Literature (2019 | Issue 2)

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Printing Power!

Germany has made a huge contribution to the world of printing. The printing press speeded up the spread of knowledge like never before. What’s Up, Germany? pays tribute to the man who made it all happen: the German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg. His invention ushered in an information revolution, much like the internet did!

Today, Germany is the third-largest publishing market in the world. German-speaking publishers produce more than 700,000,000 copies of books every year! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We pretty much take printed material for granted these days, but it was hard to come by once. During the 1300s to 1400s, a rather basic form of printing existed that involved letters cut on blocks of wood. These blocks were dipped in ink and stamped onto paper by hand. This is where Gutenberg comes in. He realised the printing process could be a lot faster and cheaper if wood was replaced with metal and movable letters used instead of blocks. This led to the invention of the movable type printing press in the year 1439.

Modern Book Printing Sculpture, Berlin

Image: Lienhard Schulz (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

And Then There was The Word

Gutenberg went a step further. He created his own ink: a good quality oil-based ink instead of the usual water-based inks. He also mechanised the process of transferring ink from movable type to paper, so it no longer had to be done by hand. This allowed for an assembly-line process. Thanks to Gutenberg’s press, for the first time texts could be reproduced in great numbers—and at a much lower cost. The first book Gutenberg produced was a 42-line Bible. Around 180 copies were printed in 1455. And then came pamphlets, flyers, books, etc. A German translation of the Panchatantra was printed at the Gutenberg press in 1483 as Das Buch der Beispiele.

Knowledge for All

In 1999, TIME magazine named Johannes Gutenberg “Person of the Millennium”. That’s how important his movable-type printing press was! Within decades, the press spread across Europe. Now texts became accessible to the common man. Books were no longer a luxury item. Literacy and learning accelerated, encouraging discussion, debate and a sharing of ideas. Come to think of it, the press democratised knowledge. It changed culture, science and politics forever. If you happen to travel to Germany, you can see a replica of the original printing press at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. It even has two original 15th-century Gutenberg Bibles!

Sculpted Perfection

The year 2006 saw a major event in Germany: the FIFA World Cup. To celebrate this occasion, six massive sculptures symbolising German inventions in the fields of literature, music, sports, science, engineering and medicine were put up in popular spots in Berlin. This art project, which went by the name of Walk of Ideas, was part of a promotional campaign called “Germany: Land of Ideas”. These six sculptures were on display until September 2006. Wonder why they didn’t leave them be?! They’re so dramatic and inspiring!

The Modern Book Printing sculpture was installed at the Bebelplatz public square opposite Humboldt University to commemorate Johannes Gutenberg, the pioneer of movable type technology. This 12-metre-high steel sculpture took three days to assemble and ended up weighing 35 tonnes! It has 17 steel books stacked on top of each other bearing the names of prominent German authors on their spines. Now that’s spine-tingling!