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Sunday, 17 November 2013

Unsullying the Robotron Reputation: Optima (Erika) Model 150 Portable Typewriter - Plain but Highly Proficient

VEB Robotron, Dresden, 1989
A  man types on an Robotron Erika Model 150 in the WBS70 Apartment Museum in Berlin's Hellersdorf district. WBS70 refers to the 70th series of concrete slab construction first used in East Germany in 1973. Furnished entirely with original East German fittings (including, of course, the Robotron), the apartment museum was opened in 2004, when massive renovation schemes were about to be implemented in the area. It stands as a living memorial to everyday life and design in the former East Germany. “I do not know what you are supposed to do with memories likes these. It feels wrong to want to forget. Perhaps this is why we write these things down, so we can move on.” 
Like many Typopsherians, I had been of the opinion that once the Olympia SM9 line ended in 1979, very high-quality portable typewriters pretty much ceased to be produced in Germany. I must now revise that view. The evidence of the Optima (Erika) Modell 150, produced for a decade from 1981, suggests things were different on the east side of the Iron Curtain, right up until the time the curtain came down on East German communism in 1991. Through those 10 years, Robotron in Dresden continued to reach for the benchmark levels of precision engineering, high quality materials, quality-controlled mechanical assembly and the human touch which had been set in Wilhemshaven for almost 30 years from the early 1950s.
Model 150 (1981-1991). Serial number 8003373.
VEB Robotron, Dresden, 1988
VEB Robotron, Dresden, 1987
The font is a form of News Gothic Extended which
Robotron called Letter Gothik or Uni Gothik.
In the 1970s, consumer magazines in Britain and Australia commented on the heaviness of the Robotron models, one calling them "slow and noisy". I did not find the Model 150 slow or noisy.
VEB Robotron, Dresden, 1989
The Dresden factory, resurrected with the aid of Oracle.
See story here.
Erika Model 150, 1990
Erika, Model 150, 1984
Präsident 1550 deluxe
Pinnock 100, 1977

Präsident deluxe
Hanseatic super de luxe
Imperial 34
MODELS 10 (1958) to 173 (1981) and PRÄSIDENT
(Some early models also known as the Aztec)
ERIKA MODELS 5 (1931) to 158 (1991)
(The two page images above and charts below are
from a Robotron history,
downloadable in PDF form here


Nick Beland said...

Thank you for this post! I happen to own both a proper 1980s Robotron an an identical (in appearance only I must stress!) version made in the USSR 1991, and the East German one is astoundingly better. As soon as I get back to the US I'm going to be copmaring and reviewing them because of your post here.

I haven't had the chance yet to read your complete post showing the variations of Robotron, but your typecast expressed something that I've been discovering myself. I wasn't brainwashed to the extent of somebody who had to live through the cold war, but obviously in the US there is still huge bias against the Eastern Communists.

So much of what we think is research and experience here in Tbilisi, Georgia is teaching me that as I see the remnants of the Soviet Union. You seem to be very right about quality and expensive materials East vs West. It shows in more ways than just in typewriters! (The 1991 typewriter is an exception, but an understandeable one since the USSR was in a very poor state at that time!)

Wish I could say more but I have to go.

Scott Kernaghan said...

I do really love the typeface on these machines.

And thanks for this. Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Very informative

TonysVision said...

I just want to say that I appreciate reports from the "real" world, i.e., unfiltered by traditional media or whatever, like Robert's research or Nick's posts from Georgia. I think they help to give me a better idea of how our culture relates to the rest of the world, past and present.

I also relate to the pleasure of discovering the quality of a typewriter made by companies that still took pride in their products, through delving into their innards on cleaning and maintenance missions. And, yes, that is a cool typeface.

Richard P said...

I'm glad this is a fine machine. And I think it's kind of handsome, too.

Steve K said...

Another invaluable reference. Thank you for posting. I've always liked the look of the Erika 150s irrespective of their colour. I prefer quality and bland to "cheap and funky" (or the "funkamatics" as you referred to them).

Anonymous said...

Didn't typewriters play a central role in that fine German movie The Lives of Others? I seem to recall a scene with a Stasi forensics expert trying to identify machines by their print.

Bill M said...

Thank you for the great post. I've seen an Optima for sale on line (probably Ebay)and passed it by as being unknown. I did not want to take a chance on getting some inferior typewriter. No I know better and will look for one.

I'm happy I had time before leaving for work to revisit your blog and read what I did not get to read earlier this morning.

Your first photo of the factory I thought perhaps this was an SM9 or clone since the body looks like an SM9.

I had a Nakajima Olympia and although it was nice the quality was no where close to a Brother or the German made Olympia typewriters.

I too grew up in the cold war propaganda times. I wonder how much else we have wrong about the USSR. I know from working in electronics their tube gear is quite good.

The typeface on your Optima is wonderful.

Rusty Alcorta said...

Thank you so much for your post. An Erika made in Germany was just offered to me out of the blue for almost nothing. I knew nothing about it ang researching it lead me here. Thank you again for your post it was very helpful.