Following the footsteps of Bauhaus in Germany
You’ve probably already encountered the term Bauhaus before and you have a vague idea it has something to do with design but that’s about it. I know it was the case for me. However, after my recent trip to Germany, I can now say the extensive concept of Bauhaus, a design movement that marked a major turn in 20th century modernism, has little secrets left for me. A true part of the German DNA, Bauhaus celebrates its 100 years of existence in 2019, meaning the reasons to head to Germany are even more numerous, with lots of happenings on top of the country’s already very rich cultural offer.
What is Bauhaus?
In short, Bauhaus is a design movement expressed most famously in arts and architecture that introduced minimalism in every day life by removing all unnecessary ornamentation, as a way of reinventing the world we live in. But to fully grasp what Bauhaus is, let’s have a look at the history.
The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in Weimar as a school of design by Berlin-born architect Walter Gropius. With a strong international outlook and through the use of innovative methods, the school brought together art, architecture and craftsmanship. Among the teachers of the school, there were acclaimed artists such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and the school quickly became a meeting point for the international avant-garde; an artistic and experimental laboratory to define a new way of living.
In 1925, the school moved from Weimar to Dessau and entered a new phase in which the industry played a big role. The focus moved from artistry and expressionism to a social ideal in collaboration with the local industry. With "form follows function” as leading motto, the Bauhaus aimed at making buildings and designed products affordable. In Dessau, the Bauhaus had its golden age until it was shut down in 1932 due to the Nazi repression. The school moved a third time to Berlin but was forced to permanently close its doors in 1933 because of the National Socialists. As a result, part of the masters and students of the Bauhaus left Germany and went on to spread the ideal throughout the world. This explains how a school that was only active for 14 years eventually had a worldwide impact, well beyond its location and time.
You cannot define Bauhaus as one particular style. Instead it is a multidisciplinary and international search for a new man, a new architecture and a new living. But Bauhaus did emerge in Germany, so there is really no better place to experience it, by visiting some of its original buildings as well as places that are strongly linked to the movement.
Following the footsteps of Bauhaus in Weimar
Weimar is the true birthplace of the Bauhaus. This small, classical town has a charming character, but most importantly it is where you’ll get to see the first, original designs. Starting with the Bauhaus University itself of course. Still active today as a university with over 4,000 students, you can visit it for its colorful wall paintings and Walter Gropius’ signature office. A fun fact is that the building itself was originally designed by Belgian architect Henry van de Velde as the School of Arts and Crafts in 1902.
Born in Antwerp, Henry van de Velde was a multi-talented architect who believed in the creation of a new style for the new man, as described by Nietzsche. His modern forms based on the rejection of historic styles and solely driven by functionality were very much appreciated in Germany. He built multiple houses on commission in Weimar, but perhaps the most interesting buildings to visit are Haus Hohe Pappeln, the house he built for himself and his family in which he designed every single item, and the Nietzsche-Archive, where van de Velde redesigned the entire ground floor on demand of Nietzsche’s sister.
Coming back to Bauhaus, Haus Am Horn is a definite must see since it is the very first house built by the Bauhaus in 1923 for the major Bauhaus exhibition. It was intended as the first step of an entire settlement, but unfortunately that was never accomplished. The single cubic house might seem very plain today, but remember it was designed almost 100 years ago. The fact that it looks contemporary to us proves how visionary the Bauhaus truly was. This is further exemplified in the near housing settlement Neues Bauen. As of 1996, a big area left empty after the withdrawal of Russian troops was used for the building of modern houses by various architects and the result possibly isn’t far removed from what the original Bauhaus settlement would have looked like.
Going to Weimar, you might want to discover some of the rest of Thuringia, the state it is part of. The region counts many historical towns and because there were lots of small duchesses settled here in the past, the palaces and castles abound. Next to Weimar, you could visit medieval towns Erfurt and Eisenach. Oh and last but not least, a grand Bauhaus Museum will open its doors on April 6th 2019 in Weimar!
Following the footsteps of Bauhaus in Dessau
At approximately 170 km up North of Weimar, you’ll find the industrial city of Dessau, which has more original Bauhaus buildings than any other city in the world. Starting with the Bauhaus itself. In the 20’s, there were about 200 students on this campus. The entire complex was built with functionality as prime criteria and it strikes by its incredible amount of windows, of different kinds for each of the five parts. Inside, you can see an interesting use of color to lead the visitors, with ceilings and corners painted in red, blue and yellow, contrasting with the prevailing white and grey.
The teachers of the school, the so-called Bauhaus masters, had their own houses in Dessau and these are well worth having a look at, with the Masters’ Houses of Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as highlights. Furthermore you’ll find various social housing estates throughout Dessau such as the Törten Housing Estate. Designed by Walter Gropius in the 20’s, it was an experiment to show to the city that the Bauhaus could be of use for Dessau’s blooming industry by providing housing for the workers in a fast and cheap way. Various construction methods were tried out such as a house of steel, conceived as an assembly of blocks that could be extended according to the needs of the family living in it.
Dessau will also get its own Bauhaus Museum on September 8th 2019. While the one in Weimar will provide a complete experience of the Bauhaus, the one in Dessau will display originally designed furniture, lighting and textiles. Other places you might want to discover inside the state of Saxony-Anhalt are Magdeburg with its impressive Town Hall, the Hermann Beims housing estate and the Otto Richter street (one of the most colorful of Germany); as well as Halle and its picturesque Giebichenstein Bridge and the Großgarage South, one of the first car parks in Germany.
Following the footsteps of Bauhaus in Berlin
130 km further up North you can reach Berlin, my favorite German destination, as exemplified by the city guide I wrote earlier this year. As Germany’s most cosmopolitan city, it will host lots of events and exhibitions in 2019 to celebrate Bauhaus’ 100 years anniversary. There are only about ten original Bauhaus buildings scattered across Berlin, but you can definitely see the influence of the movement in the city’s modernist skyline.
For example the modern extensions of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin’s City West were designed by German architect Egon Eiermann who was too young to go to the Bauhaus but who was very much impressed by it. His use of steel, glass and concrete to build the octagonal hall and the bell tower was very much influenced by the Bauhaus. One of Berlin’s original buildings of the movement is Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus-Archiv, his very last architectural project that he didn’t see finished in 1979 because he died ten years earlier. At the time, they didn’t expect so much interest in Bauhaus so the building is quite humble. That is why it is currently being restored and extended to become a vast space including underground exhibition halls, a café, meetings rooms, etc. This new Bauhaus-Archiv will open its doors in 2022.
Behind the Tiergarten (Berlin’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park), you can find the Hansaviertel Quarter. Built from scratch in 1957, it is a complete modernist residential area where green spaces alternate high-rise and low-rise blocks, standing alone and side by side buildings. Various national and international renowned architects took part in the project such as Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen and Egon Eiermann, so also here the Bauhaus influences are very much present.
To learn all about Germany’s #CelebratingBauhaus head to www.germany.travel/bauhaus.