The noubas of the Bauhaus | Dare – Gulf News


Oskar Schlemmer Triadic Ballet, 1927
Image Credit: Provided

Tom Wolfe was lucky. His death allowed him to miss the rain of the Bauhaus centenary celebrations. In From Bauhaus to Our House (1981), the American author had written a fierce outcry against the faithful of the famous German art school, held responsible for the concrete cubes in Sarcelles, New York or La Défense. And in the first row of the accused, its founder, a certain Walter Gropius whom Tom Wolfe nicknamed “Prince of Silver” or “White God no. 1 “. Strange as it may sound, in the first months after opening in Weimar in April 1919, the Bauhaus school showed a rare talent for attracting enemies. So much so that a newspaper appealed to the inhabitants of the city to close it. During fourteen years of its existence, the Bauhaus was as much contested as persecuted. But why so much hatred?

Members of the Bauhaus scene in front of the Bauhaus building in Dessau

Members of the Bauhaus scene in front of the Bauhaus building in Dessau (from left to right): Clemens Röseler, T. Lux Feininger, Max Bill, Joost Schmidt, Roman Clemens, Xanti Schawinsky, 1927-28
Image Credit: Provided

Partying is an art

According to Walter Gropius, learning was simply about breaking down barriers to the arts. It was necessary “to go back to artisanal work, because there is no professional art” declared the Austrian architect as a slogan. On the program of his manifesto: theater, conferences, poetry, music, traditional festivals. And that wonderful, deep name, Bau meaning “construction”, Haus meaning “house”. The new emblem of Perpendicular Puritanism. The students lived and ate together, shared sports and leisure activities. Oh yes, Gropius also insisted on one fact: no difference between men and women. The distracting ceremony of the devastating institution failed to convince the new local power. The Bauhaus was driven from Weimar to settle in Dessau. On December 4, 1926, a thousand guests were invited to a big party to inaugurate the new building designed by Gropius. The party would be the strong point of the new institution. “Tell me how you party and I’ll tell you who you are.” This was the motto of Oskar Schlemmer, artist, choreographer and master of ceremonies at the Bauhaus whose mission was to create an experimental theater. Thus, the social evenings at school, organized in great detail by Schlemmer and his students from the theater workshop, made the Bauhaus famous as much as its teaching. “From the first day of the Bauhaus’s existence,” he said, “the scene was present, from the first day, the desire was already there. He expressed himself in our exuberant evenings, in improvisations and in the imaginative masks and costumes we made. He dresses the dancers in abstract costumes, with geometric shapes as for the famous Triadic Ballet participating in a reflection on the relationship between man and machine. The teachings of dance became so important to be worthy of the status of “Bauhäuslers” that Walter Gropius called on a distinguished dance teacher from Berlin. Out of a desire to integrate with the students, he imposed on the teachers and himself intensive courses to master the techniques of Charleston. A requirement that drove two famous teachers at the school, Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky, crazy!

Oskar Schlemmer Triadic Ballet Costume

Costume from the triadic ballet by Oskar Schlemmer, 1927
Image Credit: Provided

A haven of subversion

For the Bauhaus, partying has become an art form. And any occasion was acceptable. Birthdays of workshop teachers or arrival of a prestigious guest. These naive and healthy parties would soon attract all of Dessau, where the young Berlin elite were looking for thrills. There was the beard nose and heart festival where nose mold, hair warts and everything was on display. To evoke Goethe’s quote, “architecture, this still music”, an orchestra would be assembled to accompany these night owls. But just reducing them to a jazz band would be offensive. A whirlwind of chairs, gunshots, manual bells, giant tuning forks, sirens, pianos made of iron and nails, and cries of Sioux would lead the ball. We can also cite the White Festival (1926) with its dress code “2/3 white, 1/3 color” and promise “emotional, exciting and normal” via stripes, dots or checks. The most legendary evening of all would be the Metal Festival (1929) whose invitation was in tin and which suggested that the gentlemen arrive in whips, pepper mills or can openers.

