“This is letterpress, this is rare, this is tradition”

What are you doing?

This is a printing shop with letterpress. I make business cards mainly, but also invitation cards, wedding cards, birth cards. Sometimes small posters or letterhead.

Why are you doing it?

I don’t know. I have learned it as profession. This was in the end of the GDR time. I had a lot of possibilities to learn other professions at that time. I hadn’t an imagination of that profession. I didn’t know what does it mean to learn typesetting.

But then I saw it’s a very nice profession. It’s just a little bit meditation, and it’s art. It’s also art, and it’s handcraft. Sometimes I compare, imagining that that I’m working at a building place, but I can’t imagine.

I finished my education time and then I had my first job, as an employee. At this time, it was nice working in East Germany. With the colleagues and the atmosphere. Nicer than today. Today the people in the hospitals are more stressed, under pressure. This was another kind of working at that time. This was very social. We had more opportunities.

We could see West Berlin. We also could see the soldiers. Directly there I could see on the 9th of November, when the wall was falling down. I could see it from the printing shop.

When the wall was falling down I lost my first job in a printing shop, directly at Checkpoint Charlie, on the East Side. Then they cancelled in 1990 the contracts of the young employees. Then after my civil service in a home for old people I started my business. It was 1993 or 1994. I decided to print business cards.

I have different machines. All are hand machines, without electricity. Normally the machines came from Germany. But the one machine on which I print the business cards is from the US. It’s the smallest machine. The letters, the sounds, the touch, it’s just normal. There’s a good movie. When I compose and set it makes a good movie.

 

Who do you sell to? Where? What drives these choices?

Lawyers, doctors, private people. Self-employed with very small businesses. To people who come to Berlin from the other countries. They try to build a small business. Very often they have by themselves businesses as graphic designers, but they want to have business cards with letterpress.

For some people normally I don’t print. They don’t order: teachers, even though they receive a good salary. Teachers always know everything better. Finally they don’t order. The majority of my customers are very friendly. They have patience if I am not in Berlin. Sometimes I also print for popular people actors, politicians, artists.

I was in Kunstmarket, Tiergarden, Saturday and Sunday. The business there was very bad in the last time, so since three years I don’t sell there. In 1990s it was a good business. So I decided to go to Winterfeldtplatz market, because it’s a week market, they go with money to buy food. The area around is not a poor area. The people have money. The people there they have a taste for good things.

Every year I think to cancel Winterfeldtplatz, because in reality I don’t want to go every Saturday. But on the other hand I earn money there, every Saturday. There I get new customers. Also from my website. Also people have printed here, and they give it to other people. There’s a website it’s called Toytown Berlin, and 7-8 years ago a young woman was here and I printed cards for her. Later she wrote a few lines in Toytown about me. Now since that time I have a lot of clients from that one posting. I never thought that it is so good. My own website is bad because I can’t do it by myself.

No other advertising. If I do it, also the internet is just a little bit dangerous, because all the official government offices, they send me letters that I have to pay for many things. Before I could hear my radio here without paying. I advertised in a newspaper, very small my shop. Then I got letters from the government to pay for the radio and other things.

Why do people buy from you?

Sometimes by myself I am also surprised that the people order. Because I think, would I spend 49 euro for 100 cards? But it is, so it is.

I don’t know. It’s a difference to computer printing. It’s different from computers. It’s embossed, it’s a nice quality. It’s more expensive, but it’s nicer. It’s a tradition, a very long tradition, letterpress, more than 500 years old.

I know that the letterpress is since a lot of years, it’s very trendy in the US. And it’s much more expensive there, and in Switzerland and Austria and other cities of Germany. I know a colleague who takes 120 euro for 100 cards. Before I was a little cheaper, but then I decided this is letterpress, this is rare, this is tradition. This is handcraft. It’s too cheap. On the other hand, all the things around they become more expensive.

What do the customers say about the experience?

