Day 5: Ruhr valley transformation

There are many similarities between Detroit and the part of Germany where I am staying. I am referring to what is known as the Ruhr industrial valley where modern German manufacturing was born. The Ruhr River runs east to west and links up with Rhine (south to north) just above Düsseldorf. The cities in the Ruhr industrial area are: Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund. All of these cities have an importance in the history of German industry. However, like in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, this area of Germany has experienced a significant decline in the recent past.

Today I had the opportunity to take a tour of this area and I did not want to pass it up, so I will get back to the DRUPA exhibition tomorrow.

My first stop was the Krupp family mansion in Essen which is called Villa Hügel. Like Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in Cleveland and Carnegie’s US Steel in Pittsburgh, several generations of the Krupp family took the small business founded by Freidrich Krupp in 1811 and turned it into a major international steel corporation that dominated the city of Essen. A couple of the important industrial developments made by Krupp were the invention of seamless train wheels in 1851 and stainless steel around 1912.


For some strange reason the mansion at Villa Hügel is called Small House … but I can’t think of anything that would make this house look small. Like similar residences of the barons of US industry from this period, the house — built in 1873 — has very high ceilings, many rooms — including a ballroom — and is located on a large estate with gardens, winding walkways, green lawns, etc. Unfortunately, none of the displays in the historical museum were in English so it was difficult for me to follow along. However, for a fee of € .50 I was able to buy a brochure in English that explained the information in the exhibit.

At the height of the company’s success the Krupp steel company employed over 200,000 people in Essen. In order to foster company loyalty, Krupp built a garden city of housing for their employees nearby. The name of this area is still known as “Margarehten-Höhe,” so-named after the wife of Friedrich Alfred Krupp, Margarethe, who designed the village.


I toured this neighborhood with street after street of two and three multi-flat homes that were covered with ivy. It seems like a very nice place to live with a few shops and restaurants as well as Kindergartens. In its heyday Krupp owned 70,000 flats in Essen. However, none of the Krupp steelworkers are still living here … there’ll be more on that in a moment.

But first, as you probably already know, I need to mention that the Krupp family came into disrepute and revulsion when Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach and his son Alfried both supported Hitler and the rearmament of Germany during World War II. They even set up forced-labor production facilities with prisoners of war. The Allies bombed the massive Krupp steelworks destroying large sections of it and then Alfried was tried and convicted at Nuremberg. However, after serving only 2 and a half years Alfried Krupp was released form prison, on the order of American occupation authorities, and resumed control of the firm in 1953.

The last of Krupp family gave up their control of the company in the 1960s and transformed their shares into a foundation. The company was merged with Hoesch in the 1980s and then Thyssen in the 1990s. It is now known as global industrial conglomerate ThyssenKrupp.

As I said, like Detroit and other US cities, the cities of the Ruhr valley have undergone a transformation in the last several decades with plant closures, layoffs and generally difficult economic times. Today, most of the Krupp steelworks complex has been demolished or redeveloped and turned into shopping areas and educational facilities. Driving around this semi-barren area of Essen, the only functioning factory that I saw was a ThyssenKrupp titanium plant. This is the modern looking building on the left in the photo above. The building on the right is part of the former steelworks and is now a web offset printing company called WestEnd.

At my next stop in Duisburg, I learned how some people in Germany have tried to respond to the economic transition. Duisburg still has functioning steel production, but most of it has been closed down. One of the closed steel mills has been turned into a park with a museum. One of the blast furnaces was open to the public and I walked up to the top of it and took some pictures of the area at about 300 feet up. If you look in the foreground of the picture below, you can see how the trees have started to grow right inside the remains of the industrial complex.

Meanwhile some of this old steel manufacturing machinery has been converted into different types of recreational facilities. Believe it or not, one of the large tanks has been converted into a scuba diving training tank. There is even an Alpine mountain climbing club that uses the area where coal and iron ore train cars used to come through a training facility area. I am not kidding … look at the picture and watch the video to see for yourself!!

Back in Essen, I also toured a shut coal mining complex called Zollverein which is being converted into a cultural center. On the grounds of the coal mine, there are many different buildings that were part of the production process that have been converted into arts educational facilities. There is a program for visual arts, dance, modern design. The Zollverein complex also hosts concerts and other large cultural events. Each area of the complex is being reconstructed to host different aspects of the arts. There are two mine shafts and one coking plant that are being converted.


With much of the work already completed, the efforts at Zollverein are one of the reasons why the Ruhr has delcared itself the European Capital of Culture. A large international celebration is planned for 2010 … this sounds to me like a good reason to come back in two years.

June 4, 2008 

Day 4: Trip to Mainz

After I posted Sunday’s blog, I began thinking that I should take advantage of my trip to do something I’ve wanted to do for about 20 years: go to Mainz, Germany and visit the Gutenberg Museum … and that’s exactly what I did today. After three days at DRUPA I felt like I needed a break from the intensity of the crowds and the exhausting exhibition floor work.

