SHARE
COPY LINK

NAZIS

Inside Weimar’s new politically charged Bauhaus museum

The Bauhaus design school, which transformed the way people around the world live, work and dream of the future, marks its centenary this week with the launch of a politically charged German museum.

Inside Weimar's new politically charged Bauhaus museum
The new Bauhaus museum in Weimar. Photo: DPA

Founded on April 1st, 1919 during the rocky period between the world wars and finally driven out by the Nazis, Bauhaus still has the power to inspire and divide in today's own turbulent era.

The sprawling museum in Bauhaus's birthplace of Weimar, a small city 250 kilometres southwest of Berlin, will open to the public Saturday and display the classics of its less-is-more, form-follows-function aesthetic.

SEE ALSO: Iconic creations of Bauhaus designs, 100 years on

The inauguration of the minimalist temple housing the world's oldest Bauhaus collection comes just weeks ahead of European elections and six months before a key poll in Weimar's state of Thuringia.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) looks poised to make strong gains in each vote.

“Of course you can't see this opening separate from its political context,” Wolfgang Holler, director of Weimar's museums, told AFP.

Inside the new museum. Photo: DPA

“Bauhaus was, from the very beginning, intensely political. And so it's a perfect place to start a conversation, especially with young people.”

Faces of camp survivors

Weimar selected a highly symbolic design and location for the building.

German architect Heike Hanada placed her concrete cube just outside the picturesque old town where literary giants Goethe and Schiller cemented the small city's elevated place in Germany's cultural landscape.

The €22.6 million museum is framed on one side by a recreational space created under the inter-war Weimar Republic, Germany's ill-fated first experiment with democracy.

SEE ALSO: How Bauhaus designed the world as we know it

On another side is a model housing block built under East Germany's communists.

Crucially, the Bauhaus Museum Weimar stands opposite the former Gauforum, a U-shaped colossus built by the Nazis to house, among other things, administrative offices for their slave labour programme.

“I was able to achieve my main goal, which was for the museum to be able to stand up to the Nazi architecture in the neighbourhood,” Hanada told the daily Thüringer Allgemeine.

“It becomes plain here what happens when you heedlessly run after certain ideologies,” Holler said. “These fascinating juxtapositions say so much about how this country sees itself.”

This week, Weimar hung larger-than-life contemporary photographs of survivors of the Nazis' former Buchenwald concentration camp, whose memorial can be seen in the distance through a specially-placed picture window on the museum's top floor.

The haunting images of the now elderly faces line the road from the main train station to the museum.

The photographer Thomas Müller with a portrait of a survivor of Buchenwald concentration camp. Photo: DPA

Photographer Thomas Müller said they were also meant to challenge the AfD, whose co-leader Alexander Gauland has called the Nazi era a “speck of bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history”.

“Especially in view of the Thuringia election, we have got to deal with our history responsibly,” Mueller told German radio.

'Ahead of their time'

The Bauhaus school, which counted Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky and Swiss-born surrealist Paul Klee among its proponents, had at its core the idea of making beautiful, practical design accessible to the masses.

The museum traces how founder Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, deemed subversive by the then ultra-right government in Weimar, were forced to move east to Dessau then to Berlin before the Nazis ran them out of Germany for good.

SEE ALSO: 'Rethinking the world': Bauhaus celebrates 100 years

Bauhaus's acolytes ended up sowing seeds wherever they landed, from Tel Aviv to Chicago. Today, everything from iPhones to Ikea furniture bear the mark of its keep-it-simple tenets.

Most observers have praised Hanada's boxy museum design as a worthy tribute to the Bauhaus look.

However some have criticized the elimination of a glass facade, which they say gives the building an unfortunate resemblance to a wartime bunker.

“Some have even compared it to the Wolf's Lair,” Hitler's Eastern Front headquarters, Holler admitted.

The museum is nearly ready to open to the public. Photo: DPA

“But we wanted something that would say, 'We aren't cowering away — we're making our presence felt'.”

The exhibition, expected to draw 100,000 visitors a year, includes icons such as Marcel Breuer's tubular steel and leather chairs, Marianne Brandt's whimsically angular teapots, and a multicoloured circles-and-triangles cradle by Peter Keller.

It ultimately aims to examine why Hitler saw such a dangerous enemy in Bauhaus, and how it became one of the few cherished German legacies from the early 20th century.

“You learn here how hard it can be for those who are ahead of their time,” Holler said.

By Deborah Cole

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

NAZIS

German justice contaminated by Nazis in post-war years

Germany's justice system was still filled with former Nazis well into the 1970s, as the Cold War coloured efforts to root out fascists, according a damning official inquiry presented Thursday.

Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report
Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report "State Security in the Cold War". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

In the 600-page collection of findings entitled “State Security in the Cold War”, historian Friedrich Kiessling and legal scholar Christoph Safferling focused on the period from the early 1950s until 1974.

Their research found that between 1953 and 1959, around three in four top officials at the federal prosecutor’s office, which commissioned the report, had belonged to the Nazi party.

More than 80 percent had worked in Adolf Hitler’s justice apparatus, and it would take until 1972 before they were no longer in the majority.

“On the face of it they were highly competent lawyers… but that came against the backdrop of the death sentences and race laws in which they were involved,” said Margaretha Sudhof, state secretary at the justice ministry, unveiling the report.

“These are disturbing contradictions to which our country has long remained blind.”

‘Combat mission’

It was not until 1992, two years after Germany’s national reunification, that the last prosecutor with a fascist background left the office.

“There was no break, let alone a conscious break, with the Nazi past” at the federal prosecutor’s office, the authors concluded, stressing “the great and long continuity” of the functions held and “the high number” of officials involved in Hitler’s regime.

Chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank commissioned the study in 2017. The federal prosecutor’s office is one of Germany’s most powerful institutions, handling the most serious national security cases including those involving terrorism and espionage.

With more than 100 prosecutors, it is “the central actor in the fight against terror,” the report authors said, underlining its growing role in the decades since the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the United States.

The researchers were given unfettered access to hundreds of files labelled classified after the war, and found that rooting out alleged communists was often prioritised over other threats, including from the far right.

“In the 1950s the federal prosecutor’s office had a combat mission – not a legal but a political one: to pursue all the communists in the country,” the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said in a summary of the report.

‘Recycling’ Nazis

The fact that West Germany widely used former officials from the Nazi regime in its post-war administration had long been known.

For example, Hans Globke served as chief of staff and a trusted confidant to former conservative West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer between 1953 and 1963 and was responsible for recruitment to top posts.

However, Globke had also been a senior civil servant in the Nazi-era interior ministry and was involved in the drafting of the 1935 Nuremberg race laws that imposed the first dramatic restrictions on Jews.

In recent years, systematic digging into the past of key ministries and institutions has unearthed a troubling and previously hidden degree of “recycling” of Third Reich officials in the post-war decades.

A 2016 government report revealed that in 1957, more than a decade after the war ended, around 77 percent of senior officials at the justice ministry had been members of the Nazi party. That study, also carried out by Safferling, revealed that the number of former Nazis at the ministry did not decline after the fall of the regime but actually grew in the 1950s.

Part of the justification was cynical pragmatism: the new republic needed experienced civil servants to establish the West German justice system. Furthermore, the priorities of the Allies who won the war and “liberated” the country from the Nazis were quickly turned upside down in the Cold War context.

After seeking to de-Nazify West Germany after 1945, the aim quickly shifted to building a capitalist bulwark against the communist threat. That approach often meant turning a blind eye to Germans’ previous involvement in the Third Reich.

In recent years, Germany has embarked on a twilight attempt to provide justice for concentration camp victims, placing several former guards in their 90s on trial for wartime crimes.

SHOW COMMENTS