Travels in Book Land: Alphons Woelfle’s imaginary map of 1938…

May and June are traditionally the highpoint of the London bookselling calendar, so it seems fitting to draw attention to another of our recent acquisitions, one of the most charming imaginary maps of the late 1930’s, German artist Alphons Woelfle’s captivating vision of the “Land of Books” – Karte des Bücherlandes, first published in Munich by Heimeran just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

On the roots and origins of this wonderfully imaginative fantasy map,  an article in the Swiss work Librarium, Journal der Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Bibliophilen-Gesellschaft, Jg. 1 [1958], Nr 2, provides some fascinating clues and pointers.

The article relates how in 1938 the popular German illustrator and graphic artist, Alphons Woelfle [1884-1951] arrived at the Schwabing Villa and Offices of the Munich printer and publisher, Dr Ernst Heimeran [1902-1955], with an idea for a modern updated version of an 18th Century Baroque-style map, in the manner of Breitkopf or Von Reilly, on the theme of the Land of Love.

22231A - Krunitz - Breitkopf - Das Reich der Liebe - 1777-1793
J G G Breitkopf – Das Reich der Liebe – [Leipzig, 1777-1793]
22318 -Von Reilly - Landkarte von dem Reiche der Liebe 1802
F J J von Reilly – Landkarte von dem Reiche der Liebe – [Vienna 1802]

Alphons Woelfle was himself already and established artist and illustrator, obtaining regular commissions from such popular satirical magazines as Simplicissimus and Jugend. He had previously collaborated with Heimeran, who took a great deal of pleasure in this kind of work.

However, after considerable & lengthy deliberation, Heimeran proved unable to make up his mind over which original map design to try and replicate for the proposed new map of the Kingdom of Love. After further discussions with Woelfle, he nonetheless came up with an idea for an alternative imaginary map, this on a theme that had never previously been examined or considered: The Land of Books.

So began a creative design process for the map in which innumerable members of the Heimeran family & publishing business played their part, each contributing rival & contrasting elements and features of the map design and layout, so that by the time the final design went to press, it had become a collectively-designed Heimeran artwork, produced by one of the most open-minded, fun-loving and peculiar of pre-war German publishing houses, a work for which Woelfle nonetheless appears to have been happy to claim credit as author.

Indeed is immensely apposite that this particular map of the Land of Books should ultimately have been published with Woelfle’s imprint. The Woelfle (or more properly Wölfle) family were (and indeed still are)  intextricably connected with the world of books, successive generations having operated as booksellers and publishers in Southern Germany in a continuous line going back to the last quarter of the 18th Century. In 1837, Alphons’ grandfather, Johann Georg Woelfle had purchased the business of Georg Joseph Manz in Landshut, the Krull’sche Universitäts-Buchhandlung and a sister branch in nearby Freising. Further branches were soon established in Ingoldstadt and Deggendorf, run by Johann Georg and his three sons. As the Freising business grew, business in Landshut declined principally as a result of the closure of the local University and its move to Munich in 1870. However five years later Woelfle’s father Hermann [1848-1922] appears to have taken over the running of the Landshut business.

Interestingly, the creative imaginings of a fantasy world were by no means a novelty within the Woelfle family. Several decades earlier, on the occasion of the advent of the year 1900, a centenary that aroused considerable existentialist angst and literary & philosophical crystal ball-gazing, Alphons’ own father Hermann had published his own futuristic & utopian vision of what daily life might be like exactly one hundred years later, in the year 2000, in his own native town of Landshut:

H Woelfle – Landshut im Jahre 2000  [Landshut, 1900]

Following the family tradition, Alphons’ elder brother Robert [1870-1943] had taken charge of the Freising branch in 1895, expanding it to include a concert and theatrical agency. He sold this business in 1919 to Dr Karl Haas and in 1923 established, in Munich, what would become one of Southern Germany’s best-known antiquarian booksellers, Robert Woelfle Rare Books, a firm that still survives in family hands to this day. After Robert’s early death during the War, in 1943, the Munich Antiquariat was taken over by his two daughters, Gertrude & Lotte, Alphons’ nieces.

