While I do enjoy admiring architecture when I travel, I never saw myself as someone who appreciates modern design. It’s fine, but normally I tend to gravitate towards architectural styles that are much older. I think that’s why I was so curious about visiting one of Germany’s most modern UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Bauhaus in Dessau. I wanted to challenge myself, to see if I could learn to admire this more modern style of design and function and it was that open minded approach, I think, that helped me enjoy the day as much as I did.
Ultimately, it helped that I knew almost nothing about Bauhaus as I walked from the train station in Dessau to the main Bauhaus building itself. And unless you’re really into architecture and design, chances are you don’t know much about it either, although I guarantee you’ll recognize the look of this unique style. Approaching the main site though is like walking through a massive museum. The various buildings are all related projects and together they offer an inkling about what’s to come. At first I wasn’t all that impressed by the central Bauhaus building, it was only after learning more about the school and movement that I grew to appreciate it over the course of an afternoon.
What is Bauhaus?
Without sounding too much like an encyclopedia, I do think it’s important to offer some background into what Bauhaus is and why the site in Dessau is an important place to visit. The 1920s and 30s were decades of turbulent change around the world, and especially so in Germany. WWI had destroyed most historical systems and institutions, leading to liberalism and what, at the time, was considered to be radical thought. It was also a good time to be creative; artists and craftsmen suddenly had the leeway to experiment in ways that would never have been acceptable before the war. This is the world into which Bauhaus was born, a world that it would in many ways help to transform.
Bauhaus in German simply means “construction house,” and while an architect founded it, it was really a school for all arts. It was meant to bring together in harmony everything from pottery to graphic design to architecture and more. Fueled in part by the arts and crafts movement, Bauhaus rejected ornamentation and instead favored a sort of harmony between form and function. Imagine glass and concrete buildings where the beams showed and furniture with visible rivets and joints. To us today in 2017 these things don’t sound strange, but in the post-war years of the 1920s, there had never been anything like it before.
Why Bauhaus is Important
I learned all of this and more thanks to the engaging interpretation offered at the Bauhaus Building. With audio-guide in hand, I wandered the building in Dessau, the center of learning when Bauhaus called the city home, and over the course of several hours learned all I could about the movement, the people who created it and how their imaginations went on to influence art, design and architecture for decades to follow.
The Bauhaus legacy isn’t just relegated to Dessau, the school started in Weimar and ended in Berlin when the Nazis forced them to disband. And while you can see Bauhaus design and buildings in Weimar, the main sites are in Dessau and it’s also in Dessau where some of the school’s most important work happened.
You don’t have to be a student of art or architecture to appreciate a visit to Dessau. While I did enjoy admiring the buildings and the design within them, I walked away with a fierce appreciation for the movement itself. In the 1920s, these individuals were trying to fashion a new world, literally. They wanted to create a place where intellectualism and artistic creativity were rewarded; a place where the avant-garde was embraced and where there were no wrong answers. While the coming storm of WWII eventually forced the closure of the school, their influence around the world has indeed been profound. Many of the teachers and students from Bauhaus left Germany before the Nazis took control, relocating around the world and taking with them these ideas and concepts. In turn, the architecture and design styles of the 20th century were strongly influenced by what happened in Dessau, which ultimately is what I think the founders wanted. So yes, go and admire the buildings, but also visit to admire the bravery and commitment to a better future that is just as well displayed.