Author Archives: Harlen Makemson

Old meets new in frigid Frankfurt

Monday was a peculiar day for Frankfurters. Overnight snow and freezing rain accumulated on wires that run the city’s street cars, turning the trams into snow-covered statues. Some area children got the day off from school, and the winter weather delayed the commute for a good number of the estimated 500,000 who come into this city of 700,000 each day for work, school, tourism, shopping or other activities. The airport canceled more than 200 flights on Sunday, and we’re hopeful that the weather improves before our scheduled Thursday departure for the U.S.

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Rows upon rows of small plaques document the human toll inflicted on Frankfurt Jews at the Holocaust Memorial Wall.

The weather didn’t deter our Gutenbergers, who were on the streets just after 9 a.m. for a walking tour. One of the first stops was particularly appropriate given our class’s thoughtful discussions the previous evening on what we had witnessed at Dachau and Nuremberg. The Jewish Holocaust Memorial Wall contains more than 11,000 small plaques honoring each Frankfurt Jew who perished in the Holocaust, or whose fate in the concentration camps was unclear. The memorial speaks on two levels – the individual stories are told by name, camp, date of birth, and when known, date of death. From a distance, the rows upon rows of tiny plaques underscore the scale of the horrible human toll inflicted on inhabitants of just one city.

Modern skyscrapers set the backdrop for reconstructed buildings in Old Town.

Modern skyscrapers set the backdrop for reconstructed buildings in Old Town.

Walking on, one quickly becomes aware that Frankfurt is a city of abrupt contrasts. This is no better exemplified than the area near the intersection of Berliner Straße and Domstraße. On one side of the street are mundane 1950s-era flats that were hurriedly built in the aftermath of World War II. Across the street sits the angular Museum of Modern Art, constructed in 1991 and lovingly called the “piece of cake,” as its boundaries were wedged into a triangular city block. In the distance, one can see the modern skyscrapers that speak to Frankfurt’s spot as a major global economic center. Just a few steps away is the Frankfurter Dom, a Catholic cathedral which dates from the 14th century and where emperors for the Holy Roman Empire were once elected. Although the church was damaged in World War II, much of the sandstone structure remained, unlike much of the rest of the city center, which was flattened by allied bombs. The tudor and half-timber structures that evoke the 16th century were actually constructed in 1986 as part of a move to recreate part of the city’s heritage.

For many of our students, the highlight was no doubt a lunch stop at Kleinmarkthalle, which is quite simply the finest fresh food market most of us will experience in our lifetimes. The first floor has an expansive selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, baked goods, warm food stands with a plethora of ethnic selections, and countless other culinary delights. Free samples were plentiful, which led to a number of takeaway purchases. The chocolate-covered coffee beans were a popular choice for later snacking; this writer will be packing some wasabi-covered peanuts back to the States.

The Geldmuseum allows visitors to interact with the history of money and current fiscal policy.

The Geldmuseum allows visitors to interact with the history of money and current fiscal policy.

We then made our way to the Geldmuseum (Money Museum), which as the name indicates documents not only the change to the Euro but more broadly the history of money throughout the ages. One doesn’t expect to see a stuffed cow, but it makes sense as barter was the early means of exchanging goods. The museum had a multitude of interactive exhibits that explained more modern-day monetary policy and allowed our students to make multinational fiscal choices. The results (most who tried the latter challenge crashed their economies) underscored that most of our students should stick to communications careers.

As I write, many students are headed south of the river to sample the restaurants and nightlife of Sachsenhausen, the other major district of the city. We’ll return across the river Wednesday to experience more of the city’s museums.

– makemson

Images from a cold day In Frankfurt

I have very little to add to Harlen’s fine summary of the day above, but here are some more photos of our trek around the city.

The trees in this city square and along the Main River in the middle of Frankfurt are a breed of sycamore. They are beautiful in both winter and summer.

The trees in this city square and along the Main River in the middle of Frankfurt are a breed of sycamore. They are beautiful in both winter and summer.

These tiny plaques on a snow covered sidewalk rest in front of the location of a house where this family lived prior to being forced into concentration camps.

