What do we know about Hamburg? If you’re British then The Beatles come to mind, and the clubs of the Reeperbahn where they played. Kevin Keegan was European Footballer of the year twice while playing for Hamburger FC. And if you’re a regular here on the Journal you maybe know the annual Indiecon magazine conference that takes place in the northern German city.
Indiecon was launched by local design studio Die Brueder. Specialists in editorial design, they have just launched a city magazine for their home town. Gentle Rain is supported by the local government yet takes a sideways look at the city; this is not your traditional local magazine. Billed as the city’s first English-language magazine, it is aimed at visitors – ‘potential Hamburgers whose first language is not German’ – and does a good job of bringing its subject to life while avoiding the clichés I list above.
As you might expect given its makers, the design and format positions the mag in the indie sector; it is clean and sparse with well-thought out ideas presented with clarity and little fuss on crisp, matt paper. A series of infographics dotted throught the issue give core information about the city, taking a double page spread where another magazine might take a small panel. These are bold designs that communicate facts with humour; Facts and Figures by Length includes a measurement for a human chain of Hamburg’s 48,000 millionaires as well as bridge and tunnel lengths (above) and Facts and Figures by Weight combines the weight of rubbish cleared after last new years eve with the weight of ex-chancelor Hemut Schmidt’s ashtray (below).
The opening pages use a similar graphic approach, a clean, unlabelled, vector map sitting alongside a bright, clean welcome message (below).
The issue is structured around a series of clearly labelled elements. Some (Portrait, Analysis and Dossier) are normal fare but slotted among these are a series of active ones; Expedition, Hike and City Stroll all encourage movement around and through the city. Hike (below) takes the reader on a walk out to the coastal mud flats outside the city while Expedition features sculptures made from the detritius left after the spring meltwater recedes from the river Elbe (also below). Meanwhile City Stroll concentrates on the city, introducing the bars and flea market of the western Sternschanze district.
The cover story focuses on Herzog & de Meuron’s new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, a photo essay by Tim Bruenning featuring a model and ‘Elbzilla’ dancing around the city towards the site of the new building (below).
If the role of a magazine like this is to make we want to visit its subject city then Gentle Rain is a winning project. It’s well-designed and editorially inventive, exudes a charming confidence and leaves me curious about the city of Hamburg. It’s not perfect – there’s the occasional second language hiccup – but it’s a strong first issue.