Although it passed out of family hands in 1919 the original Freising business of Alphons Woelfle’s grandfather also survives to this day, a specialist stationery supplier that proudly bears the name of its original owner, J G Wölfle.

As Conrad Ulrich notes in his review of Lotte Roth’s 1998 study of Alphons Woelfe in Librarium: Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Bibliophilen-Gesellschaft, 43 [2000], the Freising-born illustrator had begun his initial art studies in Munich at a private Academy for landscape artists. By 1908 he was working for local publisher Albert Langen Verlag, providing illustrations for many of their books and fashioning special custom-made bookbindings, work which he particularly relished and which remained a speciality throughout the rest of his life. Woelfle and his wife were caught by surprise during a visit to Paris when World War One broke out in August 1914 and they would spent the next four years confined in a French internment camp. In the post war period Woelfle returned to Munich and developed further his distinctive rococo & romantic style of graphic art, elements of which are readily apparent in this Map of Book Land. During the 1930’s he became an established figure in the local press, as caricaturist for the Süddeutsche Sonntagspost, a newspaper for which he also became chief editor, as long as the politics of the time allowed. It was position that also provided a platform for him to write regular articles about Munich art and culture. Woelfle would live out the Second World War in Munich, though it proved a costly decision, as one particular Allied bombing raid would destroy almost his entire personal art collection.

Until 1933, Dr Ernst Heimeran had for the previous decade been a specialist niche publisher in Munich, like Woelfle, supplementing his income by working as a features writer & columnist for one of the large Munich daily newspapers, a job that had initially arisen from a legal case in which he had been prosecuted following publication of a satirical edition of a newspaper entitled Die Kuhhaut (the Cowhide), a single spoof edition of which had been printed as a parody of the Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten newspaper. In 1933 the influence of the Nazis led to a complete ban on his journalistic work, and he fell back on mainstream publishing, taking care to avoid publications that might attract the further wrath or the negative attentions of the Nazi regime. As well as classic works in translation, Heimeran’s wide range of publications included popular art & music books, books on historical and cultural curiosities and cook books. A tireless and earnest publisher, Heimeran fell into publishing not as a business but almost as a sideline to his interest in art and journalism. He sought to maintain the cultural values in which he believed against the oppressive political influence of the state and also to preserve his business and book stock throughout the destruction of the ensuing War. As a family-based specialist publisher in “small form”, it is perhaps fitting that it was indeed Heimeran who produced this map, a map for book lovers like himself and one authored and designed by someone with such close and intimate familial connections with that world of books. As he noted in his own memoir,   Büchermachen, Geschichte eines Verlages, von ihm selbst erzählt (1947/1959), one of his principal aims in publishing had always been to try and put out into the world books that he would like to own himself.

Another possible connection regarding the creative origins of this map of the Book Land and its title which has not previously been noted or referenced lies in the fact that Heimeran’s publishing partner, Ernst Penzoldt [1892-1955], had, in 1925, presented a small hand-illustrated children’s book entitled Die Reise ins Bücherland as a Christmas present for his three year old son. It was not however until 1942 that the original book finally came into print, as Die Reise ins Bücherland. Ein Büchermärchen, published by Heimeran in Munich and with Penzoldt’s original hand coloured illustrations now transformed in twelve finely coloured woodblock prints by Albert Fallscheer depicting the wondrous adventures of a young child transported to the imaginary world of books. It seems probable Heimeran would have known about Penzoldt’s 1925 book and it may well have been at the back of his mind when musing and deliberating over Woelfle’s ideas for a new fantasy map in 1938.

Ernst Penzoldt - Die Reise ins Buecherland - Heimeran Munich 1942
           Ernst Penzoldt – Die Reise ins Buecherland  [Heimeran, Munich 1942]

Woelfle’s map takes the form of several different Provinces, set along a coastal seaboard, dotted with harbours, bays, cliffs, promontories and headlands and an array of offshore islands, through which sails the famous Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools), the famous satirical work of Sebastian Brant [1494]. In the upper right of the map, an inset town plan of the Capital City of Officina (literally “Printing Workshop”).