These tiny plaques on a snow covered sidewalk rest in front of the location of a house where this family lived prior to being forced into concentration camps.

Students listen to our guide explain the list of more than 11,000 names on the city's Holocaust memorial, including that of Anne Frank.

Students listen to our guide explain the list of more than 11,000 names on the city’s Holocaust memorial, including that of Anne Frank.

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Note the icicles hanging from the stoplight.

Note the icicles hanging from the stoplight.

Students listen to the history of the various elected emperors in the cathedral where they were crowned over the centuries. The 14th century chapel in the next photo is where the ceremony took place, and it is now open daily for prayer.

Students listen to the history of the various elected emperors in the cathedral where they were crowned over the centuries. The 14th century chapel in the next photo is where the ceremony took place, and it is now open daily for prayer.

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We like to refer to this as the "fake square" (well, I do anyway) since it was built in the 1980s to resemble buildings destroyed in WWII American air raids. Students were slightly appalled that church towers were used to guide the bombings into the city centers in an era of less precise navigation tools.

We like to refer to this as the “fake square” (well, I do anyway) since it was built in the 1980s to resemble buildings destroyed in WWII American air raids. Students were slightly appalled that church towers were used to guide the bombings into the city centers in an era of less precise navigation tools.

This is an image of Frankfurt in 1945 at the end of the war.

This is an image of Frankfurt in 1945 at the end of the war.

This 1470s half timbered house is the last authentic structure remaining in the old town square.

This 1470s half timbered house is the last authentic structure remaining in the old town square.

The Eiserner Steg Bridge, or iron bridge, is a walking bridge spanning the Main River. It is a favorite spot for couples to place a lock and throw the key in the river to declare their love. Proposals have been known to take place here.

The Eiserner Steg Bridge, or iron bridge, is a walking bridge spanning the Main River. It is a favorite spot for couples to place a lock and throw the key in the river to declare their love. Proposals have been known to take place here.

Emily, Libby, and Lizzie savor the goodies at Frankfurt's Market Hall. This is one of our favorite spots.

Emily, Libby, and Lizzie savor the goodies at Frankfurt’s Market Hall. This is one of our favorite spots.

Students pet the stuffed dead cow at the entrance to the Money Museum. Roger Gant answered correctly that such animals served as means of commerce in a time before currencies were established.

Students pet the stuffed dead cow at the entrance to the Money Museum. Roger Gant answered correctly that such animals served as means of commerce in a time before currencies were established.

No doubt the Money Museum Gardens are lovely in springtime, but the winter trees have their own kind of beauty.

No doubt the Money Museum Gardens are lovely in springtime, but the winter trees have their own kind of beauty.

This is Makemson hard at work on this blog in one of our satellite offices, aka Starbucks.

This is Makemson hard at work on this blog in one of our satellite offices, aka Starbucks.

Our favorite workspace is the dining car on the DB trains that whiz through the countryside at 195 km/h. Oh, Amtrak, if you could only be like a German train...

Our favorite workspace is the dining car on the DB trains that whiz through the countryside at 195 km/h. Oh, Amtrak, if you could only be like a German train…

Makemson tries a menu item at the historic Augustiner in Munich called "The big red sausage." And it was.

Makemson tries a menu item at the historic Augustiner in Munich called “The big red sausage.” And it was.

Hatcher ate half a chicken, balanced by a salad.

Hatcher ate half a chicken, balanced by a salad.

AND ONE MORE

We spotted Elon's mascot, the phoenix, rising on the side of this building in Frankfurt. The city rose from the ashes of war, like the university rose from the ashes of the devastating 1923 fire.

We spotted Elon’s mascot, the phoenix, rising on the side of this building in Frankfurt. The city rose from the ashes of war, like the university rose from the ashes of the devastating 1923 fire.

-A. Hatcher

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Communicating evil

Usually, our students are quite boisterous (usually in a very good way) as we walk from point to point on our daily adventures. Today, they were virtually silent as we explored the hell that was the Dachau concentration camp.

