Bauhaus, World Heritage Yellow Brick, Steel and Glass

Bundesschule Bernau, school and apartments
Bundesschule Bernau, school and apartments | Photo (detail): © Brenne Architekten

Classic modernism in a pine forest: The Bundesschule Bernau (Trade Union School) to the north of Berlin opened in 1930 and is one of the most prominent works of the Bauhaus movement. Since July 2017 it is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

​Hannes Meyer, director of the influential Bauhaus School of Design from 1928 to 1930, designed the building ensemble in Bernau together with Hans Wittwer. The project was commissioned by the Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund ADGB (German Trade Union Federation) that held week-long courses in the school for its committed trade unionists. Besides covering social and economic policies the programme also focused on sports and cultural dialogue. The courses were also seen as practical training for living and working together.

It was for this socio-pedagogical program that the architects Meyer and Wittwer designed a spatial composition with five staggered dormitories framed on the one side by the foyer and auditorium, and on the other side by the library, seminar rooms and gymnasium. An impressive long glazed corridor connects all parts of the building ensemble that is erected on a slope. Yellow brick, glass and red steel sections set accents, a curved winter garden breaks with the strict right-angled regularity of the dormitories.
 

  • Bundesschule Bernau, apartments Photo: © Brenne Architekten
    Bundesschule Bernau, apartments
  • Bundesschule Bernau, canteen Photo: © Brenne Architekten
    Bundesschule Bernau, canteen
  • Bundesschule Bernau, main building Photo: Holger Herschel, © Brenne Architekten
    Bundesschule Bernau, main building
  • Bundesschule Bernau, corridor Photo: © Brenne Architekten
    Bundesschule Bernau, corridor
  • Bundesschule Bernau, gymnasium Photo: © Brenne Architekten
    Bundesschule Bernau, gymnasium
  • Bundesschule Bernau, winter garden Photo: © Brenne Architekten
    Bundesschule Bernau, winter garden

The particular quality of the design is seen in the variety of relationships that develop between the interior and the surrounding Brandenburg landscape with its forests and lakes. Hannes Meyer allowed Bauhaus students to participate in the project design and site management, thus turning the construction site in Bernau into a study project for the entire Bauhaus. Whether for heating pipes or reinforced concrete ceiling beams: “The material used must remain exposed” – this was one of the underlying principles implemented in Bernau.

A forgotten Bauhaus classic

The classic Bauhaus ensemble erected in the Bernau Forest has been listed as a protected building since 1977. But it is nothing like as well known as the world famous Bauhaus buildings in Dessau. “For almost 60 years, from 1933 – 1989, the Trade Union School was not open to the public and was almost entirely forgotten. The consequences of which are felt to this day”, says historian Peter Steininger, member of the board of the association “baudenkmal bundesschule bernau (bbb)” that was founded in 1990. In 1933 the National Socialists seized the building ensemble and used it up until 1945 for training members of the SS and Gestapo, among other things. After the Second World War the Freie Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (FDGB), umbrella organisation of the state-controlled East German trade unions, took over the school, and in the nineteen fifties extended the ensemble with red brick buildings. After the demise of the GDR and the dissolution of the FDGB the school was closed in 1990.
 
Video wird geladen
Bundesschule Bernau before the renovation and afterwards

The Denkmalschutzverein (Association for the Preservation of the Trade Union School), whose founding members included the artist and Bauhaus student Max Bill (1908-1994), first campaigned against the building being left empty and its ongoing decay. The members of the association then quickly became the driving force pushing for an authentic restoration of the site. This took place from 2003 to 2007 under the supervision of the architects Winfried Brenne and Franz Jaschke, award-winning experts for modernist buildings. “MeyerWittwerBau“ stands over the redesigned main entrance that incorporates the red brick building of the nineteen fifties. The school building has otherwise been more or less restored to its original design. Suspended ceilings have been removed. Reinforced concrete beams and columns have been freed of their plaster cladding from the GDR period. The canteen is flooded with light, the glazed corridor now once again features floor-to-ceiling windows and, connecting all buildings of the school, serves as a place for communication and encounter.

Original wall bar from 1930

In 2001 the Berlin Chamber of Commerce took over the Trade Union School and used it as a residential school for trainees. An outcome of this use is the notice  “Sport für Gerüstbauer” (sport for scaffold erectors) over the entrance to the gymnasium where the original wall bar from 1930 still stands. Currently the landscaping is being authentically restored with the support of federal funds. This work includes the reopening of the historic line of view between the school building and the nearby lake, as well as the new construction of a pergola that once stood here.

The Bauhaus sites in Dessau and Weimar are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In July 2017 the Bundesschule Bernau also was awarded this status. “An hour of glory for this unique building ensemble“, comments Peter Steininger. But this would not be the end of the association’s dedicated work. The internationally networked Bauhaus enthusiasts in Bernau are developing new ideas for a visitor’s centre, for instance. They support plans for creative summer schools or discuss whether parts from the GDR architectural heritage, including guard posts and street lights, also belong to the history of the Bundesschule and are worthy of preservation.
 
Once a year, the Goethe-Institut in Berlin organizes a youth course in the building ensemble “Bundesschule Bernau”:
German for Youths: Bernau near Berlin