An East German propaganda leaflet issued during the Berlin Airlift (1948-1949), when Stalin attempted to blockade the already geographically surrounded people of West Berlin into submission. American and British crews flew in food and other supplies, thereby demonstrating both the superiority of Western air capabilities and the extremes they would go to in order to check Soviet politicking. And so began the Cold War.
This leaflet about Amikäfer (“Yank Beetles”) claims that the airlift is just a pretext for ruining East German farming by dropping “imperialist weapons”: potato-devouring Colorado beetles (Kartoffelkäfer). The back cover warns about confusing them with harmless Marienkäfer (ladybirds).
Ridiculous propaganda even by the standards of ridiculous propaganda, but I have to admit that the adaptation of the beetle’s markings into the Stars and Stripes is pretty good.
Advising the Householder on Protection against Nuclear Attack. Ninepence!
Scans from a nuclear war information booklet issued by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in 1963. People of Britain, gather your Vaseline, paper handkerchiefs, teaspoons and aspirin so we can get on with a proper British apocalypse. I’m more into the mod design than the details of people being killed instantly. “HEAT”, “BLAST” and “FALL-OUT” each have exciting logos. Which is nice.
“There still remains some risk of nuclear attack”
“Seek safer and more comfortable surroundings before the fall-out comes down.”
I haven’t scanned them, but some of the other pages mention living in a hole in your back garden with a dustbin lid as a hatch, or building a “fall-out room” made of doors and sandbags inside your house. It’s grim. The booklet’s main achievement is making it seem lucky if you’re one of the people vapourised or incinerated during the initial blast. Most of the advice for survivors comes down to staying indoors with your family and waiting for help that may never come. It’s like an even more depressing and futile than usual episode of Eastenders. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office does allow that there may be an interruption of water supplies and electricity; many people in British cities had experienced this during WWII, so it wasn’t too scary to admit the possibility. As for absurdities like putting out your rubbish to be collected after an H-bomb has dropped nearby or using Sellotape and a raincoat against radioactive fallout, I’m not sure if the government really thought that after a nuclear exchange everyone would be resuming their normal lives within a few days or weeks, or if this was just the impression the authorities hoped to give people.
Poster by Viktor Koretsky, USSR, 1960.
“From oil we take for the needs of our country a river of gasoline, oil and petroleum and in addition thousands of items for the home and for domestic comfort!”
Design by Paul László for John A. Hertz Residence Fallout Shelter, Woodland Hills, California, 1955. (Collection: University of California, Santa Barbara).
Post-apocalyptic California looks so serene and pretty, doesn’t it? It would have been a shame if there’d been a nuclear war in the 1960s, because only the richest and most paranoid arseholes would have survived, albeit only for slightly longer than everyone else.
A woman plays a housewife, with a surreal audience pressed against the glass behind her. 1952.
This strange image, which looks like it could be a still from The Twilight Zone, is in fact from a 1952 exhibition in West Berlin: ‘We’re Building a Better Life’ (‘Wir bauen ein besseres Leben’). It was part of the German Industrial Trade Fair; a strange human zoo where the new paradigm of civilian living was played out by two shifts of adult actors playing husband and wife, along with eight pairs of children. In the picture below you can see a bird’s eye view of the house, and of the strange– and disturbing, given that this was less than ten years on from German death camps and the devastation of central Berlin– observation tower with a white-coated narrator. What was the new paradigm? According to the US State Department, who were behind it, the new way of living was to be a “high production, high-wage, low-unit-cost, low-profit margin, high consumption system.” And so it came to pass. One of the actresses playing a housewife was perhaps in the grip of some peculiar combination of Stockholm Syndrome and cabin fever when she said “The house is so perfect that I am afraid we will not want to move out… What will happen if I fall in love with the kitchen too?” A German magazine also described it as a “white paradise”, presumably referring to the kitchen equipment but still demonstrating that sensitivity to political correctness was a long way off.
During its three week run, the simultaneously aspirational and voyeuristic exhibition attracted over half a million visitors, nearly 40% of them from East Germany. It later toured to Stuttgart, Hanover, Paris and Milan.
This stuff is from Cold War Modern, a great book about Modernist design and industry between 1945-1970 and based on the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition of the same name in 2008. The exhibition was also good, if a wee bit gung-ho and overly gushing about the design aspects while for the most part noticeably glossing over the suffering and poverty of the millions who found themselves arbitrarily trapped behind the Iron Curtain after the Second World War.
Transparent show house at ‘We’re Building a Better Life’. West Berlin, 1952.
In July I visited Orford Ness, the former military testing site on the Suffolk coast. In the 1930s it was one of the places where the technology that became known as RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging, now normalised as an actual word, “radar”) was developed, then it was a base for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, and finally it was a powerful radio installation responsible until 2012 for broadcasting the BBC World Service to Europe. It’s now owned by the National Trust. Access is severely restricted and visitor numbers are strictly controlled because of the danger from unexploded ordinance, and to protect an extremely rare and fragile habitat of vegetated shingle. It’s also situated on a long spit that has to be accessed by boat. As you’ll see from the pictures, probably the only way to describe it if you’ve not been there is as a kind of temperate maritime desert. I was there on an extremely rare hot, dry and sunny day when you could walk around without being blown over sideways. Not much can live on the Ness permanently. Despite growing up not far away from Orford, and living in the vicinity on and off over the years, the inaccessibility and isolation of the place plus the fact that I don’t have a car had always conspired to keep me away from a place that I found fascinating. Continue Reading