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100 years Bauhaus
Bauhaus, viewed from the southeast

Bauhaus studio in Dessau
Bauhaus studio in Dessau | © Hans Engels

100 years Bauhaus: The preparations for the anniversary year, 2019, are in full swing. Three new museum buildings and a marathon of activities are planned. To get a complete picture in the run-up to the anniversary year, a group of architects, curators, art and architecture historians from Southeastern Europe traveled to historical locations of the Bauhaus, at the invitation of the Goethe-Institut.

 

By Doris Kleilein

Almost no other movement has influenced modern art and architecture in the way that Bauhaus has. The expectations, therefore, are high: How will Germany celebrate this anniversary? Will the idea of the Bauhaus be made productive for the present, beyond the historical reprocessing? A large part of the group of experts, who spent a week following the traces of Bauhaus from its founding place in Weimar through Dessau to Berlin, has been involved with Bauhaus on a theoretical level for years, but has never visited the locations before.

"The visit to Weimar showed me the political roots of the Bauhaus", concludes Miško Šuvaković, artist and art historian from Belgrade, about this experience. "It did not originate from a universalistic aesthetic theory, but rather concretely from the social democratic politics of the Weimar Republic". In Weimar, where the Bauhaus was founded by Walter Gropius in 1919 as an art school, little is felt of the progressive Bauhaus ideas. "Weimar identifies with the classics Goethe and Schiller and is still to integrate Bauhaus, Buchenwald and WWII", commented the Greek architect Loukas Bartatilas, organizer of the trip and doctoral candidate at the Bauhaus University Weimar. While Weimar is mostly perceived as traditional, the visit to the Bauhaus building built by Walter Gropius in 1925-26 and the teacher's houses (Meisterhäuser) in Dessau were the architectural highlight of the journey: "Only in Dessau did I have the feeling of being in a laboratory of modernity", says Aida Abadžić Hodžić, art historian from Sarajevo.

Berlin, in turn, the third station on the journey, was ambiguous: "In Berlin, we saw how the Bauhaus teaching was poured into concrete", said curator Ali Kemal Ertem from Izmir. "Above all, the tour through the Hansaviertel made it clear to me where modern Turkish architects and designers take their ideas from". While the IBA 1957 buildings and the visit to the Mies-van-der-Rohe house and the Schaubühne are inspiring, today's discussion about Bauhaus in Berlin remains unclear: "The role of the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin seems to be passive and the preparations for the anniversary decentralized. As if these preparations were missing something about Berlin" summarizes curator Vesna Meštrić from Zagreb.

Despite all criticism by experts: Only through the journey, can it be comprehended that Bauhaus must also be seen in the local context and that it must deal with the everyday problems of the respective cities. "We expect the Bauhaus museums and the jubilee projects to be the most progressive in the world, but if you include the local context, history becomes more complicated", says Aida Abadžić Hodžić, referring to the small city of Dessau. There, architecture tourists from all over the world make pilgrimage, while the people in Dessau still struggle with their modern heritage. To see Bauhaus with its local sensitivities is an important realization of the journey, says architect Derin Inan from Ankara: "Every Bauhaus city has its narrative, which has been rewritten again and again by its teachers and their students under different circumstances. The Bauhaus has had to prove itself on the tour again and again as the teachers went out into the world, their message scattered and multiplied". That the Bauhaus cannot be reduced to one big story and certainly not to a specific architectural style, is ultimately seen as an opportunity by experts from Southeast Europe. "Perhaps the Grand Tour of Modernity is the real surprise", says Deniz Ova, Director of the Design Biennale in Istanbul, referring to the travel route of 100 "Bauhaus locations" in Germany, which was compiled on the occasion of the anniversary.

