DESSAU, GERMANY - Mention the word “Bauhaus” to any German and their eyes light up and their chests puff out. That’s because Bauhaus, recognized worldwide as the symbol of modern design, is a source of national pride in Germany, the country where the Bauhaus movement began in 1919. And nowhere is Bauhaus more celebrated than in this neatly-kept city on the Elbe River that’s home to the Bauhaus School of Design.
Each year, thousands of architectural lovers come to charming Dessau to visit the school – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and pay homage to the man who started it all, Walter Gropius.
“Actually, he (Gropius) started the Bauhaus school in Weimar (164 kilometres from Dessau) in 1919 but moved it to Dessau in 1925,” says the young guide named Erika who’s taking me on a tour of the school – designed by Gropius himself – that’s become a monument to the legendary designer and his followers.
Left: The Bauhaus school is located in Dessau. Right: Bauhaus earned a stamp.
As we make our way up cold concrete staircases lit by the natural light filtering through floor to ceiling windows, the guide informs me that “Gropius believed in allowing natural light to flow into buildings so they could be connected to the outside world.”
Young people – new disciples of Bauhaus – rush past us as the guide pushes open a hallway door and leads me into a dorm room that looks out on the sprawling Bauhaus campus.
“You can rent one of these rooms and stay for a few days,” says Erika, who tells me there’s lots of excitement around the college these days as Dessau and the school prepare to celebrate the centenary of Bauhaus in 2019.
“The Bauhaus Museum will open in 2019 and everyone is really looking forward to that,” says the guide. She then tells me the museum will feature over 4,000 Bauhaus exhibits. “It will be the second largest collection of Bauhaus memorabilia in the world.”
Bauhaus – the literal translation from German means “construction house” – is not to everyone’s liking. It’s simple straight lines and heavy reliance on concrete leave some people cold. However, no one denies that the construction techniques Gropius and his students first experimented on here, and are still in use worldwide, are what makes Bauhaus so revered.
Above: The Bauhaus design school is located on its own street.
“They were well ahead of their time,” says Erika as we make our way from the campus to the Masters Houses (meisterhäuser), a series of semi-detached homes designed by Gropius for scholars teaching at the Bauhaus.
As we walk along streets shaded by ancient trees and through parks lush with flowers, the guide says the original Bauhaus school was closed in 1933 after Gropius had a battle with the Nazis and many of the students and teachers left Germany.
“They may have left Germany, but they brought the Bauhaus idea with them,” Erika proudly tells me.
The Masters Houses, nestled in a former pine forest, were home to Gropius and several of the school’s legendary teachers, like Lyonel Feininger, László Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Schlemmer. The structures were abandoned after the school closed in 1933 and began to decay after years of neglect – the home Gropius designed for himself was actually struck by an Allied bomb during World War II. In 1990, the town bought the homes and began extensive renovations.
The Masters Houses are open to the public and Feininger’s former home hosts a permanent exhibit of composer Kurt Weill. The city uses the other homes, also protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, for public events and exhibitions.
With plans for the centenary and work on the new museum all underway, and with the Masters Houses renovated, the Bauhaus movement is no doubt on a solid foundation in Dessau.
The best way to get to Dessau from Canada is with Lufthansa via Frankfurt or Berlin. Air Canada also offers daily service to Frankfurt. / For more information on Bauhaus, Dessau or Germany, go to www.germany.travel