The decreasing pressure in the office allowed Aicher to think about the time after the games. He played with the idea of a radical change; to retire to the countryside with both his studio and family. When a friend showed him the abandoned mill in Rotis he knew right away: ‘This is it!’ While he was wandering on the mill terrain he drew buildings in his mind, and back at the office desk in Munich he sketched them with a ballpoint pen.
Once the housing for his new studio was found, the next step was to look for good assistants.
A week before the Olympics began Aicher invited Monika Maus for a job interview; a technical drawer from Ulm, long term assistant of hfg colleague Walter Zischegg, who recommended her.
Aicher showed her around the busy office. Walking from table to table he talked enthusiastically about his plans. In between talking, he bent over his assistants’ drawing tables, either giving a satisfied nod or making a quick sketch for corrections. When they reached the end of the room, he turned around and asked the girl with the confident smile and the dark pageboy hair, ‘Can I count on you, Mrs. Maus?’
Monika who followed him in silence had already been impressed by the colourful designs when she saw them on the way from the train station to the office. She was, without question, interested in working for this man, but she had doubts about the rural remoteness of the new studio and the consequences it would have on her life. So she replied straightforwardly: ‘I think I have to see this place first, Mr. Aicher, before I can make a commitment.’
‘Hoppla!’, Aicher said, and talking of himself in third person: ‘An Aicher didn’t hear such a thing in a long time.’
But because he appreciated her directness, he promised: ‘I’ll make sure that you get to see Rotis as soon as the constructions begin.’
At the end he advised her to visit the coffee shop on the second story because its terrace gave such a good view over the Olympic Village.
‘Thanks Mr. Aicher, I was walking around the Village the entire morning. The view won’t be too surprising.’
Now honestly impressed, Aicher said: ‘Moni’ – and this is how he called her the following five years – ‘People who sneak past the guards to get access to the Village, that’s exactly the kind of workers I need for Rotis.’
I have an appointment in the former hfg Ulm, the legendary design school in whose foundation Aicher and his wife were majorly involved. The building, designed by Max Bill, is used as a public museum and an archive today.
The thoroughly modernist construction is fully cast in concrete but still manages to keep a certain lightness. It might be the thin wooden planks in which Bill panelled parts of the walls, or the infinite amount of light that comes in through the big window facades.
The building is largely preserved in its original state. It is only the glass of the aforementioned windows that reveal its present time: the old ones were simply not available anymore when the city of Ulm restored the building – that’s why the complex shimmers in this omnipresent blue today. Disregarding this detail, its visitors are able to experience, as if in an architectural time machine, how it must have been once. The famous curved wooden bar still meanders its way through the canteen. Only the hfg students with their ironed shirts and slim ties are long gone when Monika Maus enters, this afternoon in spring 2014. She is wearing a black robe and a long blue silk scarf hangs down from her shoulders. She welcomes me with the warmth of a mother and sits down beside me. Her eyes start glowing when she begins talking about her youth.
‘The organizer’s nonchalance allowed me stroll inside the Olympic Village, even though I was not supposed to do so. Later it was this goodwill the terrorists abused’, she remembers.
She talks about the autumn of 1972. The moment when the ideal of the peaceful games collapsed and the events were overshadowed by the kidnapping and killing of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists inside the Olympic Village.
‘Aicher was personally offended by this. It was the worst that could have happened. Several months later, when we started working in Rotis he still suffered from it. His zest for life, his humour were gone for a long time.’
So Rotis had to start off with a setback. With the first big jobs and the arrival of Aicher’s family and the installation of a fully equipped printery in the old shed, things moved on. Monika Maus became Aicher’s personal assistant and was mainly occupied with the redesign of Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen – the second German TV channel.
‘Aicher told the directors: “Look, if you always position yourself as second, you will never gain respect. Emancipate yourself, use the shortcut. From now on you are ZDF!”, and they went for it.’
He unified the studio layouts and backgrounds. He drew an alteration of the typeface Univers – with rounded edges – since the monitors at that time were not able to screen clear edges anyway.
‘The clock that the ZDF used for at least ten years – that was my clock. I was the only one in Rotis able to construct it properly’ says Monika Maus, ‘technisch korrekt.’