Many readers of this blog are familiar with the basics: As the first Nazi concentration camp, created months after Hitler took power, Dachau served as training ground, experimental lab, and model for the vast network of horrific camps that would spread throughout Germany and into its occupied territories. Although technically not an extermination camp, more than 42,000 people died there through starvation, disease, overwork, and outright murder. Countless others passed through on their way to certain death in camps outside of Germany; many here met their final fate at Auschwitz.

A good number of our students were visibly moved while walking through the gas chambers (which contrary to popular belief were used on a limited basis) and crematory; it’s safe to say none left unaffected by the experience. We suspect it will take time for some of them to process what they saw, and we hope you will read their reflections in the coming days by clicking on the student blog links at right.

Since this course is a history of mass communication, it struck this professor as to how much Dachau reflected the Nazi’s unyielding focus on managing image and language.

  • When calling early detainees “political prisoners” proved to be unpalatable to the masses, the regime quickly changed their labels to “professional criminals,” and later the all-encompassing “anti-social.”
  • Far from being clandestine, the Nazi’s made no secret about the camp’s existence – it appeared on the city bus schedule during the 1930s. “Everyone knew it was here,” said Jason, our tour guide. “It was never supposed to be a secret.” For the Nazis, the camp served not only as punishment but visible deterrent.
  • The SS provided photographs to newspapers in the 1930s depicting tidy. clean barracks and relatively well-fed, well-bathed detainees, to assure the public that prisoners were being treated well.
  • The trees lining the area near the roll call area, according to Jason, were likely part of the propaganda as well, giving a hint of lush greenery to the otherwise cold, barren landscape.
  • The most cruel propaganda and abuse of language was saved for the prisoners. When coming in through the lone gate upon their arrival, they were greeted with the cruelly ironic phrase “ARBEIT MACHR FREI,” literally translated as “works make free.” And the few prisoners who were gassed here were pacified by being told a shower and clean clothes – aside from food and medicine the most desired items in the camp – awaited them.

For the purpose of the course, we intentionally put the Nuremberg rally grounds and Dachau back-to-back on the schedule. The first emphasizes the reach and scale of Nazi propaganda, the second underscores the peril of letting that propaganda go unchecked.

– makemson

Below are photos of the camp with explanatory captions under each.

-A. Hatcher

The original front gate and entry building to Dachau were built by prisoners of the camp, as were all of the other structures.

The original front gate and entry building to Dachau were built by prisoners of the camp, as were all of the other structures.

"Work makes free" reads the inscription on the iron gate. Originally, there was only one way in and one way out of the camp, and that was through this gate.

“Work makes free” reads the inscription on the iron gate. Originally, there was only one way in and one way out of the camp, and that was through this gate.

This is where prisoners were processed, had their heads shaved, and were issued prison garb. The large foreground is where the thousands of prisoners assembled twice each day, regardless of weather, for roll call.

This is where prisoners were processed, had their heads shaved, and were issued prison garb. The large foreground is where the thousands of prisoners assembled twice each day, regardless of weather, for roll call.

Our students marched across the vast camp complex, eerily recalling the ill-clad and abused inmates that dwelled here and died here over the 12 years Dachau operated as a prison.

Our students marched across the vast camp complex, eerily recalling the ill-clad and abused inmates that dwelled here and died here over the 12 years Dachau operated as a prison.

These ovens were constructed in 1942 by prisoners, many of whom ended up there.

These ovens were constructed in 1942 by prisoners, many of whom ended up there.

Emaciated bodies are piled in a heap as they await cremation. This is an original photograph on display near the crematorium at the edge of the camp.

Emaciated bodies are piled in a heap as they await cremation. This is an original photograph on display near the crematorium at the edge of the camp.

Never again should there be such slaughter of humans. If only it were so...

Never again should there be such slaughter of humans. If only it were so…

Radio Free Europe, and a farewell to Prague

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A view from above of Radio Free Europe’s central news room. It is surrounded on two floors by working offices for the journalists who produce content in 28 different languages.

Students got out of touristy Old Town Prague on Tuesday for a short bus ride out to the headquarters of Radio Free Europe.

If you’re a similar age as Hatcher and I, you might think of RFE as a weapon of U.S. propaganda during the Cold War, but it has been strictly a news and information organization since the early 1970s, when Congress severed its ties with the CIA and established an independent editorial board.

