MapCarte 230/365: Lübeck by Alfred Mahlau, 1934


Maps can be used as powerful promotional pieces. When an artist or illustrator with a very unique aesthetic uses maps as part of their work we often see the map design take on strong elements of their artistic leaning. So it is the case with German painter and graphic artist Alfred Mahlau. Much of his work was in graphic design for advertising, textile patterns, sets and even stained glass windows.

In general, Mahlau’s work was highly illustrative with minimal lines and strong blocks of colour. He was known for his lettering and his particularly clever way of dealing with umlauts as in this poster. Mahlau produced this poster, which has been reproduced in different colours and formats, as a promotional piece for the town of Lübeck in northern Germany which largely sits on an island in the River Trave and acts as one of Germany’s major ports. The island contains the old part of the city and as such has a number of historic buildings amongst a dense network of narrow streets that share the same red tile roofing and architecture.

Mahlau captured the essence of Lübeck in his perspective view. The many buildings are drawn in a similar style and the cathedrals and churches are seen rising above. It’s a simplified drawing but retains something of the character and charm of this small island settlement. The boats surrounding the island give away the fact it’s situated on water yet he cleverly uses subtle shadows to emphasise this aspect.

This view of Lübeck does way more than any aerial photograph or planimetric map could. It gives the town character and evokes a sense of place merely through the illustrative form.