The Bauhaus in Weimar is not a museum, but a vibrant place for young artists. One hundred years after it was founded, we paid a visit to the new generation.
Charlotte Flach stands at the window, folding out her washbasin, an angular thing made of orange-red truck tarpaulin welded together with a hair straightener that’s ideal for cramped bathrooms in small, big-city apartments. Flach designed the adaptable washbasin with Lisa Homuth. Both are architecture students at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, and they created the washbasin as part of their master thesis. As in the beginnings of the legendary Bauhaus movement of the 1920s, it was the manual experimentation that went into their efforts to find the best solution that was the main factor.
In Thuringia’s ancient royal seat, narrow, cobbled streets take us past half-timbered buildings, statues and squares with fountains. This would be a perfect setting for historical movies if the most famous design school of the 20th century weren’t located on the edge of the old city center. At the Bauhaus University, students take the same spiral staircase to their lectures in the Henry van de Veldes building as Bauhaus founders Walter Gropius, Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky back in the early years. Many design classics were conceived here that “perfectly serve their purpose,” as Gropius wrote in 1925: the table lamp by Wilhelm Wagenfeld and the hemispherical teapot by Mariannte Brandt, for example – rational, seminal designs with which the Bauhaus has been identified for a century. But in its founding year, the Weimar Academy of Fine Arts did not stand for a style, but for a philosophy, namely that architects, urban planners, product designers, graphic artists and painters should rethink design, combine art and craftsmanship, and improve people’s lives with their work – guiding principles that are still very much alive at the Bauhaus today.
Right across from the university, the students’ ideas are taking shape: At Bauhaus Eins, a dilapidated apartment building built in 1873, in a room measuring just six square meters, aspiring architects test ideas for living in tiny spaces. In this “tiny living space,” as they call it, they slide wall elements back and forth to divide the space into different living areas. The folding washbasin is also here. “We are living proof that the Bauhaus movement is still alive,” says media designer Max Schreiner, 43, who initiated Bauhaus Eins ten years ago. “Living space is getting more and more expensive all the time, and climate change is presenting us with new ecological challenges. The problems today are quite different from those people faced a century ago, when the Bauhaus movement was born in Weimar. But we are still concerned with the same basic questions: How do we want to live with each other? And how can architecture help us to do it?”
In sculptor Anne Schwing’s studio on the third floor, students are experimenting with new designs for door handles – because it doesn’t always have to be the simplicity of the Gropius handle designed by the master in Weimar in 1922. Instead, the students are casting handles in bronze that resemble microphones and seamen’s knots.
Some of their fellow students are working on open-plan living areas designed to strengthen a sense of community. Under the working title “Aesthetics of healing places,” other students have developed new color and design concepts for hospitals aimed at aiding the recovery process. Green, for instance, has a healing influence as many studies have shown. So why not paint the rooms in natural shades? Or play birdsong in the waiting areas of clinics? There’s no lack of ideas for this kind of design, design that helps – it just needs somebody to put them into practice.
I process impressions of Berlin in Weimar
Bauhaus also means thinking the unusual and shaping the unseen. In Weimar, a city with a population of just 65 000, the Bauhaus spirit stills fires the imagination, sparks new ideas. Could this be because it’s easy to concentrate on the essential in the so-called provinces? Fashion designer Anne Gorke believes so. At her studio in the old town, she creates Bauhaus fashions: sweatshirts with geometric shapes in the prime colors blue, red and yellow. On closer inspection, even the paisley pattern of her woven scarf turns out to consist of ornaments borrowed from the basic Bauhaus shapes: circle, triangle, rectangle. “I dislike superfluous details. I developed a clear understanding of color and shapes at the Bauhaus Uni,” says the 35-year-old. Less is more – the famous motto of Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is also her motto. “In an increasingly complex world, people long for simplicity,” Gorke believes, which is why she chose to make her home in her native Weimar. “Optically, it’s a quiet city with no looming skyscrapers screaming at you. I can simply get down to things better here than in Berlin.” Gorke shows her collections in the German capital at Fashion Week, but she wouldn’t find the peace she needs to work there, she says. Her latest collection, Bauhaus Mode, which she created in collaboration with graphic designers, is on sale exclusively in the shops of the Weimar museums and also in Dessau, the city to which the Bauhaus moved in 1925.
