Beckenbauer and Aicher: A Stylish Link

Maybe it’s just the way cameras caught the light back then, but somehow in the footage of West Germany’s 1974 World Cup Final victory over Holland, there are moments when Franz Beckenbauer could almost be one of Otl Aicher’s Olympic pictograms.

At first, this may seem a simple illusion: high contrast filters and faded film reels. But the closer you watch Beckenbauer step out of that West German defence, head flung back, at ease with all around him, the more he seems to embody the mastery of form and space central to the German Modernist’s work.

Otl Aicher’s iconic football pictogram for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The point at which Aicher’s aesthetic and Beckenbauer’s footballing style collide is in each man’s understanding and manipulation of space. Aicher’s isotype-influenced pictograms for the Olympic Games use strong grid systems to insure precise and stylish visuals. The success of the work was as much down to his excellent command of form as it was to his meticulous planning.

An image from a book page showing the graphing scheme Aicher used to align his football pictogram.

These are the same qualities that assured Beckenbauer so much success – as both a player and a manager – and explain his affinity for structures and space that led him to the invention of the Libero role, for which he is so famous. Noticing that traditional formations could be easily opened up by a defender moving forward unexpectedly, Beckenbauer realised that a deep-lying defender who provided both cover behind a back three and support for attacking players at the right times could devastate the opposition. This thinking was so ahead of its time that West Germany manager Helmut Schön refused to play him in this position until some years after he had mastered it for Bayern. Aicher too was an innovator ahead of his time, particularly in design education. His work at The Ulm School introduced a systematic approach to the study of design, producing a style not dissimilar to the simple elegance of Beckenbauer’s game.

A further link between the two German men coincides with defining moments for Munich, as the city – and Germany as a whole – experienced a period of revival. The 1972 Munich Olympics are often seen as one of the first signs that Germany was being accepted back into the international community following the Second World War. Aicher’s personal history had been ravaged by war. He was arrested for refusal to join the Hitler Youth and deserted the army. His wife, and colleague at Ulm, was Inge Aicher-Scholl, sister of the executed White Rose Movement leaders Hans and Sophie Scholl. Aciher’s visual Munich was one which he pulled from the rubble. With his artwork for the Olympics, he played a major part in restoring the country’s national pride. Not only that, but he did it with an air of supreme cool.

A set of other pictograms Aicher created for the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Likewise, Bayern Munich was by no means the biggest or most successful side in the city during the sixties. In fact, for many years it was their local rivals, 1860 Munich, who had by far the greater pedigree in the city, as 1860 won the Oberliga Sud, Bundesliga and German Cup in the years preceding Bayern’s dominance. It wasn’t until the likes of Gerd Müller, Sepp Maier and Franz Beckenbauer began playing for FC Bayern in the late sixties (who came through the youth ranks) that Bayern could begin to build the great side which won three back-to-back European Cups from 1974- 76.

In this sense, it’s easy to see how both Aicher’s and Beckenbauer’s careers became emblematic of the city’s revival. Aicher’s work was the symbolic pictographs that millions of people saw when they watched or visited the 1972 Olympics. While Beckenbauer was the pin-up boy of two of the decade’s most highly regarded teams (Germany and Bayern Munich) who so dominated German, European and International football during the sixties.


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Paul Gleeson

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