On our visit to the Bauhaus Museum, the museum guide almost apologises for Wassily Kandinsky’s lack of style in his own home’s interior design.
“Kandinsky was quite old when he came to Dessau. He already had furniture. So he made himself comfy in the modern Bauhaus architecture with his Biedermeier style sofas …”
The living room is painted in old rose and gold, but empty. The guide only shows us photos of the time Kandinsky lived here. His students, apparently, were appalled by his personal taste. “Well, he was Russian,” one of the other visitors comments.
Kandinsky, already a renowned painter, worked as an art teacher at the school. As one of the senior lecturers he was entitled to an apartment in the so-called “Masters’ Houses”. They were functional, clear-cut buildings with large windows, flat roofs and an overwhelming modern austerity. Each apartment had a huge bright studio on the top floor and a number of surprisingly small rooms for the family.
We are visiting the Bauhaus buildings in Dessau. A bunch of people have joined a tour of that icon of modernist style, the Bauhaus school.
The Bauhaus art school
The art and architectural school of Bauhaus founded by Walter Gropius in 1919 in Weimar moved to Dessau in 1925. After a new right-wing government had taken over in Weimar, the modernist art school was not welcome there anymore and funds were severely shortened.
The school then found a new patron in the industrialist Hugo Junkers who had developed the world’s first all-metal aeroplane. His company was based in Dessau, and he convinced the town to offer good conditions and building grounds to the Bauhaus school. This offered the opportunity to build the school, and the Masters’ Houses, according to the Bauhaus’ own design standards. It was in Dessau that many legends of classical modern style were developed, especially furniture and interior design items such as the “Gropius Door Handle” that is still in use.
In 1932, Dessau followed suit and also succumbed to a nationalist, anti-modernist local government. The Bauhaus moved once more but only survived in Berlin for another year before being closed down altogether. After the war, during the GDR years, the Bauhaus style was also regarded as elitist, and the Dessau buildings decayed.
Only in the past few years, the remaining Masters’ Houses were restored. Two of them – which had been destroyed during the war – were rebuilt as shells to give an idea of the overall concept.
Tours are offered both in the main school building and in the Masters’ Houses in a somewhat outlying area of Dessau, behind the train station. When our tour enters the apartment of Lyonel Feininger, the design-conscious breathe relief. The only slightly younger artist had his living room walls painted in stark black and red.
Is a visit to the Bauhaus museums worthwhile?
For anybody interested in modern architecture,visiting the Bauhaus museums in Dessau is a must. After all, the Bauhaus ideas have influenced numerous architects and design movements. They range from close neighbours like Gerrit Rietveld in the Netherlands to far-away places. For instance, the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy modelled his mud-brick town of New Gourna on Bauhaus principles! Besides the school and the master houses, both belonging to the UNESCO World Heritage, there are several other Bauhaus buildings in Dessau. With a guided tour you can also visit the famous Gropius room, which is otherwise off-limits.
How to get to the Dessau Bauhaus buildings?
You can reach Dessau conveniently by train; the town itself is easily walkable and the sightseeing spots signed out from the station.