From the Archives no. 23—Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch (1950 / 1961)

Evangelisches Kirchegesangbuch für die Evangelische Kirche in Hessen und Nassau
Darmstadt: Verlag der Evangelischen Kirche in Hessen und Nassau, 1950 (15th ed., 1961)

I don’t know if a street bookseller’s stall on Unter den Linden in Berlin counts as an archive, but that is where I discovered this tiny gem of a book. It is an evangelical church hymnal, the first to be published in Germany after World War II. This particular version was authorized by the First Church Synod of the Evangelical Church in Hessen and Nassau on 14 April 1950. Its configuration is marked by the inclusion of hymns nos. 401–478. This is the 15th printing from 1961.

I am not religious but the small size of the hymnal caught my attention (3.5 x 5 inches). When I opened it up I immediately recognized the typeface. It is Marathon, an antiqua (roman) designed by Rudolf Koch in 1930 and issued in 1931. It is one of three typefaces that Koch cut himself and thus it has much of the same quirkiness as the other two, Neuland (1923) and Jessenschrift (1926). He did the punchcutting in order to keep complete control over the design and to avoid what he viewed as the deadening effect of the Benton punchcutting machine. (See Rudolf Koch: Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher by Gerald Cinamon (2000), pp. 144–149.)

Marathon is one of Koch’s lesser known types. Like many pre-World War II German antiquas, is full of idiosyncracies not tolerated by Stanley Morison, D.B. Updike and other Anglo-American authorities of the day. The W is knock-kneed and has crossing middle strokes yet the w has no middle serif; the M is Trajanic but the N is medieval in form; the S and s are top-heavy; U has a leg and u has full serifs at the top of its vertical strokes; B, P and R are all open-bowled; g is missing the link between bowls as in Kabel; the crossbar of f does not extend on the left side; and so on. Most of all, the strokes of letters are wildly inconsistent: some taper, some are heavy, some are light. I think there are so many weight disparities among the letters that they cancel each other out, thus creating an overall evenness of color.

It is this evenness of color, fully on display in Evangelische Kirchengesangbuch, that is so surprising. The only letters that jump out are the W because of the huge gap in its middle, the g (which looks a bit larger than the other letters), and the tz ligature (which remains unfamiliar to non-German eyes). Marathon is amazingly readable. It is a refreshing change from the predictable perfectionism of most typefaces coming from the schools in Reading and The Hague. A digital version of Marathon (released in 2005) available in book and display versions from Linotype. I have not tested it out.

The hymnal was designed by Max Dorn (1887–1974), a designer who cut in wood some of Koch’s lettering in the 1920s and later was one of the best interpreters of his typefaces. The binding—on the front it says, in letterspaced thin sans serif type surmounted by an equally minimal cross, “Befiehl dem Herrn deine Wege” (“Commit to the Lord thy Ways”) —was designed by Karlgeorg Hoefer (1914–2000), calligrapher and type designer (and the father of Linotype’s Otmar Hoefer).

binding by Karlgeorg Hoefer

Hymn 226: Lob und Dank

Wednesday and Thursday prayers