Having “Europe” in the name is a bit of a misnomer today, as Radio Free Europe has shifted its focus to the Middle East and many of the former Soviet states. It broadcasts in 21 countries in 28 languages and has a growing presence on the Web, Facebook and Twitter.

While the Cold War has been over for more than 20 years, tight security remains a priority at the facility, built in 2009. When we arrived, we waited outside as passports were collected and checked against a list we had provided before leaving the United States. We then entered in small groups to go through one security checkpoint, then turned in our passports once again in the main building so we could be issued tour passes. RFE broadcasts in countries where often its message (even when strictly factual) is not often welcome, so one can understand why it would be a desirable target for terrorists.

After hearing a brief overview of the organization’s mission, we get a glimpse of the central news room, which is surrounded by offices on two upper levels for all of RFE’s different services. It is perhaps most accurate to think of RFE as an umbrella for twenty-plus local news organizations, who intensely focus on local issues. In the central newsroom, editors gather to pick the best stories from the various services and decide how to display them on the website, or whether to invest further reporting resources.

We then are escorted up to a conference room where we meet Zach Peterson, who after a couple of years as a D.C. lobbyist made the transition to journalism and is now a community manager, along with sometimes reporting on Asian business issues. Although Peterson is heavily involved with RFE’s social media efforts, he emphasized that the fundamentals of journalism still strongly apply. If RFE does an investigative piece with 20 major facts, and only 19 of those facts are correct, the lone error will be the one critics pounce on.

“It’s no different than the beginning of the printed word,” Peterson said. “Facts – you have to be trustworthy regardless of the medium. Our mission is to be more responsible than everyone else.”

Journalists for RFE work in some of the most dangerous places in the world, and are often subject to harassment and occasionally physical violence. And because of draconian free expression laws in some countries, journalists sometimes have difficulty obtaining legal counsel to defend themselves. In some countries, even finding journalists to work is difficult. If an Iranian job candidate meets RFE for an interview in Turkey, members of his or her family may not have jobs upon return.

For each of RFE’s services, part of the equation is deciding which medium to use. In Afghanistan, where there is little Internet access, radio is the choice, and Radio Afghanistan has a 60 percent audience penetration. In Russian Federation states, RFE is an all-web operation.

We returned to the hotel in the early afternoon for a short debriefing, then gave everyone the afternoon off to explore the snowy city. It’s safe to say students found Prague the most enjoyable city of the course so far.

– makemson

Last day in Berlin

There were many yawns, and perhaps a bleary eye or two, as we gathered in the lobby Saturday for one last day of exploring Berlin. A good number of our students had returned just a few hours earlier after having been shown the city’s nightlife by our gracious hosts from DEKRA Houschule, but all were safe. The German students asked some of ours why they were going home so “early” – it seems some clubs in Berlin don’t close until 9 a.m.

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A 1950s-era studio setup for a television news program is among the many media-related exhibits at the German Technological Museum.

Our students were back well before that since we had a late-morning appointment at the German Technological Museum. Just as with last year’s class, the facility was a pleasant surprise for many students. For starters, it’s not often you go to a museum with an Cold War-era American transport plane on the roof. In a bit of engineering genius, the plane not only serves as a landmark but also was designed as a counterweight that supports part of the roof. Inside, our tour guides focused on the communications section, including an early computer prototype from the 1930s, a 1950s television studio setup, and the first radio transmitter for RIAS, which as students learned the previous day at Deutsche Welle, stood for “Radio In the American Sector,” broadcasting pro-U.S. information to the city during the Cold War. Students then had some free time to explore the massive museum, which has trains, old breweries, boats, and countless other treasures.

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As many students noted, “technology” has many contexts, many of which are represented at the German Technological Museum. Take this 1890s bicycle for example.

We then made a short subway ride to Potsdamer Plotz where we broke for lunch before gathering again for a tour of the German film museum. One enters the exhibit on a white walkway surrounded by mirrors and large screens showing clips from classic German films, a stunning entrance. Once inside, we watch early film shorts, discuss the painstaking process of hand-coloring frames in the era before color film, and discuss the influence of Marlene Dietrich, whose presence dominates the center of the museum.

