GERMANY. Between the two great wars of the 20th century a movement arose in Germany called Staatliches Bauhaus. It was more commonly known as “Bauhaus.”
Germany’s defeat in World War I, the fall of the German monarchy and the abolition of censorship under the new, liberal Weimar Republic allowed an upsurge of radical experimentation to unfold in all the arts. The stodgy monarchy customarily repressed such radical individuals and ideas, particularly in literature and the various arts.
Founded by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919, Bauhaus (meaning “building house”) combined crafts and the fine arts. It soon became famous its approach to the designs it publicized and taught. Oddly enough, despite the fact that Gropius was an architect, the original school he founded did not have an architecture department during its first several years.
Even so, Gropius had extremely specific ideas about the structure of his fine arts institution as pictured below in his “Diagram for the Structure of Teaching at the Bauhaus.”
The short, productive life of the Bauhaus movement
2019 marks the 100th anniversary of this influential project. Oddly enough, the actual school only lasted fourteen years, from 1919 to 1933 when Hitler’s National Socialists shut it down. Despite this, the international impact of the movement thrives today. It stands as a tribute to Gropius’ core concept of “Rethinking the World.”
The movement decided to relocate its original Weimar-based school of design to Dessau in 1925. They later breifly relocated to Berlin. But they did not operate there for long.
In October 1931, the school resumed work in an abandoned telephone factory in Berlin-Steglitz. However, the authorities had already searched the premises. As a result, the police and the SA decided to seal the building on 11th April 1933. In the process, they arrested 32 students. As previously noted, given the National Socialists’ repressive measures and drastic funding cutbacks, the school soon decided to close its doors. The movement realized it could not possibly continue to operate in Berlin under the circumstances.
As a result, the school’s short-lived, dramatic Berlin phase led many “Bauhauslers” into “inner emigration” or into actual emigration. This effectively gave the movement a global identity along with the international reputation it still enjoys today. Even today, the Bauhaus remains the most effective cultural export that Germany produced during the twentieth century. In many respects, its continued influence relates to its use international forms and expressions.
The movement grows and spreads
Former movement teachers and students gradually spread their ideas from Germany to the United States, China, Israel, Switzerland, Japan, Mexico and beyond. They continued to establish and champion bold new concepts in the fields of fine and applied art, design, architecture and education. Rethinking the world was central to the effectiveness of their ongoing mission.
Following Gropius, the movement’s second director, Hannes Meyer, was one of the most important architects of the New Architecture movement of the 1920’s. Meyer broadened the scope of the project with innovative concepts that had a lasting influence on important aspects of the movement’s controversial reputation. His theories emphasized the social aspects of design. However, numerous critics widely attacked his ideas, virtually guaranteeing a negative public reception.
In addition, Meyer was something of a stealth leader during his tenure as director of the school. So much so, in fact, that his detractors frequently referred to him as the “unknown Bauhaus director.” Some analysts believe he was too much a communist. Others claim he was too bourgeois. In retrospect, however, Meyer almost certainly had a stronger influence on the movement and its students than Gropius may have wanted to believe.
Given the politics of the era in which the movement existed, the changes of venue and leadership resulted in a constant shifting of focus, technique, instructors and political influence. For example, when Mies van der Rohe took over as director of the school in 1930, he made it a private institution and would not allow any supporters of Hannes Meyer to attend.
Short life, long influence
Over time, brief though its physical existence may have been, the movement’s style became one of the most influential currents in modern design, Modernist architecture and art, design and architectural education. The movement also had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.
In our own time, so important has the movement become to the arts that it was awarded UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status in 2009.
Celebrating the Bauhaus centennial
“The anniversary of the founding of Bauhaus is ideally suited to consolidate Germany’s position as the number one cultural destination for Europeans,” said Petra Hedorfer, Chief Executive Officer of the German National Tourist Board.
“The roots, heritage and international appeal of the Bauhaus movement can be experienced in cities such as Weimar, Dessau, Berlin and many other areas. These are all contributing factors to a very important facet of travel destination: Germany’s cultural offering.”
Travelers planning to visit Germany next year may want to check whether any Bauhaus-related events are taking place during their visit. Programs are planned throughout the year, particularly in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin.
With the new Bauhaus Museum opening in Weimar next year, the slogan “The Bauhaus comes from Weimar” is especially relevant on several levels for the German psyche.
As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once expressed so elegantly, “The ills of an age are healed by changing the ways in which people live their lives.”
Today, the Bauhaus is recognized worldwide as a synonym for modern architecture and design. Its ideas have not aged; rather, many of them appear to have lost none of their topicality and inspire the search for contemporary resolutions.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Bob is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News.