unusual items to be found: Wildbratwurst game sausage, and Met (mead) from a clay cup, the honey-based beer brewed by ancient German tribes: hot, bubbly and surprisingly strong not only at mid-day.

ATypI's Members Assembly closes the convention.
Aside from electing a range of new board members, ATypI's first international type design contest is announced: "bukva:raz!" ('letter:one!' in Russian) is our contribution to the United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations 2001.

Another hour of chatting with new friends; tales of East Germany from a Canadian professor at the Weimar Bauhaus University; a last exchange of business cards and e-mail addresses in the tram to the station... then it's goodbye again.

Next year: Kopenhagen, Denmark. Hope to meet you there!



NOTE: Internet connectivity in Germany is a physical fight. While the phone lines are the same as elsewhere, German "Telekom" invented its own range of connector plugs, to force the population into renting separate outlets for phone, fax and modem - thus leaving foreign laptop users with their international plugs completely outside. Considering myself international over expatriate-German, I feel compelled to call Telekom's approach an arrogant, monopolist, nationalist nuisance. The Leipzig hotel had neither a for-pay connection, nor information about local internet cafes to offer. Bring your soldering kit, buy the plugs at the electronics store of your destination, and: happy tinkering.


creative elevator signage
at leipzig's mercure hotel

a real 'trabi' embellishes
the entrance to the convention

beautifully restored detail
in the 'konsumzentrale'

GGL receives the TDC medal
and a quick brown fox

GGL with Carol of TDC,
while Joan is looking
at the bright side of life

Erik takes pragmatic care of the loot
in leipzig's biggest zip-loc bag

computer letters?
hand-sawed, sanded and stained!

artwork applied one-by-one
by the diligent leipzig students

the dancefloor is steaming
with the type world's sexiest

these shoes used to be black...

faust and mephisto
calling to the gala dinner
at auerbachs keller

coincidental food for thought
at a public fountain