The designer from Munich ’72: 100 years with Otl Aicher

Munich/Ulm – His designs shaped Germany in the 20th century. Lufthansa’s appearance, the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich or the ZDF – the works of designer Otl Aicher are unmistakable to this day. The man’s history and personal connection to his work is far less known. On May 13, Otto “Otl” Aicher, who was born in Ulm, would have turned 100 years old.

Aicher grew up in Ulm, where he became friends with the resistance fighters Hans and Sophie Scholl. He refuses to join the Hitler Youth and is therefore imprisoned. As a soldier in the Wehrmacht, Aicher deserted and went into hiding with the Scholl family.

Otl Aicher: Career start in Ulm

After the war and after abandoning his studies in sculpture in Munich, Aicher created his first designs for the Ulm Adult Education Center (vh). He founded it in 1946 together with his future wife Inge Scholl, older sister of Hans and Sophie Scholl. Numerous vh posters characterize the image of the center of Ulm after the war.

In 1953 came the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG), which Aicher founded in Ulm together with his wife and the architect Max Bill. The university shapes the image of the profession as a designer and wins respect far beyond Ulm. At HfG, the image of Lufthansa is also created, with which Aicher takes the step into the world of internationally active companies.

There is a myth surrounding the Olympic Dirndl.  Apparently, some of the Olympic hostesses cut their skirts much shorter, well above the kneecaps.  After all, the 70s were one of the two decades of the ultra-short miniskirt.  In the picture you can see the different lengths quite well.

50 years of the Olympic Games in Munich: The State Library exhibits photos



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50 years Olympic Park: This is what it looks like

For the anniversary: ​​Olympia 72 is honored with a pavilion



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Already a remarkable career for Aicher, who taught himself everything, as Martin Mäntele, head of the HfG archive, says. Aicher settled in Ulm without any education or qualifications. But his work convinces with clear lines and a memorable style. Although not without criticism, Aicher was awarded the contract to design the look of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

It is important for Aicher to distinguish between the times of National Socialism. The colors red, gold and black are taboo. Instead, he uses colors that do not evoke associations with power: light blue, yellow, orange. “Nothing should remind of the Third Reich,” says Mäntele.

Martin Mäntele next to posters designed by Otl Aicher.
Martin Mäntele next to posters designed by Otl Aicher.
© Stefan Puchner/dpa
Martin Mäntele next to posters designed by Otl Aicher.

by Stefan Puchner/dpa

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Dachshund Waldi: Aicher is responsible for the Olympic mascot

This also includes Waldi the dachshund – the very first Olympic mascot. Drawn quickly and sympathetically by Aicher, the dog with its wagging tail and head up in the typical Olympic colors becomes the symbol of the Games. Due to its popularity, the two-dimensional dachshund even became a promotional figure for Munich and was later also available as a fabric figure.

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Zamperl are loose! Dachshund Parade in Munich’s Olympic Park



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Another important element in the design for the Olympics is the pictograms. Not only for the various sports, but also as signposts on the page, they make it possible to ensure understanding across all language barriers – and are still used worldwide today.

In the archive of the Hochschule für Gestaltung, archive manager Martin Mäntele explains pictograms designed by Otl Aicher.
In the archive of the Hochschule für Gestaltung, archive manager Martin Mäntele explains pictograms designed by Otl Aicher.
© Stefan Puchner/dpa
In the archive of the Hochschule für Gestaltung, archive manager Martin Mäntele explains pictograms designed by Otl Aicher.

by Stefan Puchner/dpa

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The designer also achieved great fame with the posters for the games. Mäntele says Aicher has succeeded in depicting the sport’s most important moment with each poster. In addition, Aicher designed an extensive image for the Olympics. He sets design guidelines that flow into every detail – and thus sets standards. From clothes for employees to furniture and tickets.

Olympic posters designed by Aicher.
Olympic posters designed by Aicher.
© Stefan Puchner/dpa
Olympic posters designed by Aicher.

by Stefan Puchner/dpa

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Accident with a lawnmower: Aicher no longer wakes up from a coma

In the 1970s, Aicher moved to an old farm in Rotis, a district in present-day Leutkirch im Allgäu. Besides the Rotis font, there are also studio houses designed by him. In September 1991, Aicher, who according to Mäntele likes to mow lawns, causes a traffic accident with a riding lawnmower and never wakes up from a coma.

But his designs have lasted for decades. Mäntele believes that Aicher’s design solutions are still relevant. Aicher has always been an independent thinker, and this attitude is also reflected in his works.

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