Sometimes, late at night, when I’m too tired to read any longer, and I have watched my limit of one or two spy or detective shows, I browse through Youtube. Lately, I have been watching documentaries and home movies from the early 20th century. It started with my searching for old movies from Joseph Conrad territory and found a bunch of movies shot by a serious amateur cinematographer in Malaysia between the wars. Youtube, of course, noted my interest so each time I pull up Youtube on my Apple TV, there are new suggestions for vintage movies, many of them the kind of travelogues that, along with cartoons and newsreels, once were shown in movie theaters, before the main attraction.
A couple of nights ago I watched a 30-minute color (or colorized) silent film of Germany in 1938. The first ten minutes were of Berlin on the day of Hitler’s speech in the Sports Stadium, in which he declared war on Europe over Czechoslovakia.
Nazi flags are everywhere. Large flags and banners drape down from the roofs and windows of office buildings, smaller ones festoon the entranceway and windows of almost every shop and flutter from streetcars and taxis. A little boy being pulled in a wagon holds what looks like a flag with a crisscrossed square instead of a swastika, then you realize that the sun is shining through the flag and you are seeing the shadow of the swastika on the other side.
From every lamppost on Unter der Linden hang long red banners, the black on white swastika positioned about one-third of the way down. The position of the swastika on the banners seems to have been carefully considered, and the design of the banner as a whole is classic, simple, discrete. (After all, why not a swastika at the top and another in the middle? Why not make the swastika as large as it can be in that space?)
As soon as I began thinking along those lines, it dawned on me that the Nazi flag was a beautiful example of early art moderne design: the bold colors; the abstract, yet evocative symbol; the audacious simplicity.
I wonder if Raymond Loewy – born in France, with a Jewish father, who had fought in WWI against the Bosch – had allowed himself to be impressed?
The same city, Berlin, in 1945: