Monday, 8 July 2019

Poster bollards

Litfaßsäule (Panknin, 14 September 2014)
Many years ago I ran across a single word name for poster bollards. I seemed to recall that this single word was French. However, when recently I ran across it again, it turned out that it was German: "Litfaßsäule" (Litfass saeule) or Litfass columns. In French these are known as "colonne de publicité" or "colonne Morris" (after Gabriel Morris who won the advertising contract for them in Paris); in the UK, "advertising pillars"; and in New Zealand, poster bollards. They have featured in many films of Paris, but not so many in Berlin, their founding city. The image shown here is of a Litfaßsäule in Hamburg, now protected as a historic monument.

Litfaßsäule are a German invention by Ernst Litfaß in 1854, who thought of the columns as being a way to prevent bill stickers posting paper graffiti all over the walls of Berlin. Ernst was a printer, was thoroughly offended by the random pasting of bills over other people's property. His Litfaßsäule were erected in key areas of Berlin so that people could post advertising in one place. They then used the columns themselves as a meeting and discussing place of things to buy, see or sell. The Treffpunkt - meeting point - was born alongside the Litfaßsäule (and please note that a treffpunkt is not a meeting place. It is a meeting pin-point. A place so clear that you cannot miss the person you are meeting. The Litfaßsäule were perfect for that purpose).

I find the name Litfaßsäule is much more evocative than poster bollard (or advertising column). It was a clever idea which has now been with us for 165 years. They are sometimes used as telecoms substations or short cell towers (the average column height is 3m). 

What is sad is that they are now disappearing in the cities which embraced them, eroded by time and dog urine, with the materials they were constructed with crumbling. There is a public protest movement in Berlin to save them. The internet is playing a part in their destruction: it is often cheaper and more effective to use social media. Some bright sparks are suggesting that the Litfaßsäule could go digital, but there is thought that this would end their simplistic utility. Individuals could not post messages, and the bollard curve would distort digital messages. Litfaßsäule are an advertising mechanism from an analogue time.

Some are becoming public monuments, but others are simply disappearing for repair, then not being replaced. It will be interesting how the protests have a lasting effect, and whether Litfaßsäule will find a new use in what is definitely now a digital world. 



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