Like its predecessor, Nullpunkt, Nieuwe German Gestaltung, the Refugium (Berlin as a Design Principle) exhibition will be dedicated to Andreas Brandolini, who been the leading figure of the Neue Deutsche Welle in Design in the eighties, and the initiator what was to become one of its most emblematic events, Kaufhaus des Ostens (KdO), propagating an experimental design that was a far cry from the functional, industrial, rational, commercial and deadpan serious attitude that is still considered to be the essence of German design today. Contrary to the Italian radicals that were to become the leading figures of Italian design, the Neue Deutsche Welle was largely ignored. “We were Brillant Amateurs, Geniale Dilettanten, and in the end one should not forget that it was also about what these critics never talk about: Rock’n Roll!” Max Borka and Anna Pannekoek travelled in 2009 to France to interview Brandolini on the Kaufhaus des Ostens period for his Nullpunkt catalogue. This was the result:

“Nothing but some good Rock’n’roll!”

Driving to the little village of Petit Réderching in France, near Saarbrücken and at a step and jump of the German border, where Andreas Brandolini (1951, Taucha) resides in a street where the neighbours only seem to want to outdo each other in Spiessigkeit, with golden pathways and plastic flowers, one can hardly imagine a greater contrast with Berlin, where Brandolini had been the leading figure of the Neue Deutsche Welle in Design in the eighties, and the initiator what was to become one of its most emblematic events, Kaufhaus des Ostens (KdO). In hiding in this nowhere place, and designing what he describes as Taugenichts objects, or good-for-nothing products, amidst the silence and calm, living on Tortellini and water, he now seems to have literally created the Nullpunkt he has always been looking for.

Max Borka: Tell me Andreas: how did this Kaufhaus des Ostens project come about?

Andreas Brandolini: It was a so-called Kurzprojekt, a designstudies-project, organized at the Hochschule der Kunste (HDK) Berlin, in the summer of 84, and the idea came from me and my colleagues lecturers or Lehrbeauftragte,. Stanitzek (Joachim B., mb), with whom I had also founded the BELLEFAST – Werkstatt für experimentelles Design in 1981, and Jasper Morrison, whom I had first met at Rastlos in Vienna, and with whom I would later start Utilism International. Some of the students that participated –Matthias Dietz, Inge Sommer or Jörg Hundertpfund – are now teaching themselves, and also became quite influential. Some are even in your exhibition. But this said: Kaufhaus des Ostens was only a students’ workshop that lasted about 2 months, and little more. None of the participants wanted it to have the importance it was ascribed to later on. This wasn’t meant to be the start of a neue Bewegung… So it’s also a bit frustrating to have to talk about this, time after time. I’ve been doing so many other things!

MB: Maybe the success also came with the name, the Kaufhaus des Westens store being THE display window of capitalism… It had a provocation in it that was similar to that of BELLEFAST at the time, and its reference to the Irish civil war. It did not just smell of politics, but of revolution, and terrorism..

AB: Of course, it was meant as a provocation, versus the Industry, and what people understood to be German design. Deutsche Design still meant something at that time, much more than now. It was a Markenzeichen. Students were only supposed to repeat its fundamentals, and practice a kind of redesign. The workshop wanted to confront them with a totally different kind of redesign, a kind of Nullpunkt design also. But the funny thing is that in a way, this workshop was also meant to be a celebration of the industry, much more than other workshops we had organised before.

MB: When you read the text in the book, and especially the one by Jasper Morrison, you don’t really discover a tone that was politically subversive: it was rather detached, dandyesk, amused.

AB:.I won’t deny that BELLEFAST was politically inspired. It was a Kollektiv, with all the connotations this could have at the time, and in which architects, designers and artisans worked together on a more or less equal base. But financially we were caught in a Spagat: the money with which we paid our small series of furniture mainly came from stands we built at fairs. And as to the workshops: for god’s sake, the first one had been centred on egg-cups, an idea that came at breakfast. In another workshop we launched Poker as a method, making the cards, dice and hazard decide on the design. You don’t really do that when you want to start a revolution, do you? These workshops were first and foremost conceived to be a game. Ok, the novelty and importance of provocation in the texts that I wrote to go with went with that project were rather heavy. But I’ve always been that way, creating lots of enemies on my way, and (looking around) sometimes I wonder where I would have landed if I had formulated things in a more subtle way. (Brandolini in the Eierbecher catalogue: “Wir wolllen nicht die Einzige, endgültige Lösung, sonder 1,2, 3 … viel Lösungen. Und genau hier verlassen wir –lachend- die Pfade des “funktionalistischen” Industriedesign das uns ständig mit seinen ‘neuen’, ‘sauberen’, ‘ergonomischen’ und funktionsgerechten Lösungen die Freude am entwerfen verdirbt. Das uns mit seinen nivellierten Formen und Oberflächen anödet, unsere Umwelt zur Wüste macht und auf seiner stinkenden Schleifspur nichts als leergebrannte Gehirne hinterlässt.” (mb))

