Posted as an addendum to my blog article about the Volksbühne poster campaign.
Volksbühne’s spielzeitheft – the season magazine – for 2013/14 is a large-format brochure (DIN A3) with 88 pages. There are a number of black-and-white photos by Lenore Blievernicht, but most of it is purely typographic. As with the posters, a mix of blackletter typefaces has been used, but here the palette is even wider.
Typesetting German text in blackletter traditionally requires two forms for the lowercase ‘s’: the ‘long s’ (ſ) is the default. The round one, with which we are more familiar today, may only go at the end of words (more precisely: at the end of morphemes, which include prefixes or parts of compounds). The rules are in fact slightly more complicated than that, but not much. If you are interested, you can find a serviceable guideline by Friedrich Forssman both in Albert Kapr’s Fraktur and in Judith Schalansky’s Fraktur Mon Amour. Or get yourself an old edition of the Duden.
In the blackletter orgy that is the new identity of the Volksbühne Berlin, these orthotypographic rules have been ignored, much to the regret of the typography teacher in me. If you choose to use blackletter, I feel you should go all the way, and respect the special rules that come with the genre. Seeing an ‘ſ’ in final position like in -haus, das, Eins etc. hurts my eyes. Having an inappropriate ‘ſ’ in the middle of a word is worse. The theater’s name should have an ‘s’, because it is Volks·bühne (“people’s theater”). With an ‘ſ’, it reads Volk·sbühne, which is nonsense. It is similar to wrong hyphenation, think the·rapist vs. ther·apist.
It would have been understandable if LSD decided to dispense with the ‘ſ’, because it is so uncommon today. Heck, I could possibly even understand it if they used ‘ſ’ exclusively, for it is such a weird character! What they did, however, is always using the default glyph of the respective font. Sometimes that’s the ‘s’, sometime the ‘ſ’. (Note that almost all digital blackletter fonts come with both forms, even the freebies.) A pragmatic decision? I call it lazy and ignorant. But who knows – maybe the ignorance is intentional, and the carefreeness with which the rules were violated is another factor that helps undermining the historic burden of German blackletter in general, and of the simplified gotisch types from the 1930s in particular.