The trip was about two and a half hours on the train from the Essen Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) near where I am staying to the Mainz Hauptbahnhof. The speedy train stopped only a few times while going through Düsseldorf, Köln, Bonn and Koblenz. Importantly, the train tracks follow the path of the Rhine and there are many fantastic scenes along the river. The cathedral at Köln is one that is especially memorable with its towering steeples. The trip would probably be a lot shorter if it did not follow the river; there are many bends and curves the Rhine. This also adds to the beauty of the view, however. 

Without a doubt, one of the most spectacular sites along the Rhine River are the castles. I don’t believe I’ve actually ever seen a Medieval castle before. Perhaps it was just the cloudy day, but they seemed mysterious and threatening. After all, many of them hang over the edge of the steep crags above the river because they were built by the Kings and Dukes as a means of defending their property. I must have seen a dozen of them without looking very hard … they stand out quite nicely from the landscape around them.

Then my mind began to wander when I realized that there are so many castles that there must be a real estate market in these historic properties. As I drifted further, I thought that if these castles were in America there would be a show on HGTV called Castle Hunting and there would be this extremely wealthy couple meeting with an exasperated real estate agent and saying things like, “We really would like to see something mid-1300-ish. I hear the hardwood floors are to die for” or “Could you show us one that’s been modernized, we really need to have granite counter tops in the kitchen?” or “Does this one have a finished dungeon?” But I’m getting off the subject …

I arrived in Mainz with my map in hand and set out from the Hauptbahnhof to find the Gutenberg Museum. It was about one mile from the station through some winding streets. When I finally located it and went inside, I was struck by two things: there were very few people in the museum and the facility itself was very modest. Now, there are some monumental museums that recognize some people in history who haven’t made one tenth the contribution that Gutenberg made (I won’t mention any names), so the size of the building or the statue or whatever form of recognition is not really the issue. I was surprised most of all I guess by the way the museum seemed hidden away and not really boasted about by the entire city. It was as if this was just another among the many things in Mainz like the cafés and the shops and the other museums. It’s as if they’re conflicted about Gutenberg somehow … I really don’t know what more I can say about this.

The city of Mainz held a celebration in the year 2000 on the 600th anniversary of Gutenberg’s birth. There were exhibitions, multimedia projects, public festivals, cultural events and concerts. The city also published a book entitled: Gutenberg, Man of the Millenium. I believe this to be a true statement and as I’ve read and learned more about Gutenberg, I’ve become more convinced that it’s true.

First of all, people or individuals don’t select the times that they are born in. This is an obvious point. But what is less obvious, in my view, is that the times we live in sometimes have a way of picking up the things we do and take them on a journey that we perhaps never intended or could have intended.

The known details of Johannes Gutenberg’s life are few and far between. With documentary evidence quite meager after 600 years, there are many gaps in his biography. Due to the lack of information, a mythology has been built up about Gutenberg that (1) his ideas about printing came to him “like a ray of light,” (2) that he was a failed businessman and (3) he died in poverty. None of this is true.

What is known is that Gutenberg left Mainz in 1430 due to political conflicts between the patricians and the guilds. Gutenburg, himself a patrician with an inclination toward the guild members, was owed considerable sums by the local government. It is likely that Gutenberg began his project in 1439 while living in Strasbourg. Far from it coming to him in an instant, Gutenberg worked on what he called his “secret enterprise” for some ten years before it was complete and ready for commercial production. The processes involved in the technique were complex and expensive and would have required numerous approaches and attempts. Among them were:
1.) Typeface design
2.) Engraving of patrices
3.) Manufacture of matrices
4.) Creation of the manual metal typecaster
5.) Composition of metal alloys
6.) Ink formulation
7.) Experiments with paper and parchment
8.) The construction of the wooden press machinery

By far the most significant of these, was (4) the invention of the handheld mold for casting metal type. While I was at the museum, I asked if any of the original casting devices were existent and was told that none had been preserved; the ones that were in the museum were recreations from information available about how they were constructed. This information did not include any drawings or schematics. Below is a video of a demonstration given by the museum on Gutenberg’s invention.

It is believed that Gutenberg returned to Mainz in 1448 and it was around this time that the process was finalized and live projects could be produced with his invention. In 1449-50, Gutenberg secured an investment from Johannes Fust and the two became partners, opening the first commercial printing establishment in the world. A rented facility was located, new presses were built, a staff was hired and trained, materials were procured and stored for the purpose of producing the 42-line Bibles that are well-known.

In 1455, there was a business dispute between the two men and Fust sued Gutenberg in court on charges of refusal to pay interest on his loan and embezzlement. In a complex ruling, the court issued an order for Gutenberg to pay a portion of what Fust demanded and the two parted company. The legal dispute with Fust certainly set Gutenberg back as he was unable to pay immediately. Fust kept the Bible inventory, opened up his own printing facility and took the most skilled employee of the firm (Peter Schöffer) with him. However, Gutenberg was not ruined and he continued to work energetically on the development of his technique … he just had a competitor down the road, another first in the industry.

