Even though the €10 bill may be the most used banknote in Europe, many Europeans can’t tell you what’s printed on its front and back side. Hint: a Romanesque-style archway and a bridge that don’t exist anywhere on the Continent.
If the design of the first €10 bill has failed to make a lasting impression, its slightly refreshed replacement, which goes into circulation on September 23, could suffer the same fate. At least, that’s the opinion of 28 illustrators who have contributed original ideas to “Neuro Illuminated,” an alternative euro-bill design exhibition that runs from September 23 to October 6 at stilwerk, an international design and furniture center in Düsseldorf.
“The euro banknotes are bland and unemotional,” said Antje Herzog, an illustrator who came up with the idea of launching an exhibition to showcase alternative €10-bill designs from illustrators with no experience in currency design. “They’re so neutral that no one can really identify with them.”
Part of the reason, Herzog said, lies in the European Central Bank’s restrictive design requirements. The notes, for example, must show architectural styles from periods in Europe’s cultural history, rather than existing monuments or buildings or images of well-known people like the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, Goethe or Shakespeare. In other words, they shouldn’t be too German, too French, or too Greek.
Even Reinhold Gerstetter, the Berlin-based independent banknote designer selected to refresh the design of the official euro banknotes, has said publicly he would have preferred to create an entirely new series of bills. But the ECB, he noted, insisted on preserving the fundamental elements of the first series.
In 1996, Gerstetter participated in the initial competition hosted by the European Monetary Institute, a forerunner to the European Central Bank, to design the first series of euro banknotes. His design featured portraits of fictitious people on the one side and idealized landscapes on the other.
Robert Kalina, a banknote designer at the Austrian National Bank, won that competition with his “ages and styles of Europe” design concept. His banknote designs feature archways and bridges, each representative of a period in European history and intended to signal the beginning of a new era.
Michael Erbach, one of the illustrators participating in the Düsseldorf exhibition, views the banknotes as empty symbolism. “They express as little as possible so that no one feels neglected or favored,” he said. “But in a sense, the euro notes are actually brutal; they took away the individual and identity-fostering features of national currencies and replaced them with homogenized symbols.”
Erbach’s €10 bill design captures this brutality. “I collected old European banknotes from the countries participating in the euro zone as of last year,” he said. “Then I brutally cut them up and jammed snippets of each into a two-sided collage and printed €10 on each side. It was a strange, uncomfortable feeling to destroy some of these very beautiful and precious banknotes.”
The designs on display in Düsseldorf go in many different directions and reflect many different techniques. Justo Pulido, born in Spain but raised in Germany, used cartoon-like images to illustrate Europe’s patchwork history of power struggles and wars on the one side of his banknote and playful children embracing each other on the other. “Drawing cartoons comes very natural for me, but you can tackle even a serious topic with the playful eye of a cartoonist,” he said. “I wanted to design something positive for our children and for our future – a Europe open to others.”
Peter Pichler was interested less in the choice of technique – although his scrap-board approach stands out – than in the message the bill could convey. He selected human rights as the main theme and Ceija Stojka, a Roma writer, artist, musician and concentration camp survivor, to embody it. “I chose a minority, the Roma, who have been a fringe group in Europe for centuries and remain a topic in Europe today,” he said.
Nature is another theme. For her design, Franziska Walther was inspired by what she called the “true Europeans” – the many animals, plants and trees at home in Europe. Elke Hanisch dove into Europe’s lakes and seas to capture the region’s native fish and shellfish in her work. For her, these aquatic species, which move freely and unhindered, symbolize Europe’s open borders.
Prints and an exhibition catalog can be purchased at the exhibition or online. All proceeds beyond organizational costs will be donated to Kiva, a non-profit organization that gives micro-loans to entrepreneurs in third-world countries.
The author is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org