Overall, one would have expected more efficiency with the anniversary planning, so the unanimous expert opinion, which is also immediately brought into perspective: Especially because one comes from countries where many structures did not work, perfectly planned museum and exhibition concepts are expected from German cultural institutions. Not only in Germany does one wonder if any of the museums will be ready on time. And yet: "In Germany the concepts for three Bauhaus museums are discussed, in Turkey we don't have a single museum for Turkish architecture and design. And there is no collection, which could be exhibited in such a museum", according to Deniz Ova. "We have to deal with what we don't know from Bauhaus".

For Yiorgos Hadjichristou, architect from Nicosia, the discourse around Bauhaus extends far beyond the museums and architecture history: "Bauhaus offers the opportunity to think differently about cities and societies. We can start an open process. The construction of museums concentrates a lot of power and does not lead these questions further". The architect Maria Kyrou from Thessaloniki points out that the Bauhaus has created a "new version of the historical collective and individual". Why should the Bauhaus not create a momentum for urgent problems of the present, such us the housing question? Miško Šuvaković states that each generation provides new interpretations of the Bauhaus and raises the question of who is avant-garde in architecture and art.

Architect Brîndușa Tudor from Bucharest describes how the German jubilee plays a role also for cities in Southeast Europe: "The Bauhaus anniversary is a great opportunity to draw our focus on architecture, which developed in Bucharest between the two world wars. The majority of these buildings are little known and are in poor condition. We need a national rescue programme". Also in Turkey there is a need for research: "Bauhaus was the foundation for teaching at many architecture schools. In Turkey in the 1950s it was not easy to translate the Bauhaus ideas. It would have been interesting to see how these ideas would have traveled ", said Ali Kemal Ertem.

The connecting lines from Dessau to Southeast Europe run through the architectural heritage and teaching, and in many cases also through biographies and beyond: "Examining Bauhaus students like Selman Selmanagić can lead to the question of how young architects today in Selmanagić's hometown Srebreniza solve social problems", stated Aida Abadžić Hodžić.

Again and again, the thesis emerges, that although there is a lot of information available about Bauhaus, nobody can say exactly what Bauhaus is. Why is it still interesting to engage with Bauhaus today? What about the gender issue, how are the Bauhaus women appreciated? Why are some voices of the Bauhaus reception not sufficiently represented, just think of the second director of Bauhaus and communist Hannes Meyer? It is hoped that in 2019 in Dessau, Weimar and Berlin not only the historical Bauhaus will be discussed, but also these issues.
 
Statements:
 

  • Brîndușa Tudor, architect, Bucharest:​
"We must take a contemporary look at the Bauhaus and ask what it means today, for the cities of Weimar, Dessau and Berlin".
 
  • Maria Kyrou, architect, Thessaloniki: 
"Bauhaus sharpens the awareness, with which tools architects work today."
 
  • Derin Inan, architect, Ankara:
"Each Bauhaus city has its narrative. On the tour Bauhaus proved to be scattered and diverse."
   
  • Yiorgos Hadjichristou, architect, Nicosia:
"I have occupied myself over many years with Bauhaus, but nobody could tell me what Bauhaus really is. Now I am glad, that I don't know. The most important thing is to ask questions"
 
  • Loukas Bartatilas, architect, Athens:
"In Greece Bauhaus is perceived mostly as a style, not as a worldview"
 
  • Miško Šuvaković, artist and art historian, Belgrade:
"Each generation has new interpretations of the Bauhaus. Which sculptors, artists, architects are avant-garde today?"
 
  • Aida Abadžić Hodžić, art historian and philosopher, Sarajevo:
"Why do we still occupy ourselves with Bauhaus?"
 
  • Ali Kemal Ertem, curator, Izmir:
"In Weimar and Dessau Germany seemed traditional, as if society even today rejects the new architecture and the ideas that go with it."
  • Vesna Meštrić, curator, Zagreb:
"The new museum buildings in Weimar and Dessau as well as the exhibition concepts were not presented in detail. Everything is in the preparatory stage and it is difficult, to visualize the exhibition concept."
 
  • Deniz Ova, director of the Design Biennale, Istanbul:
"We must deal with what we don't know about Bauhaus"

 

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