Practicality is also the distinguishing feature of the new Bauhaus Museum in Weimar, which first opened its doors on April 6. A white cube on the edge of Weimar’s old town, the museum looks like a gigantic building block that’s tumbled into a dollhouse The museum shows exhibits from the oldest Bauhaus collection in the world – that of Walter Gropius himself, featuring Peter Keler’s famous triangular crib, for instance, the Wassily club chair by Marcel Breuer, and carpets by Gunta Stöltzl. But with the aid of the Haus am Horn dating from 1923, the only Bauhaus-initiated building in Weimar, the exhibition also looks at how the Bauhaus aimed to improve living conditions.
For Hans-Peter Grossmann, 44, the curator of the exhibition series Bauhaus Studio 100, the anniversary year is still no reason solely for retrospection: “We don’t just want to show all the old Bauhaus stuff, but also the new artistic avant-garde rocking Weimar with its ideas today.” For this, Grossmann and designer Canan Yilmaz have selected 100 artists to exhibit their works at different locations around town on 100 days of the jubilee year (and also at the Ulm School of Design). The first exhibits are already on show at the Harry Graf Keßler art gallery: the Wagenfällt lamp by Lisa Dinges, which falls apart the moment you pull the chord to switch it on, for instance, and the currentless R2B2 food processor by Christoph Thetard, which has a pedal-driven flywheel that delivers sufficient energy to power both hand mixer and coffee grinder. Grossmann has been supporting the city’s young creative scene since his own student days. He is the founder of the Weimar Gaswerk, a design and project workshop with cheap workspaces and a show stage. “We hold parties here that are as wild as those of the Roaring Twenties,” says Grossmann. Today, DJs from the internationally successful Weimar electro label Gieling perform here today in the same way that the Bauhaus band experimented with American jazz; and instead of an Oskar Schlemmer-style “ballet of geometry,” there are techno happenings. “The Gaswerk is one of many venues in Weimar that brings creative minds together. And the fact that the campus is so small and that all of the faculties are located close to each other also strengthens the sense of community,” says Grossmann. Interdisciplinary thinking and working has long been a tradition here.
At the other end of the old town – and right across from the Historical Cemetery, where Goethe found his last resting place in the royal crypt – is where Martin Kohlstedt lives and works. Surrounded by synthesizers, old electric pianos, keyboards and a piano, the 31-year-old musician works on sounds for the future. “I confront classical piano with electro and hard basses,” says the graduate of both the Bauhaus University and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. In the same way that the Bauhaus is again seeking to combined isolated arts, he wants to combine different sound worlds. Kohlstedt has already traveled half the world with his music. He has performed at the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg and at techno parties in St. Petersburg, and this summer, he will be presenting his fourth album, Ströme, at the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada Desert. For him, too, leaving Weimar is not an option. “I can use the right half of my brain particularly well here. My music takes its strength from my being able to let my subconscious just bubble away here.” And it works: “Visitors to my concerts often tell me that they lost all sense of time and space. That’s exactly what I want to achieve. I want people to feel like happy children the morning after a long night of clubbing.”
What I want to achieve is that after a night of clubbing, everyone feels like a happy kid
Heading out into the big, wide world but then returning to Weimar to create something new is apparently a life plan that works well for many Bauhaus University graduates. Painter Ulrike Theusner, 36, who lived in New York for a time, modeling for Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garçons there, is one of them; she’s now back in her hometown to stay. She works at the Städtisches Atelierhaus von 1905, Germany’s oldest artist studio building, where light pours through large windows into bright, airy rooms with high ceilings, using bold colors to paint her expressive pictures. “I want to show my generation’s lack of orientation – how people in big cities no longer know what they’re actually looking for amid the ocean of possibilities open to them. I felt just like that myself as a model; my emotional life really suffered in the job,” she recalls. The inner life – in Theusner’s tableaus, it is embodied by people in static Instagram poses or out on a clubbing high. The pictures have a directness that has little to do with the abstract painting of the early Bauhaus. But it’s not so easy to find a common denominator for the art taking shape here today. It evolves in very different directions, interpreting old ideas in new ways – but then, that is precisely that made the Bauhaus of 1919 so revolutionary.