In the lower right the allegorical figure of Literature surveys the region from her shaded seat as the Sun rises over the horizon.

Detail of the Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools) & symbolic “Muse of Literature”

The decorative rococo-style baroque title cartouche upper left is surmounted by the figure of a Owl, Athena’s helper, the traditional symbolic embodiment of Wisdom and Learning.

So it is that Bücherland is divided into several distinct regions and provinces, some six of which are named explicitly: Leser Republik (The Republic of Readers); Vereinigte Buchhandels Staaten (United States of Booksellers); Recensentia (A Realm of Book Reviewers); Makulataria (Waste Paper Land)  and Poesia (The Land of Poetry). Two other regions, in the lower left and upper right of the map, remain unnamed.

Each region is full of humorous quips and phrases which relate specifically to the region in which they are found. So for example in the Leser Republik we have Unexplored Markets (Unerforschtes Absatzgebiet); Book Readers’ Community Camping Ground (Zelte der Buchergemeinde); Caves of the Bookworms (Höhlen der Bücherwürmer), complete with emergent giant worm! (see image above); Botan Liebesgarten (Botanical Pleasure Gardens);  Tower of Winged Prose (Tor der geflügelten Worte); Pond of Popular Editions (Volksausgabenteich); Settlement of cheap editions and remainders (Siedlung von Schleuderer und Ramscher);  Bestsellery Plantations (Bestsellerei Plantagen); The Erotic Swamp (Erotische Sümpfe); and The Mines of Asphalt Literature (Asphaltliteratur Bergwerke).

Leser Republik  & Vereinigte Buchhandels Staaten

So-called “Asphalt literature” was blacklisted by the Nazis in the early 1930’s, one propagandist Wolfgang Hermann describing it in 1933 as being “predominantly written for the urban resident, in order to confirm and strengthen his detachment from his environment – from his Volk, from any community, and which up-roots him completely. This is the literature of intellectual Nihilism.”

In the unnamed region immediately to the north of the Readers’ Republic, at its most northerly boundaries can be seen Mountains, from where originates the stream called the Source of Knowledge (Urquell des Wissens). Close by is the hermitage of Philosophy (Philosoph. Einsiedelei). The Source of Knowledge continues its course through the Cellulose Woods (Zelluose Wälder), past the Gorge of the misprint devil (Schlucht der Druckfehlerteufel), past Paper Mills (Papiermühlen), feeding the Ink Lake (Tinten See), past the Zweibelfishereien (literally “Onion fisheries”). A zweibelfisch is a colloquial German typographer’s term for a printing error where one letter in a word or sentence is mistakenly printed in a different font size to the rest). The stream continues through the Blätterwald (Wood of Paper sheets) to finally reach the Capital City of Officiana, now transformed into the Paper River (Papier Fluss) with its estuary emptying into the Harbour of Exports (Ausfuhr-Hafen).

Within the “United States of Booksellers”, we find the Detective (Novel) Cellars (Detektiv Kellereien); the Fort of the Censor (Zensur Fort); the Construction site of Piracy/Plagiarism (Raub-Bauplätze); and the Novel Racecourse (Roman Rennbahn). In the Neighbouring Province of Recensentia (Realm of Reviewers) we have the Critic Forests (Kritische Wälder) and the Old Parade ground (Alter Exerzierplatz). In adjacent Makulataria (Land of Waste Paper) we discover Shelved Projects (Versandete Unternehmungen) and the Pyramids of Forgotten Books (Pyramiden von vergess. Bücher). Nearby the pinnacle of the extinct volcano of drama (Erlosch. dramat. Vulcan).

In the Realm of Poetry we have the Philological Leasehold (Philol. Pachtland), the Pinnacle of Fame (Gipfel des Ruhmes) and The Laurel grove (Lorbeerhain), whilst along its southern shoreline can be found the Foothills of the Classics (Vorgebirge der Klassiker).