Metal Festival, 1929

Metal Festival, 1929
Image Credit: Provided

And women decorated with balls and chains should be accompanied by a “radioactive substance”. The guests arrived by toboggan in the large hall covered with iron from floor to ceiling. It was so reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s factory decor, covered with foil. The fame of these festivals became a sort of Bauhaus barometer, and Schlemmer began to wonder if they had not aroused some sort of “hatred and passion”. One can forgive one wondering if these uncontrollable moments of debauchery contributed to the name of “house of Judeo-Bolshevik subversion” as given by the Nazis who decided to permanently close the Dessau school in 1933. However, as well as his sense of celebration, things were spoiled: the Bauhaus had imposed a new basis for reflection on design and modern architecture. This small group of craftsmen had produced, for six years, the most influential objects of all time. In the years which followed its closure, Walter Gropius and the last principal of the school Mies van der Rohe tried to win the good grace of the new Reich by proposing several architectural projects. However, the day Hitler trampled on one of these models for an international exhibition pavilion, it was high time to emigrate. And the moment came to take stock.

Members of the Bauhaus Chapel

Members of the Bauhaus chapel, photographer unknown, 1930
Image Credit: Provided

When the school opened, there were more girls than boys. Unfortunately, this new collective guild of craftsmen founded by Walter Gropius had several medieval re fl exes. These young girls with geometric haircuts, who followed vegetarian diets, were confined to the weaving workshop, and very few had access to architecture lessons. Indeed, Gropius sincerely believed that women think in two dimensions and that only men can handle three. Marianne Brandt was an exception. She enters the metal workshop and is one of the few ladies to have made a name for herself at the Bauhaus (the others had to wait to leave school or emigrate). His Kandem bedside lamp, created in 1926, was one of the students’ highly profitable creations and its clean lines still haunt our light shelves today. This is also the case for many other student creations that still exist at Habitat or Ikea.

Siegfried Giesenschlag in his workshop in Dessau with the Midgard lamp by Curt Fischer, 1926

Siegfried Giesenschlag in his workshop in Dessau with the Midgard lamp by Curt Fischer, 1926
Image Credit: Provided

Among the many students and teachers who fled Germany in the 1930s, some are believed to be responsible for constructing nearly four thousand Bauhaus-style buildings in Tel Aviv. And legions would come to be built in the United States until the 1970s. Among the former students who did not emigrate, some died in extermination camps. In recent years, historians have also highlighted the scandalous background of some students at the Bauhaus, an institution often simplistically portrayed as a symbol of resistance. This commemorative work deserves the bene fi t of the centenary as a reminder that some of the former students joined the ranks of the Third Reich to design propaganda posters. Or, even more frightening, like Fritz Ertl, who became an officer of the Waffen-SS, which would design the barracks and crematoriums of Auschwitz. A certain Ehrlich even practiced his apprenticeships in Bauhaus typography to decorate the iron gates of the Buchenwald camp, only 160 kilometers from Dessau.

A glass of ice water on the face

After the school closed, the building was used as a training center for the Nazi Gauleiter (governors). It was then used as a hospital and driving school before being completely restored.

Students of the Bauhaus in Dessau, 1931

Students of the Bauhaus in Dessau, 1931
Image Credit: Provided

It is now possible to spend the night in one of the thirty original rooms for the price of a motel stay. With its tubular lighting, tubular chairs and blood-red linoleum, these large modernist cells are somewhat reminiscent of the charm of East German youth hostels. Above all, it has become an infinitely calm place compared to the busy and bustling Bauhäusler period. There is no longer the risk of being woken up in the middle of the night by the cavalcades of the floors, the students climbing the front of your balcony and the cries of those dancing on the roof. You will simply live an “authentic” experience, one of those sweet and dizzying nostalgic moments. Receive, writes Tom Wolfe, “that glass of ice water in the face, that tonic slap, that bloody reminder of our bourgeois soul that we call modern architecture.”


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