Basel is a historical industrial town that spanned both sides of the Rhine River on the northwest corner of the country with Germany to the northeast and France to the east.
My friend met me at the train and we took a street trolley back to her place. I marveled at the city, similar to but different from the small town of Rapperswil and the frantic banking, fashion conscious Zurich. The city carried the wonderful old European architectural styles, but its industrial roots were obvious as it appeared, as a whole, more down to earth.
She lived in small apartment in an older working neighborhood. I found out the next day that hardly anyone one there spoke english after she went to her classes and I was in my own and went into a small shop to get some meat and cheese for lunch.
“Sprechen Sie Englisch?” I asked and received a shake of the head from the young woman behind the counter, who held up a finger and left for a moment returning with what was likely her mother and a younger brother.
“American?” the older woman asked with a big eyed smile. I nodded and smiled back. Apparently Americans did not frequent this part of Basel. With everyone watching and using advanced charades, I made my order and paid not having a clue if I got the right change back. I smiled and said “Danke Shoen, backed towards the door with an “Auf Wiedersehen.” and left.
My friend, being occupied in studio all day, I roamed the streets of old Basel, had coffee on a patio watching people passing by, ending up at an art museum whose collection spanned medieval art up to cubism and modern art. I spent most of the afternoon there looking at and being impressed by all the art. Outside the museum was a dynamic sculpture garden with whimsical little devices that whirled and twirled and shot water into the air and at each other. Later, I met my friend for dinner and called it a day.
The next day I got tour of the Basel Kunstgewerbeschule, a stark concrete edifice lacking very much warmth, but was vibrant with the student work I saw. She showed me of some of the projects she was working on, one of which was to create one hundred different images or symbols of a singular object. When she showed me her sketchbook, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I thought about giving that project to a group of sophomores at ISU and figured I’d be laughed at for being so audacious. But they did it here.
That night we were invited to dinner at Wolfgang Weingart’s apartment. It was like I was going to meet the most amazing impressive designer of the time. He was innovative and was pushing the limits of Swiss graphic design. He was both emulated and criticized in the many articles written about him and his work. But, non the less, I was getting to meet a legend.
His small apartment was nondescript unlike the several designer houses I had been in when in Rapperswil. He was gracious and low key, happy to meet a design professor from America. His girl friend was American, also studying design at the school. We shared wine and food and some talk of design. He shared his philosophy of design and his appreciation of the historic Swiss Style, but thought it needed to be challenged and given a newer more modern approach. His education was in the traditional Swiss Style that dominated the present universal standards of visual communication, but he felt that it was time to push those strict parameters and he was doing that through his personal design and in his teaching.
The evening was over early, we thanked them for their graciousness, bid our good-byes and left. I felt like I had met a rock star.
The next day I left for Luxembourg for a night and left the following day for home. I had a lot to think about.