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Design in the Third Reich

Design in the Third Reich

An insight into an exhibition focusing on the design of the Third Reich currently on at the Design Museum in Den Bosch.

Such is the notoriety and sheer sociocultural impact of that dark twelve-year period in history that when people think of the Third Reich, it tends to be in monolithic terms. That is, one brutal regime, spearheaded by one fanatical man, waging war on Europe and committing unspeakable crimes of genocide that remain highly sensitive topics in society today.

Design in the Third Reich
Postcards displayed at the exhibition. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

While this is of course a gross oversimplification, the point being made is that so much has been written, or more widely discussed, around the subject that it can be hard to see where the individual lies within this enormous discourse, and more specifically, how the German population witnessed Nazism creeping into their everyday lives, and with it, ideals of racial purity, skewed gender norms, and a top-down enforcement of what being German was to mean under Nazi rule. The exhibition ‘Design in the Third Reich’ currently on at the Design Museum in Den Bosch, attempts to help us understand how Nazism functioned on a more quotidian basis and how it helped the government control the lifestyle and political views of its citizens, by presenting objects taken from the fields of architectural, automotive, domestic and industrial design.

Design in the Third Reich
A view from the exhibition. Photograph: Imane Rachidi/EFE

From the onset, the contentious nature of the subject matter is addressed by a wall text that acknowledges the visitor’s understandably uneasy preconception of what is to be presented. Objects, classed into different categories, are all laid out in display cases in front of the viewer. This is important, as it emphasises their status as objects of enquiry, and plays down their former power. The reasons for doing this become clear when seeing a large Nazi swastika flag, or the uniform of an SS officer; both have been visual instruments of oppression in the past, yet laid down flat for inspection they are rendered passive.

A look at the neo-Gothic typeface endorsed by the Nazis and Hitler’s Empire-inspired sideboard in his office within the Reich Chancellery all show how design movements across history were appropriated by the Nazis and weaponised to create a narrative of German identity during the years 1933-1945.

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