The famous Bauhaus Art School opened in Weimar, Germany in 1919; there students studied not only architecture but created everything from buildings to art and furniture. Throughout this year Germany is celebrating its centenary, and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity recently to visit all the design’s hotspots and explore exhibits and events marking the birthplace of Modernism.
Form Follows Function
The Bauhaus (literally “Building House”) was founded by architect Walter Gropius with the idea of creating a “total work of art.” This style, which includes architecture and graphic, interior, and industrial design, would later become one of the most influential currents in modern planning – very clean, simplistic and ultra contemporary. Louis Sullivan, describing Bauhaus, coined the phrase Form Follows Function – an apt description.
The first city in my Bauhausland tour was Karlsruhe. Lying at the northern edge of the Black Forest, much of the town was built in a charming Neoclassical style. The Landesmuseum is a massive bright, canary-yellow structure that is one of the most important cultural history museums in all of Germany. The works encompass pre- and early history, ancient cultures, the Middle Ages, the Baroque period and into the 21st Century. Later, I explored the ZKM Center for Art and Media housing painting, photography and sculpture as well as film, video, dance and performance. The museum’s mission is to continue the classical arts into the digital age. The Daimler Collection’s “Light as an Artistic Installation,” featured 50 artists and 80 works from the 1950s to the present.
Public Housing for the Ages
The next day I was excited to tour the Dammerstock Estate, an impressive example of new architecture created by Walter Gropius and Otto Haesler, among others. Built in 1929 in just 7 months as an affordable housing complex, it united the aesthetic principles of air, light, and hygiene. Created with radiant white plaster, grey plinths, flat roofs, uniform windows, and scattered throughout, relaxing benches, sculpture and gardens, Dammerstock works just as well today as it did when first conceived. As sprawling as it is one feels welcomed and cozy, especially resting on a bench under towering Linden and Elm trees fronting the iconic Goethe House. This was the writer’s first-ever home as a young man and throughout his life he kept it as his retreat and studio.
One of the best preserved medieval cities in Germany, Erfurt was first mentioned in the year 742, and among its treasures is the Alte Synagogue, beautifully maintained and dating from the 11th century. A little known fact: in 1919 more women than men applied to study at one of the first Bauhaus art schools, and this city’s Angermuseum sheds light on four of the “Bauhaus Girls,” uncovering the lives of Gertrud Arndt, Marianne Brandt, Margarete Heymann and Margaretha Reichardt and their work in photography, metalwork, ceramic and textiles.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
In April of last year, the New Bauhaus Museum opened in Weimar, showcasing a wide range of the world’s oldest collection of Bauhaus treasures. The building features a striking minimalist glass cube over a concrete base with five levels of exhibition space. The city consists of 11 World Heritage sites. Two of the most engaging are the Goethe House, built in the Baroque style in 1709 and surrounded with a verdant garden, and the Friedrich von Schiller House, the first memorial to a poet in Germany. Wandering through its rooms, I had a real feeling for the everyday life of the Schiller family as I glimpsed a lovely teapot made of local porcelain resting on a small stove top. Design, craftsmanship and hospitality enhanced my Weimar visit with a stay at the Hotel Elephant in the heart of the city. The Bauhaus elements that were reflected in my room as well as well as on-site tour of the property by Fritz, the hotel’s cultural expert, put the icing on top of my short day and half spent here.
In Jena, I lost my heart to the charming and amusing Auerbach House built in 1924 by Walter Gropius for Felix and Anna Auerbach. As I climbed a hill to its crest my first impression of the dwelling was of a floating asymmetrical building that seemed to change and reverse itself as I entered and moved through the rooms. Curiouser and curiouser, I found nothing symmetrical inside its walls which were painted with 37 different gentle pastel colors - eye-catching and completely entrancing. These myriad tones illustrated how color relates to space and light, and gave each room its own special ambience.
Once More – With Feeling
During the Weimar Republic, the Moritzburg Art Museum in Halle was a significant museum of contemporary art. When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, this collection was suddenly regarded as degenerate and the works were vilified in “Exhibitions of Shame” that opened in 1937; thus 146 of these unique works were ultimately lost and today only fourteen have been re-acquired. Happily when I visited I was able to marvel at parts of the reconstructed lost collection – glorious masterpieces by Feininger, Kandinsky, and Klee, among others, from international collections in France, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, the US and Japan.
The first historical mention of the city of Dessau was in 1213 and it became an important center in 1570. Fast forward to today: The Bauhaus Museum Dessau has recently been built to mark the centenary of this epochal and enduring school of design. Until now, it was only possible to view the prized collection of the Bauhaus Foundation in a limited way but in the new Museum it is splendidly showcased.
Before bidding adieu to Bauhausland, I made sure I traveled to Magdeburg to view the oldest Gothic cathedral in all of Germany. First built in 937, the current Magdeburg Cathedral was constructed over a period of 300 years beginning in 1209. The Cathedral is replete with art, both antique and modern; The statue of the Egyptian Saint Maurice dating back to 1250 was impressive and I was enthralled by a large relief of the Ten Virgins, depicting the importance of being spiritually prepared.
Departing the Cathedral and ultimately Germany, I felt curiously ensconced in all things Medieval. Yet, returning home with my heightened awareness of The Bauhaus, I was amused, not to say amazed, to notice - all around me - examples of this symbolic design. Walls painted in bright, primary colors, the mauve New York City skyline at dusk with its straight lines slashing across the sky, the Met Life Building (Walter Gropius!) and the Seagram Building (Mies van der Rohe). Thus, I didn’t actually leave behind this fresh, forward-looking style at all. As I light my Marianne Brandt look-alike lamp and settle down in my Mies-inspired chair, the thought hits me: this is truly Bauhaus in My House!
IF YOU GO
Hotel Elephant Weimar, Autograph Collection https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/erfak-hotel-elephant-weimar-autograph-collection/
Bauhaus Museum Weimar www.weimar.de/culture/sights/museum
Auerbach House www.haus-auerbach.de
Bauhaus Museum Dessau www.bauhaus-dessau.de