FE-Schrift

For almost seven decades, the numerals on German license plates were punched with characters from the typeface DIN 1451—a progeny of the 1920s Constructivist design movement. As the acronym suggests (DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung, or German Institute for Standardization), the font was ubiquitous along the autobahn. By the late 1990s, however, a shortcoming of its geometric design was evident. Using a bit of tape or white paint, car thieves and the like were falsifying license plates by altering their transmutable characters (eg. F to E). And so FE-Schrift (Fälschungserschwerende Schrift, or falsification-hindering script) made its public debut. Designed by Karlgeorg Hoefer in the late 1970s, the typeface is an assemblage of entirely unique characters with disparate design aesthetics: No typographic road rules apply. Despite assuaging a history of vehicular counterfeiting, FE-Schrift’s introduction was not popular among designers. As Erik Spiekermann observed this past summer, “While nobody could simply turn one of them into another one, now they all look totally forged in the first place. No policeman would notice if you invented new characters instead.” ANNA MALSBERGER

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