Sunday, 17 June 2012

Berlin Through The Looking-Glass

I wonder how many people passing through Senefelder Platz have actually looked at the statue of Alois Senefelder there? I mean really looked at it.

If they did, they would notice that his name is being written by the child as if through a mirror. Another kid is shown reading it through a looking glass.

What's going on here then?

I would be amazed if you said you knew who Prague-born Alois Senefelder was, but his singular invention in the late 1790's had a great and long-lasting impact on the spheres of European art and literature.

Senefelder, an actor and playwright, fell into debt over problems getting his play 'Mathilde von Altenstein' printed. This while having to support his widowed mother and eight siblings. He couldn't afford to print and publish a new play he had written, so in desperation he invented an original etching technique by writing with a greasy acid resistant ink on slabs of fine-grained limestone. In this way he invented 'printing with stone', or lithography.

This process revolutionised the printing industry, and led to the cheap and high-quality reproduction of literature, newspapers, and artwork through-out the world.

Of course, to show the right way round when paper is placed onto the inked stone, the writing has to be etched in a mirror image, and that is why his sculpture (by Rudolph Pohl) is so unusual. When it was erected here in 1892, a hundred years after his invention, the square was called Thusneldaplatz. It became Senefelderplatz in 1894.

So, Alois Senefelder was the inventor of lithography then. That's another fascinating fact you can amaze your friends with as you pass through Senefelderplatz on the U2.

Or not.

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