Pevsner’s wardrobe will be the subject of another post – but one of his more improbable outfits was the uniform of a British colonel. ‘I like my uniform,’ he wrote, ‘it is comfortable, sensible and roomy – I wouldn’t mind always wearing battle dress.’ He wore it as the leader of a team sent in 1946 to the British Zone of Occupied Germany by the Council on Industrial Design. British exports needed to improve in order to compete in post-war Europe and the COID had been charged by the Board of Trade with discovering the secrets of the opposition’s success. Pevsner’s mission was to establish the current state of German design.
He spent his time, he said, ‘looking at Bakelite and hoovers’. But he was also in touch with the British Political Intelligence Department, for whom he was ostensibly writing an article on ‘German Folk Art’. And, perhaps nearest to his own heart, he was consulting on the rebuilding of historic monuments in Germany.
It was the devastation to Germany’s towns and cities rather than the superiority of their plastics that, not surprisingly, struck him most forcibly. ‘Germany remains a disturbing and dreadful spectacle .… It’s enough to make one weep – and believe me, at times I can hardly stop myself…. I know of course “they asked for it and they got it”, but…..’
One of the COID team’s principal destinations was Frankfurt am Main. The photographs below show Römerberg, the central square of the old town, with the late-Gothic Alte Nikolaikirche - at the turn of the century, and at the time of Pevsner’s visit two years after the Allied bombing of March 1944 (in the team’s own photograph, with Pevsner in the centreground).