They tell me this is another quality, it’s not so anonymous. Normally, for new clients, I don’t like to sell by the internet. It’s better if I see the person. It’s a more personal. And to speak just a little bit. Because this is our society to order some things by the internet. The people are sitting at home alone and they are looking for something in the internet. I think the social contact is also important, for both of us. And then if the people order for the first time, then it’s ok if they order again by email or they call. And I have an example. Then it’s ok. But for the first order I like to know the people. Also if I can trust them with the money.

I don’t know why the people always want to order some things by the internet. Also they ask me on the Winterfeldtplatz and the Christmas market. “I also can order by the internet?” And I tell them yes you can but it’s better if you come for one time to my atelier or here because you can proofread and I show you the first card. Sometimes if I have orders only by the internet it takes much longer. First they order. They give me the text. Then I set it. Then I scan it and send it to them. But they can’t really see the color of the paper. And then they say please change this this this. If they are here, they can see the paper, I can change immediately, for example if the name is too big or small. Much better.

But the internet is changing us.

Berlin has changed a lot. When the wall was falling down, our dreams – we had a lot of dreams at that time, but now we have capitalism. It’s the same. At that time, normally we wanted another society. This was ½ year or 1 year it was nice in 1990. but later, it is money money money. Only money. We wanted to have free media, but now we are also manipulated. It’s another kind, but we are manipulated. A lot of lies. If you read a newspaper or see the news there are so many lies. And they call it democracy. And now with Greece. A lot of people here were happy that Tsipras won the elections. But now our chancellor and all the politicians in Europe put so much pressure, that he signed it. So they don’t give him a chance.

You know all the typesetters were very political. There are a lot of typesetters in the last century, who when they were young they learned the profession. And later they went to the politics, to social democracy, or to the communists. A lot of typesetters were very progressive. I don’t know why. I don’t know one conservative typesetter. Sometimes colleagues help each other from those days. They want to cancel the only left government in Europe. They are afraid of it. All the great demos in Spain, the indignados, and blockupy, they want to destroy it.

When Bush was the president, I remember that time, a lot of US American progressive people came to Germany. They couldn’t live there with that politics.

How do you decide how much to work and how big to make your business?

This is not the question. Normally some months before, I decide to go to Czech Republic or other countries. The good thing is that my clients have a lot of patience. Sometimes they call me when I am outside of Germany and I tell them no in one or two weeks I come back. They say “ok, we meet in two weeks.” I only use the Saturday market. I’m only there ½ year, in the summertime.

Always I have to do a lot, but it’s ok. I have next week free to play chess in tournaments in Czech Republic. I went to Spain. I’m a member in two chess clubs here, but I don’t play in Germany. I like to travel, it’s nicer. I also speak the language a little bit.

I don’t want to get it bigger. Small is always better. If I make it bigger, I have more responsibilities. I have to work more, I have to pay more tax. No I don’t want to have it bigger. I’m sure. It’s ok. I also don’t want to have my atelier directly on the street. Here is better for me. It’s quieter and more secure. I was the first in that house. On the street the shops were empty. But now there are clothes making here 2-3 years.

It’s ok. It’s more or less ok.

What issues affect your choice of materials?

The ink is easy. I have ink from the old time. This was not a decision. The paper, I want to offer to the clients a different paper than they can receive in a copy shop or on the internet, a better paper, carton. If you go to a copy shop they offer you two kinds of white paper. This is everything.

I have clients or customers they also take with pleasure the colors, the black paper. Or the handmade paper. (butten). Also for the invitation cards normally I use handmade paper. A better paper than you can receive in the internet. Also I always do my best for the quality for the paper and the orthography, without mistakes with the typographic words. If a customer tells me Berliner Straße. I fix that it’s two words. The consulting to get it perfect takes time.

I first met Christian at the WinterfeldtPlatz Markt in July of 2014, where I made this video. I finally cajoled him into an interview, which took place in 2015 in his workshop.