This poster is a virtuoso performance: everything Danish – fair and friendly – is contrasted with everything German – dark and threatening. The text carries the message further: Danish national identity is personified by an image of all that is nearest and dearest – the relationship between mother and child.
The designer, Thor Bøgelund, achieved this emotionally powerful, though extremely tendentious, effect by juxtaposing ‘Mother Denmark’, symbol of the Danish people, with the Eagle, symbol of the German Reich. A more honest use of national symbols would have been to juxtapose Mother Denmark and Germania as symbols of the two peoples; or to use the symbols of the two states – the German Eagle and the Lions from the Danish coat of arms.
The imagery of the poster appealed directly to feelings: choose what is fair, warm and mild; choose the flag and the woman! The mother is calling her children to her; urging those looking at the poster to choose as their forefathers did. Thus the message of the poster is: follow the dictates of history and the pull of your own heart. In this way you will walk in the footsteps of the ancestors.
Danish plebiscite poster by Thor Bøgelund, text by Hans Ahlmann. 5,250 copies. 92 x 64 cm.
Paying taxes in Denmark and Germany
Imagery and words were used to present the high standard of living in neutral Denmark and the misery of war-torn Germany, often considerably simplifying the facts. One of the most extreme examples of propaganda is this pro-Danish poster for the plebiscite campaign in Zone 2: an elegantly-dressed citizen with white spats and a bowler hat is contrasted with a bareheaded, ragged proletarian in slippers. The former flourishes his bulging purse, dropping his contribution, his shining coins, into the already overfilled moneybag earmarked for the care of children and the old. The proletarian, on the other hand, whose pockets are empty, can only let his last banknote flutter down into the bottomless sack marked ‘War Damages’.
No other poster in the campaign urged people so forcefully to vote for financial reasons. The designer of the poster was an artist from Copenhagen, Harald Slott-Møller. He was eager in the cause of Flensburg, that is, he wanted Flensburg, no matter what the result of the campaign, to be reunited with Denmark.
Danish plebiscite campaign, drawn by Harald Slott-Møller. Only used in Zone 2 and with German text. 94 x 64 cm.
We are German
Paul Haase, brought from Berlin to Flensburg during the plebiscite campaign in Zone 2, designed this ‘Knight poster’ based on Albrecht Dürer’s engraving, ‘Knight, Death and the Devil’, which at the time would have been familiar to any child at school. At a time seemingly filled with endless problems, the Knight was a symbol of German loyalty and endurance.
This poster, done in a murky style with broad swathes of colour, is clearly very different from the far more appealing aquarelle type style of Danish posters. The grim, black Knight raises his (almost too large) right hand to swear an oath and admonish people to stand guard around ‘the inheritance of the forefathers’. In his mailed and clenched left fist he bears a Schleswig-Holstein flag over his shoulder.
To complement the visual statement, Haase chose a text which reproduced ‘Eden’ from Friedrich Schiller’s drama ‘Wilhelm Tell’, though adapted to the purpose at hand. The artist replaced the word ‘free’ with ‘German’, and had no reason to fear that he might be misunderstood, since Schiller’s drama, and especially the text of ‘Eden’, was familiar to all Germans at that time. Both the Knight and swearing of the oath were central symbols in the German national consciousness. Danish-minded people did not understand the poster, and indeed found it threatening. The Knight was popularly called ‘Scourge of the Danes’.
German plebiscite poster, drawn by Paul Haase. No. of copies unknown. 80 x 57 cm.
Uwe Jens Lornsen speaks
This German poster shows the head of Uwe Jens Lornsen encircled by a wreath of flame. This man was one of the pioneers of the Schleswig-Holstein movement, and in his work, ‘Über das Verfassungswerk in Schleswigholstein’ (1830), he called for the separation of the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein from the Kingdom of Denmark. It is therefore understandable that, in a situation when the whole Schleswig-Holstein question was to the fore, he was revived to be the spokesman for the German cause in the plebiscite campaign. His clear and resolute gaze signals to the public that his cause – that Schleswig should belong to Germany – was crystal clear. Down to the last doubter, people were to be convinced that that the only choice for a Schleswig-Holsteiner was to vote for ‘The German Fatherland’. This message is further underlined by the fact that under the picture of Lornsen there is a row of hands raised as if swearing allegiance; the solemn promise of these hands has already fulfilled his exhortation to show fealty to the German Fatherland. The picture has a religious undertone.
German plebiscite poster, designer and number of copies unknown. Published in Kiel on 25 February 1920. 101 x 65.5 cm.