Just past the Dietrich display is a single room housing a model of Olympic Stadium and honoring the documentary film “Olympia” by Leni Riefenstahl. For many, Riefenstahl is better known for the Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will,” which received no mention in the museum’s displays. As we discussed in the fall class, her work is difficult to deal with. Her films helped fuel the Nazi regime, but she developed revolutionary filming techniques which are still used to this day. As our guide tells us, when the museum was designed, Riefenstahl resented so much space going to Dietrich and so little going to her. It seems that the museum’s founders had a difficult time deciding how to remember the past as well.

A few of our students were planning to go back Saturday night to the gleaming Sony Center, which houses the museum, and see an English-language movie at the cineplex. Others planned to stay close to the hotel after a long night, a full day of touring, and a train ride to Prague on the horizon for Sunday. We added an extra day to Berlin this year, and that day quickly evaporated.

– makemson

Walking in Luther’s steps

Buildings through Wittenberg reflect the pending celebration of Martin Luther starting the Reformation.

Buildings through Wittenberg reflect the pending celebration of Martin Luther starting the Reformation.

A 40-minute train ride Thursday morning took us from Berlin to Wittenberg, the home of Martin Luther, whose “95 Theses” sparked the Protestant Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The town is undergoing preparations for a large anniversary of the event in 2017; one unfortunate casualty of the renovations was that students were unable to see the precise spot where Luther, it is said, nailed the controversial document to the church door. Learning that the actual door is long gone, replaced by a 19th-century version, softened the blow a bit.

The minor setback was more than offset by being able to tour the museum that now resides in the home where Luther lived for more than 30 years. Last year’s class did not make this tour, which in retrospect is unfortunate. Thursday, students were able to see the pulpit where Luther delivered more than 2,000 sermons and a copy of the Bible that Luther translated into German.

While the focus was understandably on Luther, it was also clear that he would not have been able to spread his message of change without significant help from powerful people. Most important was Frederick III, known reverently in Wittenberg as “Frederick the Wise,” who was able to protect Luther from persecution from the Catholic Church. Lucas Cranach was instrumental in spreading Luther’s word by printing his German-language bible and by painting illustrations of biblical principles so the large mass of illiterate could understand them. And his wife, the escaped nun Katharina von Bora, not only proved an astute business partner for Luther, but pushed her husband to help educate women as well as men.

Luther's wife, Katharina, is remembered with this statue near the house where they lived. It symbolizes her escaping and leaving behind her life as a nun.

Luther’s wife, Katharina, is remembered with this statue near the house where they lived. It symbolizes her escaping and leaving behind her life as a nun.

After a leisurely lunch, we made our way back to the train station, walking through a winter shower. While waiting for our train, three groups led debriefings on what they had seen on visits related to their fall research. Cameron Saucier and Dave Stone reflected on the role education had on being able to access information during Luther’s time. Rachel Fishman and Brooke Faison, reflecting back on Wednesday’s walking tour of Berlin, noted how commercialism had overtaken Checkpoint Charlie and the irony of remnants of the Berlin Wall being walled in within glass enclosures. Going back to London, Matt Dowdle, Jason Puckett and Jeff Stern recalled how the BBC continues to be revered despite its recent spate of embarrassing headlines.

Just before leaving the station, we gave a couple of “Bloggy” awards for particularly interesting and notable student writing so far. Alex Hay received the “Hit the Ground Rolling” award for writing three substantive posts in our first three days in London, and will bring home a replica double-decker bus. Becky Wickel scored sunglasses with Union Jack lenses for winning the “Seeing the World Through New Eyes” award, given for her creative linking of course themes through observations of art, technology and culture. We recommend you read the all student blog entries, linked at the right side of this blog, for their takes on the course so far.

– makemson

Things gained, things lost

Sunday was a day largely devoted to the past of media. We divided the class into two groups. Everyone visited the following sites, albeit in different order depending on which group each was assigned to.

