The BVG upholstery design we all love is going away

The public transport authority only ever had approval to use the anti-graffiti pattern in the S-Bahn, not on sneakers, lawyer says.

I don't know upholstery but I know what I like. 
I don't know upholstery but I know what I like. Berliner Zeitung/Peter Neumann

Berlin-It's almost Berlin's logo: Chaotic but also somehow attractive. And now it's on its way out. Urban Jungle is the official name for the red, blue and black spots that are reminscient of teeming worms and that form the anti-graffitti pattern the BVG public transport authority has used on its upholstery since 1986.

"Urban Jungle is no longer used and is now slowly being phased out," BVG spokesperson Petra Nelken said. The pattern has ostensibly worn out its welcome and is being replaced by a new pattern known as Nachtlinie. But while the the popular design is disappearing, an ongoing lawsuit between BVG and the agency of Austrian designer Herbert Lindinger isn't.   

BVG, the suit says, had an agreement to use the design on S-Bahns (which it used to operate before Deutsche Bahn took over) but little else - the public transpit authority has plastered the design all over its own offices as well as consumer goods including underwear and tennis shoes. 

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"These agreements do not apply to the subway and certainly not to merchandising articles," says attorney Christian Donle of the law firm Preu Bohlig & Partner, which is representing Lindinger before the Hamburg regional court.

Urban jungle is out, Nachtlinie is in

Lindinger has designed streetcars for Hanover, Mannheim, Frankfurt am Main and Stuttgart. And his firm Lindinger & Partner also designed the fronts and windows of the S-Bahn series 480, the first prototypes of which went into service in West Berlin in 1986. At the time, the trains were to be painted primarily light blue but many Berliners resisted and the familiar wine red/ochre yellow was reinstated.

Although the blue trains didn't last, Urban Jungle did.

The tangle of spots on a light gray background looks chaotic. Grafiti is quickly lost in the confusion. The pattern, Lindinger explained in a 1990 S-Bahn book, makes tags, which are "so popular with vandals and difficult to remove, appear less clearly." Would-be artists quickly lose motivation without recognition.

The pattern is now synonomous with Berlin and Sigrid Nikutta, who led BVG from 2010 to 2019, often showed up wearing an Urban Jungle scarf. Her successor, Eva Kreienkamp, doesn't have so much as an Urban Jungle coaster in her office.

You're looking at history.
You're looking at history.Berliner Zeitung/Gerd Engelsmann

Officially, traincar maker Waggon Union signed the contracts with Lindinger. It produced the S-Bahn series 480 together with AEG and Siemens. BVG, Lindinger's lawyer says, either has to stop using the design or sign a licensing agreement.

"BVG has refused to reach an amicable solution," Donle says. "Instead, it demanded that we prove that the pattern originated from Mr. Lindinger."

Anyone interested, he says, can read Lindinger's own comments about the design in the 1990 book, which he co-authored and which includes drawings of Urban Jungle. His wife is expected to tesify in the lawsuit as well as a former assistant who is now a professor in Leipzig. Oral arguments are scheduled for 12 August in Hamburg. 

The German word for "yawn" is "<em>Nachtlinie</em>" - er, "<em>Gähn"</em>.
The German word for "yawn" is "Nachtlinie" - er, "Gähn".Berliner Zeitung/Markus Wächter

"Marketing experts know that in most cases, design outlives itself after a few years," BVG spokesperson Nelken said. "But we won't throw away any merchandising items. What's left will be sold until there's nothing left. We also won't rip out any upholstery."

But if seat covers need to be replaced anyway, she said, Urban Jungle will be replaced with Nachtlinie. What does it look like? A lot less like Berlin - but you can catch it on the H-series subway trains that run on the U5 between Hönow and Hauptbahnhof.

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