18 January until 22 April 2019
Therefore: Vote!
Posters for Germany’s First Democratic Elections

January 19th 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of Germany’s first democratic elections, held to choose the members of the first parliament of the Weimar Republic. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) devoted an exhibition to this milestone in German history, reminding us, in view of current debates, that democratic values must continually be anchored anew in collective consciousness. Based on some 75 posters and around 40 smaller printed materials (flyers, leaflets, and labels), the exhibition Therefore: Vote! conveyed a vivid impression of those critical eleven weeks between the abdication of the Kaiser on November 9th 1918 and the end of the First World War on November 11th. Posters were the medium of choice when it came to reaching the general public. Although they always represented only one side of the debate and simplified and dramatized their subjects, they are still today eloquent witnesses to those turbulent times. They carried on seamlessly the plastic and often brutal visual language and propaganda that had come to the fore during the First World War. Instead of the enemy at the front, political opponents were now demonized and often portrayed as monsters, especially in the posters produced by right-wing groupings. Looking back today, much of what went on in that period seems astoundingly topical, such as the radicalization and polarization of society through the workers’ councils on the one hand and the right-wing Freikorps and nationalist organizations on the other. The political center was dwindling in strength, while populist slogans served to further entrench the fronts. Catchwords such as homeland and freedom were lent a special charge by party politics.

Photo: Lucian Bernhard (1883–1972) A Great Day for the German People! 19.1.19, Poster of the advertising service, January 1919, Lithograph, 70 x 95 cm, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019