Tautes Heim Experience what life was like in 1930s

Bedroom with a wall unit typical of the era featuring a double Murphy bed
Bedroom with a wall unit typical of the era featuring a double Murphy bed | Photo (detail): © Ben Buschfeld

“Live like it's the 1930s.” Who wants to do that? “Live like in Bruno Taut's time”, on the other hand, sounds a bit more interesting for fans of architecture. Visitors to Berlin can stay in a vacation rental at the Taut “Hufeisen” (horseshoe) housing estate, a gem for architecture enthusiasts.

The owners of this house at the end of the horseshoe-shaped complex call it the “Tautes Heim”, a play on the saying “Trautes Heim – Glück allein” (something akin to “home sweet home”). It is also of course a reference to the ensemble's planner, Bruno Taut, who designed the structure with Martin Wagner between 1925 and 1930 in the Berlin neighborhood of Britz. The “Horseshoe” is now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and the owners of this particular house have not only done an exemplary renovation job, but also created a bona fide museum inside.

“Architecture and design you can touch”

The house is equipped with furniture and fixtures from the era. Photo: Ben BuschfeldStill, you wouldn't want to live in a museum for too long, so the proprietors had the idea of renting the house to architecture enthusiasts. To make the place cozy enough to stay for a few days, the house is equipped with all of the necessary amenities, but not your average furnishings from the nearest Ikea. The people behind Tautes Heim made a real effort to source only furniture and fixtures from the era of the house: from light switches and the coffee pot to the memorabilia and books adorning the shelves. It may sound trivial to say it, but it really is “lovingly” decorated. The house is available on a weekly basis as a holiday home for one to three people with the tag line: “Architecture and design you can touch”.

Landscape architect Katrin Lesser and designer Ben Buschfeld have been living in the complex for 15 years and are among the initiators of Freunde und Förderer der Hufeisensiedlung Berlin-Britz, an association that helps promote the responsible upkeep of this important heritage site. It also maintains a database (Hufeisensiedlung.info) for providing private homeowners in the community with information about the site's history, rules about heritage site preservation, architectural considerations and opportunities for optimizing energy consumption for the house in question. Architect Winfried Brenne is the association's in-house expert for restoration projects of classic modern edifices in Germany. He worked on the comprehensive renovation of the Bauhaus in Dessau, for example.

Period piece

The renovations were focused on preserving the original core of the house. Photo: Ben BuschfeldBrenne also remodeled the flat rooftops of the Hufeisensiedlung so they conformed to current standards and regulations for heating insulation, all while preserving the original appearance of the houses. The Tautes Heim also has the new roof. Lesser and Buschfeld had the dilapidated house in their sights in 2010 when it went up for sale, but were dumbfounded by the condition of many of its original windows, doors, fittings, built-in cupboards, pantries, and even two or three tiled stoves. At that time they didn't need another house, but to save it in its original condition they bought it anyway and began examining the structure and even researching the best ways to professionally restore the original paint scheme after eight decades of use.

The renovations were focused on one thing: preserving the original core of the house and maintaining the authenticity of the era when retrofitting it, including an insightful concept for recreating the garden. The kitchen floors, for example, were made of an xylolite material that could no longer be saved, but they managed to find an older craftsman from Ulm who still mastered the old process of mixing sawdust, concrete, iron oxide and various salt types to make it.

Modern heating with lights from the flea market

Modern kitchen appliances disappeared behind replica veneers from a sample kitchen in Taut's building complex in Zehlendorf. The bedroom was appointed with a wall unit typical of the era featuring a double Murphy bed. Light switches and electrical outlets were available in the retro collections of select manufacturers these days, and the light fixtures were acquired at flea markets before being reconditioned for the project. The shower in the bathroom was customized to fit the style of the period and the screed flooring was painted in a faux-xylolite finish – real xylolite is very vulnerable to moisture damage. The enamel pail in the corner looks very original.

The bedroom was appointed with a wall unit typical of the era featuring a double Murphy bed. Photo: Ben BuschfeldThe gas central heating is of course a modern ingredient in the recipe, but the radiators were based on the ones in Taut's private home. Bruno Taut may have even owned a Mende radio like the one that is now in the living room, where the tubes inside the device have to first warm up before they can fish anything out of the ethers. It was even fitted with an input jack for MP3 player if you want to listen to some music or comedy from the 1930s…
 
In 2013, “Tautes Heim” was awarded the Europa Nostra Award for Conservation, in the same year the Association Freunde und Förderer der Hufeisensiedlung Berlin-Britz received the Berlin Conservation Award (Quast Medal).