We toured BBC Broadcasting House, which has held much of the UK-based radio programming studios since the 1920s. The art deco delight, including sculptures by Eric Gill, was painstakingly restored as the first phase of a major construction project for the BBC. The second phase, an expansive, 21st century marvel built behind and along the side of the original building which will house much of the BBC’s television operations, is all but complete. The transition will be complete by mid-year, unfortunately too late for us to see it.

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Looking back at the control room in a radio theatre at BBC Broadcasting House. The theater is still used practically every day for radio productions and concerts.

Sadly, when the new facility is completely online, tours to the old Broadcasting House will cease, even though a good deal of radio programming will still originate from there. So, while I’m sure future classes will marvel at the state-of-the-art technology within, they will miss the charm and history of Broadcasting House. Students were able to see the large performance hall where live radio concerts and plays are still produced daily, and where many BBC staffers were forced to sleep during the height of the Blitz. Students also produced their own mini radio drama, complete with sound effects.

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Students got the opportunity to produce their own radio drama while touring BBC Broadcasting House. From left are Ryan Greene, Isolde Decker-Lucke, Matt Dowdle, Jacob Branchaud and Emily DeVito.

The class also walked just north of Broadcasting House, to 84 Hallam Street, where American broadcaster Edward R. Murrow lived as he reported on World War II. In the past few years, a plaque has been placed at the flat, indicating how revered Murrow remains in England. Many still credit his broadcasts back to the States during the Blitz for alerting Americans to the mortal danger posed by the Nazis.

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Looking down from the roof of BBC Broadcasting House in central London. U2 famously gave a rooftop concert from this spot, and it is believed that Ed Murrow broadcast from this spot during the Blitz.

While one group was at Broadcasting House, the other toured Fleet Street, once the center for the British press but now with few remnants  of its heyday. After some searching, we discovered “Magpie Alley,” a tiny spot a couple of blocks off Fleet, where tiles have been engraved with old photos, drawings and historical facts concerning the history of printing in the area. There are no markers leading you to the site, and if not for a fortunate Google search before leaving the hotel, we never would have found it. Several students mentioned how sad it was that the history of the area is so hidden.

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Painted tiles in tiny Magpie Alley give an overview of printing history on nearby Fleet Street. There are no markers leading you to the out-of-the-way spot – if we hadn’t stumbled across it on a random Google search earlier that morning, we would have missed it completely.

The history of Fleet Street is more prominent at St. Bride’s Church, “the journalist’s church.” We managed to fit our visit in between church services, so students were able to spend a few moments at the journalists’ memorial, where candles and cards commemorate journalists who have died in the line of duty.

We completed our day with both groups gathering at Punch Tavern, just up the street from St. Bride’s, for a debriefing on the day, and for a reminder that we only have one more day in London. “Punch” was a satirical magazine that was particularly popular in the late 1800s. The staff became such regulars at the spot that the owner gave it the magazine’s name, which has stuck ever since. The decor remains largely as it was when the editors used to brainstorm (except likely for the 1970s-era ping-pong table in the back. Particularly notable are the color lithographic prints from the magazine that adorn the walls in the back.

Tomorrow, we witness the end of an era, as we tour the BBC television center in west London, which is due to shut down this spring.

– makemson

On the ground and running …

We arrived in London right on time Friday morning, and after some minor trouble finding our bus, arrived at the hotel unscathed. After lunch, we made the short walk north to the British Museum. As a group we saw the Rosetta Stone, then allowed everyone to explore for a little over an hour. As anyone who has been at the museum can attest, one could easily spend a full day exploring the wide variety of treasures housed within. Some made their way to Asian art, many lingered in the antiquities. Others marveled at the textile adorned with thousands of prescription pills — the average number of medications a British citizen takes in a lifetime. It’s designed as a timeline, so the lines of drugs increase greatly of course after the age of 50.

This professor made it to the money room (brought to you by Citi) and saw how currency has been a form of communication. I was particularly struck by a sem-recent poster from Zimbabwe. Using images currency such as the short-lived 100-trillion dollar note circulated as the country’s economy collapsed in 2009, the poster reads “It’s cheaper to print this on money than paper.” Sponsored by an independent newspaper in the country, it serves both as grim social commentary and a reminder of the power of the printed word.

poster

 

– makemson