Fanzines in Germany
A Do-it-Yourself Culture with Tradition

Cover of “Spring” magazine
Cover of “Spring” magazine | Photo (detail): © “Spring”

Even in the times of the Internet German fanzine culture is as vibrant as ever. Creators of interesting publications in art, freehand drawing and comic design often go unusual paths.

Ever since the US science-fiction magazine, The Comet, first came out in 1930 there have been fanzines, i.e. publications that are made by fans for fans. In the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955 a fanzine called Andromeda came into being that was also spawned by the domain of science fiction – just as most of the early fanzines were, focusing on fantasy, horror and comic fiction.

Youth culture takes over

This all changed in the 1960s, when, as a result of the ever growing popularity of rock music, music fanzines started coming up all over the place – and they soon became firmly rooted in youth culture. With the advent of Punk in the middle of the 1970s and its do-it-yourself attitude the fanzine culture began to flourish.

The first German Punk fanzine went by the name of The Ostrich and was first published in 1977 with a print run of fifty copies. By the beginning of the 1980s there were more than three hundred Punk fanzines in the Federal Republic of Germany alone. In the years following this more and more fanzines came into being, focussing on such musical genres as Metal, Gothic and New Wave, as well as on other areas of (youth) culture such as football.

In the GDR the publishing of fanzines proved to be much more difficult, as Christian Schmidt emphasises – he works at the Archiv der Jugendkulturen (Archive of Youth Cultures) in Berlin. One reason for this was the fact that an official authorisation was as a rule required to print copies of things. There were also no copy shops, which meant that they had to make do with stencilling machines which were technically much less resilient.

Despite the Internet there are still interesting print fanzines

  • Spring #5 – Alter Ego © Spring,
    Spring #5 – Alter Ego
  • Spring #7 – Happy Ending © Spring,
    Spring #7 – Happy Ending
  • Spring #11 – Wunder © Spring,
    Spring #11 – Wunder
  • Spring #12 – Privée © Spring,
    Spring #12 – Privée
  • „Fool on the Beach“ von Gwendoline Desnoyers © Gwendoline Desnoyers/Re:Surgo! Berlin
    „Fool on the Beach“ von Gwendoline Desnoyers
  • „Kiki Smith in Dunkirk“ von Emmanuelle Pidoux © Emmanuelle Pidoux/Re:Surgo! Berlin
    „Kiki Smith in Dunkirk“ von Emmanuelle Pidoux
  • „Pure-Ton-o-Fun Co Scatalog“ von David Sandlin © David Sandlin/Re:Surgo! Berlin
    „Pure-Ton-o-Fun Co Scatalog“ von David Sandlin
  • „34.000.000“ von Gfeller + Hellsgård © Gfeller + Hellsgård/Re:Surgo! Berlin
    „34.000.000“ von Gfeller + Hellsgård
  • Kunstautomat in Potsdam © Kunstautomaten
    Kunstautomat in Potsdam
  • Kunstautomat © Kunstautomaten
  • Kunstautomat Trabant © Kunstautomaten
    Kunstautomat Trabant
  • Kunstautomat © Kunstautomaten
  • Kunstautomat in Dresden © Kunstautomaten
    Kunstautomat in Dresden
  • Kunstautomat in Caputh © Kunstautomaten
    Kunstautomat in Caputh
  • Kunstautomat © Kunstautomaten
  • Kunstautomat in Hohen Neuendorf © Kunstautomaten
    Kunstautomat in Hohen Neuendorf
  • Kunstautomatentruhe © Kunstautomaten
  • Kunstautomat in Münster © Kunstautomaten
    Kunstautomat in Münster
  • Kunstautomat in Köln © Kunstautomaten
    Kunstautomat in Köln
  • Kunstautomat in Berlin © Kunstautomaten
    Kunstautomat in Berlin
Since the 1990s the German fanzine market has become even more and more diversified. Take, for example, the subjects of football or role playing – the number of publications has grown out of all proportion. Nevertheless over the last few years a number of print fanzines have been discontinued, probably because it has become very easey to publish on the Internet. This has led to e-fanzines becoming an established publishing form – many of which are a continuation of the original print fanzines. In general networking within the German “Zine-Scene” has increased. Since 2011 fans have been gathering once a year at the Zinefest Berlin to exchange ideas and thoughts on all the latest developments.

At the same time since the noughties some really quite interesting new print publications have come into being, especially when looked at from the point of view of content and aesthetics. Many of them are products stemming from the merging of comic design, illustration and graphic art, for example, those of the Re:Surgo! – a print studio set up by Swedish–born Anna Hellsgård and the Frenchman, Christian Gfeller, in Berlin. With the aid of silk-screen printing processes the label publishes mini-zines by various artists. The fanzine, Spring, is now being published again once a year; it came out for the first time in Hamburg in 2004 with the aim of strengthening the position of women on the comics scene. Even today it is still only women who publish their drawings in Spring. The fanzine has a print run of one thousand copies and according to its co-publisher, Larissa Bertonasco, explicitly has a clearly defined target readership in mind. “We want to produce an attractive fanzine and be free and independent when it comes to making decisions.”

Since 2015 Spring has been working together with the Mairisch publishing house in Hamburg that has been taking care, above all, of public relations, advertising and sales. One of the results of these efforts was the fact that the current edition, Privée, was almost completely sold out just a few weeks after it came out. Neither the publishers nor the authors earn any money with Spring; each individual edition yields just about enough money to be able to finance the next edition. According to Larissa Bertonasco, at some point they are going to have to take steps towards more professionalisation. If we were able to focus exclusively on the content aspects, she says – that would be the best way to run a non-commercial publication like Spring in the long term.

Mini works of art from a vending machine

Gallery owner, Lars Kaiser, has adopted a particularly original approach. Back in 2000 he introduced his art vending machines. These are revamped cigarette or condom vending machines that can now be used to obtain original works of art for a few euros: drawings, graphics, but also texts or amusing cuddly animals made of fabric. Kaiser said that he got the idea from his gallery visitors who kept asking him if he had any “smaller works of art”.

Whereas Lars Kaiser used his gallery and its milieu to recruit the first artists to participate in his project, now any professional artist can work with him. Every work of art comes with the artist’s curriculum vitae, including his or her telephone number and address, enabling prospective buyers to get in touch with the artist if they want to. Most of them just want to provide some feedback, others want to purchase more – often larger – works of art. Furthermore, Lars Kaiser says, “the vending machines appeal in particular to young people.” The vending machines, it seems, take art to those people who are not typical buyers of art – a nice side effect.