It is believed that Gutenberg continued to produce Bibles and other products such as calendars and letters of indulgence. In 1465, the archbishop of Mainz, Adolf von Nassau, appointed Gutenberg as “gentleman of the court” in recognition for his achievements which he enjoyed until his death in 1468. His invention spread rapidly throughout Europe, led to an tremendous expansion of literacy and is considered a key element in the Renaissance.

June 3, 2008 

Day 3: Unified global color standards

One feature of DRUPA that was started in 2004 and is now expanded in 2008 is called Drupa Innovation Parc (DIP). This is a hall dedicated to smaller and innovative companies that offer new solutions to printing and publishing related issues. Since I had spent most of my second day walking through the halls with heavy machinery, I wanted some time to focus in on software and related technologies.

Most of my career has been in prepress and premedia. While I am truly impressed with the mechanical element of the print process and have learned as much as I can about it, I am much more at home at the front end of production, i.e. the world of computers, creative workflows, content management, e-commerce and the like. This what the DIP is all about. There are seven division with the DIP:
1. Print buyer integration
2. Print + publishing
3. PDF + XML production
4. Creative production
5. JDF experience
6. Document management
7. Online communications 

There are more than 100 exhibitors in the DIP and I decided to just wade right in. The first thing I looked at was web2print or web-to-print solutions in the online communications section. These are technologies that enable a printer to host an online storefront where clients can specify, upload files — and in some cases even design documents and pages — for print media products and then purchase them electronically. Most of these systems are aimed at the short run and digital print market. However, I could see how a high-volume and primarily lithographic printing firm could have a web2print store front solution that would enable clients to purchase products online. The key competitive issues here would be price, turnaround and shipping costs … what’s so innovative about that.

After speaking with a few companies about web2print, my next stop was to talk about color management at the Alwan Color Expertise booth in the Print + production section of the DIP. Here I was presented with software that manages the conversion of customer or internal color data for printing companies so that they can more easily meet the customers’ color expectations. Alwan, a company that was founded in France in 1997, is also a big proponent of color standards for the graphic arts.

The following appears on the company web site:

“The globalisation of the industry has resulted in many new challenges to producing consistent quality print,” says Elie Khoury (founder of Alwan). “It is not unusual for the origination for a job to be created in one place, while the customer checking proofs is in another and the final output of the work is carried out in several countries. … If you can control color at every stage by standardising incoming files, produced proofs and the final print, you will significantly improve productivity and profitability”

This global perspective is not just sales jargon. During my discussion with the Alwan representative, I found out that there was a meeting being held that same day in a conference room in the DRUPA complex at 4:00pm. The meeting had been called by a group called “Printing Across Borders” whose aim was to unify the European and American color standards initiatives. This sounded like something that was in keeping with the theme of DRUPA: One World – One DRUPA, so I said that I would be interested in attending.

I finished up my visit to the DIP with a few more vendors and then decided to make my way over the Printing Across Borders meeting. In addition to the exhibition halls, the grounds of Messe Dusseldorf also include something called Congress Center Dusseldorf. The meeting was being held in CCD Room 7.

When I arrived I found a group of no more than 40 people around a conference table getting ready to begin their discussion. The chair of the meeting was none other than Elie Khoury of Alwan. I was also pleased to find among those in the room was Bill Birkett and Chuck Spontelli from Doppleganger, LLC a Michigan-based color consulting company. Others in attendance included technical representatives of printing equipment manufacturers, prepress companies, color measurement companies, technical consultants and printers from a dozen or so countries. 

The topic under discussion was trying to find a means to unify the European color standards (under the designation of ISO 12647) with the standards work done in the US (under the designation GRACoL7). For reasons beyond the control of most of those in attendance, these two standards initiatives evolved independently of each other. Some of this problem has to do with lack of communication between the two groups and some of it is related to an important technical legacy. Prior to the development of computer-to-plate and spectrophotometric color measurement technologies, the Europeans used positive film and negative plates (generally) and the Americans used negative film and positive plates. This led to slight differences in the appearance of printed color. This difference has been carried over into the world of ICC profiles and DeltaE color differences.

Fortunately, the actual color that each of these standards represents is by-and-large very similar. The consensus of those in the meeting was that these difference needed to be and could be resolved. If things were only so easy! There were three or four presentations that were given by representatives of each side and the specific technical details of the differences between the standards were discussed. These presentations were followed by discussion and the moderator ask each of the people in the room to express their opinion.

When he got to me, I said, “As a representative of a US printing firm, I am pleased to be able to participate in the meeting to discuss this important topic. Establishing one unified international color standard is important for all of our businesses to be able to successfully meet our customers’ needs. Getting the differences between the standards resolved is something that needs to be done quickly as we are discussing — for the most part — the lithographic reproduction of color in halftones. As everyone knows, at DRUPA we are seeing the rise of digital printing technologies and there are predictions being made here that digital printing will overtake lithography by the year 2020. That’s twelve years from now. GRACoL was founded in 1996 and that’s twelve years ago, so we don’t have a lot of time.”

June 2, 2008