Neon from Hamburg is one of the publications produced by the German Stern group – a family of magazines that cover lifestyle and are particularly well known for their immersive photography and features. If Viva! Is the grandparent of the family, Stern the mum and dad, and Gesund the yoga-practising aunt – then Neon is the cool older daughter, who always has the best tips and instigates provocative conversations at the dinner table.
For me, Neon fills a gap that I feel is lacking in Britain. The German-language magazine is for men and women of the 20-35 age group, though to me felt more like a women’s mag; perhaps that’s a cultural difference. In England, mainstream publications that focus on relationships, lifestyle and sex are often women’s magazines. This is problematic, assuming men are interested in one kind of thing and women another.
Neon is a publication that addresses things like relationships and work-life and politics in a smart, young and assertive tone – and its refreshing to read a magazine for young people that isn’t directed at a particular sex.
Little recurring features make for fun browsing, and the accompanying imagery is lively. At the front of the magazine there’s a list of ‘Unnecessary Knowledge’ paired with a random cacti-ice-cream photograph (above); a column called ‘The Tree of Knowledge’ that helps readers answer important life-questions with the help of jubilant illustrated map (in this case the question is ‘Should I move house?’)(also above); and a double-page spread of street-style portraits doesn’t focus on what people are wearing but asks big questions like ‘When are you brave?’ instead (also above).
The magazine is divided into six sections – ‘Wide World’, ‘Seeing’, ‘Feeling’, ‘Knowing’, ‘Buying’ and ‘Free Time’. I like the all-encompassing aspect of the structure; the magazine appreciates the emotional and slightly enigmatic sides of life as well as the work/play daily grind. The sections’ titles fall over two pages, with a spacious, stark contents list on one side and a black and white picture on the other (above, below). The format is elegant, a strict counterpart to the playfulness elsewhere.
The commissioned illustration is always on point, much like fellow-German publication Zeit. An essay on computer algorithms considers the many ways that websites are forever monitoring our online lives, and Matthew Quick’s accompanying photo montages are surreal, dystopian and evocative (above). For a piece considering whether there is such a thing as a dream-job, gorgeous figures created by Volker Straeter stretch vibrantly across the pages (below).
The writing is both intelligent and breezy, and it doesn’t shy away from cultural criticism. A standout piece by Moritz Baumstieger considers the way language is changing through the use of emojis (above), and she uses emoticons for certain words in order to prove her point (also note: the page number’s font has changed to emoticon numbers for the length of the feature).
Last but not least, the photography is seamless too. For an essay on relationships, the pictures are silly and celebrate ordinary life (above) – they’re not like the cheesy, overly stylised pictures usually associated with relationship columns. A feature on young Putin supporters in Russia also makes good use of atmospheric portraiture (below).
Neon has no frills – the design is crisp and the content is a mixture of bite-sized features and longer essays that demand your attention. It’s also refreshing to see a fun and flickable young person’s publication that has the reach of a mainstream magazine but which doesn’t condescend or avoid life’s complexities.
Editorial: Oliver Stolle
Art direction: Ji-Young Ahn
Paragraph two was updated 30 April
Review by Madeleine Morley