Antiqua-Fraktur dispute

The Antiqua-Fraktur dispute was a typographical dispute in 19th- and 20th-century Germany.

In most European countries, blackletter typefaces such as the Fraktur were displaced with the creation of the Antiqua typeface. However, in Germany, both typefaces coexisted until the first half of the 20th century.

During that time, both typefaces gained ideological connotations in Germany, which led to long and heated disputes on what the “correct” typeface to use was.


Historically, the dispute originates in the differing use of these two typefaces in most intellectual texts – for Latin texts, Antiqua-type typefaces were normally used, whereas Fraktur was favoured for works written in German. This originally had no more meaning than being a convention.

The 19th century

A first climax in this dispute was reached in the year 1800, a period in the history of Germany in which there were the first attempts to define what cultural values were common to all Germans. There was a massive effort to canonize the German national literature — for example the Grimm Brothers' collection of fairy tales — and to create a unified German grammar.

In the context of these debates, the two typefaces became increasingly polarized: Antiqua typefaces were seen to be "un-German", and they were seen to represent this by virtue of their connotations as "shallow", "light", and "not serious".In contrast, Fraktur, with its much darker and denser script, was viewed as representing the alleged German virtues such as depth and sobriety.

During romanticism, in which the Middle Ages were glorified, the Fraktur typefaces additionally gained the (historically incorrect) interpretation that they represented the German Gothicism.
Goethe's mother advised her son, who had taken to the clear Antiqua typefaces, to remain — "for God's sake" — German, even in his letters (which, of course, meant the use of Fraktur typefaces).

Otto von Bismarck was a keen supporter of German typefaces. He refused gifted German books in Antiqua typefaces and returned them to sender with the statement "Deutsche Bücher in lateinischen Buchstaben lese ich nicht!" (I don't read German books in Latin script! - cited by Reinecke).

The 20th century

The dispute between Antiqua and Fraktur continued into the 20th century. The arguments in favour of Fraktur were not only based on historical and cultural perceptions but also on the fact that Fraktur was considered as being more suited for printing German and other Germanic languages, being actually more readable than Antiqua for this purpose.

A 1910 publication by Adolf Reinecke, "Die deutsche Buchstabenschrift", claims the following advantages for German script:
*German script is a real reading script: it is more readable, i.e. the word images are clearer, than Latin script.
*German script is more compact in printing, which is an advantage for fast recognition of word images while reading.
*German script is more suitable for expressing German language, as it is more adapted to the characteristics of the German language than the Latin script.
*German script does not cause shortsightedness and is more healthy for the eyes than Latin script.
*German script is still prone to development; Latin script is set in stone.
*German script can be read and understood all over the world, where it is actually often used as ornamental script
*German script makes it easier for foreigners to understand German language.
*Latin script will gradually lose its position as international script through the progress of the Anglo-Saxon world (here the author states that "Anglo-Saxons in the UK, the US and Australia are still "Germanic" enough to annihilate the Latin-scriptler's dream of a Latin "world-script").
*The use of Latin script for German language will promote its infestation with foreign words.
*German script does not impede at all the proliferation of German language and German culture in other countries.On May 4 1911 a peak in the dispute was reached during a vote in the German Reichstag. The "Verein für Altschrift" (‘old script society’) which however supported the Antiqua had submitted a proposition to make Antiqua the official typeface (Fraktur had been the official typeface since the foundation of the German Empire) and to no longer teach German Kurrent in the schools. After a long, and in places very emotional debate, the proposition was rejected with 85 votes to 82.

The Fraktur typefaces reached a particularly strong use during the time of Nazism. After it had been initially publicised as being the only true German script, it was banned in a "Schrifterlass" (edict on script) as alleged "Schwabacher Judenlettern" (“Schwabacher Jewish script”).

It is supposed that the reason for this change of mind was that Antiqua would be more legible to those living in the occupied areas, since the Fraktur typefaces were no longer well known outside the countries of German language. This hypothesis is contested by the fact that the Nazis had been printing books, newspapers and miscellaneous texts destined for abroad in Antiqua for a long time. Therefore, they would have been able to print everything for the occupied areas in Antiqua without the need to change the use of typefaces in the German-speaking areas.

It is more likely that Adolf Hitler was the reason for the ban. He appeared to have a dislike for the Fraktur typeface, as demonstrated by a declaration made in the Reichstag in 1934 [from "Völkischer Beobachter" Nr. 250, Sept. 7, 1934.] :

Bormann's edict of 3 January, 1941, at first, forbade only the use of blackletter typefaces. The use of the kurrent (blackletter cursive) was banned in a second circular letter, just like the Sütterlin, which had only been introduced in the 1920s. From the academic year 1941/42 onwards only the so-called "Normalschrift" (“normal script”) was allowed to be used and taught, which up to that point had been taught alongside the Sütterlin script under the name of “Latin script”. However, Kurrent still remained in use until 1945 on SS insignia (names of SS-Divisions etc.) and in some other cases.

The situation after the Second World War

After the Second World War the Sütterlin script was once again taught in the schools of some states as an additional script, but it could not hold for long against the Latin cursive scripts. Given that only few people who can read the German cursive scripts remain, most old letters, diaries, etc. remain inaccessible for all but the oldest German-speakers. For many German-speaking people today this means that they already have a hard time deciphering the letters, diaries, or certificates of their own parents or grandparents.

The Fraktur script remains present in everyday life through road signs, pub signs, beer brands and other forms of advertisement, where it is used to convey a certain rusticality and oldness. The widespread ignorance of the Fraktur scripts shows even in the many mistakes made—such as the frequent erroneous use of the round s instead of the long s at the beginning of a syllable, the failure to employ the mandatory ligatures of Fraktur, or the use of letter-forms more alike to the Antiqua for certain especially hard-to-read Fraktur letters. Books wholly written in Fraktur are nowadays read mostly for particular interests. Since many people have trouble reading blackletter, they may have difficulty accessing older, antique editions of literary works in German.

As of today, a few organizations like the "Bund für deutsche Schrift und Sprache" continue to advocate the use of Fraktur, highlighting their cultural and historical heritage and their advantages when used for printing Germanic languages. These organizations are small, somewhat sectarian, and not particularly well-known in Germany.


* Silvia Hartmann: "Fraktur oder Antiqua: der Schriftstreit von 1881 bis 1941". Lang, Frankfurt am Main u.a. 1998, ISBN 3-631-33050-2
* Christina Killius: "Die Antiqua-Fraktur Debatte um 1800 und ihre historische Herleitung." Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 1999, ISBN 3-447-03614-1
* Albert Kapr: "Fraktur, Form und Geschichte der gebrochenen Schriften". Verlag Hermann Schmidt, Mainz 1993, ISBN 3-87439-260-0
* Adolf Reinecke, "Die deutsche Buchstabenschrift: ihre Entstehung und Entwicklung, ihre Zweckmäßigkeit und völkische Bedeutung", Leipzig, Hasert, 1910. (This book also contains an extensive gallery of Fraktur fonts)

External links

* [ Die Nationalsozialisten und die Fraktur] (German)
* [ Der Bormann-Brief im Original] (German)
* [ Bund für deutsche Schrift und Sprache] (German)

"This article incorporates text translated from the corresponding German Wikipedia article as of December 2005"

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