“That is the empire,” says Gerhard Steidl. He says it soberly, without a discernible expression. Then he enumerates the buildings in staccato: the Technikhaus, the Halftone Hotel, the Günter Grass Archive, the Kunsthaus Göttingen, of which he is director, the offset printing company. He even mentions the entrance to the large courtyard, around which the buildings stand, while we look down at the square from the third floor. Then the archive, the Fine Art Printing Studio, the studio of Jim Dine, he points in a semicircle from building to building, plus the small exhibition hall for Jim Dine, his own house, and finally the book house, which contains copies of all the volumes Gerhard Steidl has ever published or at least printed five thousand titles in total. One house is next to another, one is still in the shell, another dates from the thirteenth century, and later Gerhard Steidl will point to a vacant lot and say in the same unexcited tone that he is planning something there with the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.
Editor in the features section, responsible for the “Reiseblatt”.
The artist Roni Horn once called the building ensemble “Steidl Village”. And Steidl? Does he care about it as the good village mayor? Or is he rather an emperor? He hesitates, almost as if he had never been asked the question before. Then he refers to the alleged mess in the kitchen of a starred restaurant, in which all the steps are coordinated so that all dishes landed perfectly on the plates and tables thanks to an exact plan and not because of a miracle. He runs such a business, he says, as a head chef, so to speak. Nothing escapes his gaze. He intervenes in all departments. All the time. And everywhere at the same time, it seems. Here he has fabric cut to size for a book cover, there the template for an embossing print. He alone determines the percentages for the slightest changes in gray values in the print shop. And in between, he takes an order from Chanel on his cell phone, which is so old that it deserves a place in a museum, to print another 140,000 copies of the current magazine.
Ideas fall from the sky
“Everything,” he says, “trickles here from top to bottom.” As he passes by, he pulls a schematic drawing with the cross-section of his house from a shelf: “Above is the library, where the first meetings with artists and customers take place, including the Department for the drafts of the books, including the technology including image processing and the printing shop on the ground floor. ”This is where, his employees say, every day begins for him when he drives the pallets with the finished sheets through the hall at five in the morning and sort the stacks . Permanent drivers then take them to the bookbinder in their trucks. Thanks to the vehicle fleet, explains Steidl, he is not dependent on the forwarders’ schedules. His own are complicated enough. Instead of obsession, he speaks of efficiency. However, there are two arrows on the cross-section drawing of the house that point to the roof from above. In between it says: “Ideas from Heaven”.
It all started in a garage, just a stone’s throw from today’s company headquarters. Steidl set up a screen printing workshop there after graduating from high school. He learned the technology at the invitation of Andy Warhol in his factory and later with the decorators at Karstadt in Göttingen. He gets his first orders from Klaus Staeck, initially for strictly limited editions, then the two develop a poster campaign for Nuremberg in 1971, while the house and landowners meet there. “Would you rent a room to this woman?” Reads the Dürer drawing of his careworn mother staring into space. Steidl had fished the rasterized template from the editorial rubbish of the “Göttinger Tageblatt” when he brought lunch to his father, who was cleaning the printing presses there. The situation was so simple back then, it was that simple. Staeck and Steidl are allowed to stick their design on advertising pillars in Nuremberg three hundred times. Then they sell the paper ten thousand times.