The Realm of Poesia (Poetry) and adjacent coastlines

In the adjacent unnamed territory, contrast is drawn between the land of blossoming fantasy (Blühende Phantasiegefilde) and the Hungertuschwebereien (literally “the looms of hunger sheets”), the idiomatic “am Hungertusch nagen” meaning literally to nibble on the Hunger sheet, i.e to be very poor. So also common grounds (Gemeinplatz) and Heavily grazed (desert) lands (Abgegraste Gebiete). Nearby is the Castle of Platitudes (Schloss Platitud).

The coastline offers equally negative features with the Meerbusen von Enttauschungen (Bay of Disappointments) and the Track of the Rainbringing winds (Regenwind Trift). Offshore we have Rara Island, Curiosa Island with its spinning mills (Spinnereien), Unique Island (Unica Ins) with its principal harbour, the Bay of one-hit wonders (Bucht von Eintagsfliegen); Smuggler’s Island on the Gold Coast, and Treasure Island of Adventure stories (Schatzinsel der Abenteuerroman). Other coastal features include the Cape of shattered hopes (Kap der geschieterten Hoffnung), where a shipwrecked vessel can be seen sinking beneath the waves. The cape lies just to the south of the Tropic of Literature (Literatur Wendkreis). The sea itself is named the Sea of New Editions (Meer der Neu Erscheinungen).

An inset town plan of Officina appears in the upper right corner of the map and offers a key to the buildings and locations of importance:

No 1. The Book Market (Büchermarkt)

No 2. Boulevard of Mass Circulation (Boulevard der Massenauflagen)

No 3. The New Book District (Neues Bücherviertel)

No 4. Residential district of the Publishers (Villenviertel der Verleger)

No 5.  Publishing house with maze and fountain of advances (Vertragshaus mit Irrgarten u.Vorschussquelle)

No 6. Library (Bibliothek)

No 7. Readers’ Ramparts (Wall der Lektoren)

No. 8. Bridge of Good Relations (Brücke der guten Berziehungen)

No 9. Boom fountain (Konjunktturbrunnen)

No 10. Authors’ track (Autorensteig)

No 11. Remainder stores (Restposten)

No.12 Poet’s House (Haus des Dichters)

Examples of Woelfle’s original 1938 edition of the map of Book Land are rarely seen offered on the market, as it is a map that has been much reproduced and copied, especially since the early 1960’s when a further slightly reduced-size version of the map also appears to have been printed.

More recently, a very similar satirical map, Karte des Steuerlandes [Land of Taxes]. Eine farbige Phantasiekarte designed by Hans-Martin Schmidt and Wolfgang Raquet, and self-evidently modelled of the Woelfle-Heimeran Bücherland map, was published by Verlag Dr.Otto Schmidt in Cologne in 1983.

The principal source for most bibliographic and biographical information on Alphons Woelfle is the study by his niece, the renowned Munich antiquarian bookseller, Lotte Roth-Woelfle [1912-2011]. Her detailed catalogue raisonée of his 258 recorded works and close biographical study of his life was first published in Munich in 1998, most appropriately by the family firm that still perpetuates the Woelfle name and its long & enduring connection with the Land of Books:

Refs: Georg Zimmermann: Karte des Bücherlandes – von Urquell des Wissens in das Meer der Neuersheinungen: in : BIS – Das Magazin der Bibliotheken in Sachsen – Jg. 2. 2009, H. 3, pp.184-185; Lotte Roth: Alphons Woelfle, 1884-1951 : Illustrator und Buchkünstler: Leben und Werk [Munich, 1998]; Alphons Woelfle: Illustrator und Buchkünstler: zum Buch über sein Leben und Werk von Lotte Roth – Review by Conrad Ulrich in: Librarium : Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Bibliophilen-Gesellschaft, 43 [2000], Heft 3, pp.206-209; Landshut im Jahre 2000, Fantasia von Hermann Wölfle