MB: Still: the importance of the Eierbecher Projekt or Kaufhaus Projekt was much more in the method or attitude than in the objects themselves, or a product than could be marketed. To describe that method, the Küchen workshop that was in between, and that tried to formulate proposals on a new kitchen that would adapted to Modern Times, ignoring the standardisierte Gestaltungsvorstellungen or standardised design concepts, reference was made to the Stunde Null, as a starting point. That was a notion that was politically heavily loaded. KdO also focussed on a Zero design. You used the dandyesk image of the designer flaneur, walking around all day, doing nothing. Or as Jasper Morrison put it: “The Poet will not polish”.

AB: Yes, but at the end of the day the designer had to come with objects! The project was meant as a creative “Survival training” in which the students would create furniture and house appliances for an imaginary store, while limiting themselves to the assemblage of commodities that were already available in other shops – mainly hardware stores. We wanted them to walk around and discover the beauty of these commodities that are so much part of our everyday life that we hardly notice them anymore. like bicycle parts or garden utilities that are often anonymous when it comes to the designer, and as such already stand for kind of Nulldesign. You simply cannot develop this candid and unhibited look when stressed…

MB: … which explains the flaneur attitude.

AB: Yes, but on the other hand this image also had to do with opening new horizons, where an object could be seen in a much broader context. In doing so, we wanted the students to stick to the same minimal attitude, when assembling these found objects and materials into something new. We had a name for that, which we had also used in the Egg Cup project: niederkomplex. It meant that you could best start from something very simple in order to study complexity. In Kaufhaus des Ostens we wanted to get down to the zero point, or the least of efforts, the minimal act where you can handle an object or material in such a way that they start to evoke new associations and start to tell stories we never heard off before, just by being put in a new context and constellation, far beyond the unequivocal and certainly also the ruling functionalism. What we also wanted to know was: when does that start? There was a lot of poetry and a certain romanticism involved in all this, and there were clearly also references to pioneers of Ad Hocism, and the objet trouvé strategy, such as Man Ray. But we didn’t have the slightest intention to move into art, since we wanted to produce appliances and implements, a coathanger or a seat that would sell well at the exhibitions. And they did! Our redesign had also nothing to do with the naiveté and moralism of the recycling movement. We didn’t want to go and sit and cry on top of the mountain of waste. We started from things that came fresh from the factory. We wanted to show the adventure and opportunities in industry, an approach that even the industry hated us for. Because after all: we were much closer to what had started at that time in painting, with the Junge Wilden, or in music. There was the Neue Deutsche Welle of course, and a phenomenon like the Geniale Dilettanten, who were incredibly popular in Berlin, and started from the punk-principle idea that it could be mighty interesting to include members that had never handled an instrument, unhindered by tradition or the rules of the industry.

MB: Isn’t it funny that now, more than two decades later, this same philosophy will now be at the centre of an overview of German design. The main three installations are built by Jerszy Seymour, who creates a Salon des Amateurs or dilettants, while El Ultimo Grito installation is based on a bricolage strategy. They literally speak the same words you did. And then, of course, there’s Marti Guixé..

AB: You cannot imagine how much we have had to suffer for what we have done. Poetry and radical experiments in the official German design world of the eighties- it was simply not on the agenda. So many of us did not find their way into production. But on the other hand: There’s no doubt that we also cleared the track for what was happening later, when design became more pluralistic in the 90’s and be it only because some of our students have also moved teaching. So this is quite satisfying. The only thing that troubles me a bit is the way some are turning it into a clear and even a political strategy. We should absolutely avoid the tiresome, unequivocal and ideological. Because after all, that was what the Kaufhaus des Ostens was in essence about: just a good session of three minute Rock ‘n Roll songs. No more, but certainly no less! Great Fun!
Max Borka

Image © Anna Pannekoek

“Das Experiment weis, dass so wie es ist, es nicht stimmt. Es ist eine Ahnung von anderen Möglichkeiten. Es stellt Thesen auf, der Richtigkeit noch in den Sternen stehen. Es hebt die Spekulation in den Himmel der Wissenschaft (…) es tut so als ob. Es tastet sich vor auf unbekannten oder artfremden Wegen. Das Experiment stellt den Fehlschlag und den Erfolg auf das Siegerpodest”.
(Andreas Brandolini: Alles ist Möglich – A la Carte (Vorabdruck). In: Borngräber, Christian (Hrsg): Berliner Design-Handbuch, Berlin 1987, sS.23.