Otti Berger was a Croatian designer whose artistic and creative potential had, to a great extent, been shaped by the Textile workshop of the Bauhaus. She was born in 1898 in Zmajevac, in the region of Baranya, which at that time was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Due to the fact that in some documents Zmajevac is listed by its Hungarian name – Vörösmart, she is often regarded as a Hungarian artist.
Having completed the Collegiate School for Girls in Vienna she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts and Artistic Crafts in Zagreb which she attended from 1922 to 1926, following which she went to Bauhaus in Dessau. At the beginning of 1927 she officially enrolled in a course of studies where she first took part in Vorkurs - the preparatory course, with Lászlo Mohloy-Nagy, and the lectures given by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.
Next she enrolled in the Textile workshop from which she graduated in 1930. In the autumn of 1931, at the recommendation of Gunta Stölzl, the incumbent Head of the Bauhaus Weaving workshop, she took over from her. Although Otti Berger led the said Workshop independently, and was performing all the pedagogic, production and practical segments of the educational programme, she was never given the official appointment. The new director, Mies van der Rohe, entrusted the management of the Textile workshop to designer Lilly Reich, while Otti Berger became her deputy. Based on her experience as a former student of Bauhaus, as an experienced textile designer with in-depth knowledge of the needs of industry, her aims being new solutions, she had - in the course of her work with students - developed her own curriculum. In 1932 she left the Bauhaus and opened her own “Atelier for Textile” in Berlin, and established successful cooperation with numerous textiles companies which were producing materials based on her innovative solutions. In 1936 she was banned from working in Germany due to her Jewish origins, and was forced to close her company down.
It was in that period that the majority of the Bauhaus professors, including her fiancée Ludwig Hilberseimer, managed to obtain visas and leave for America. Otti Berger tried to do the same because in 1938 László Moholy-Nagy invited her to join the New Bauhaus in Chicago. Looking for work and waiting for the visa she had spent several brief periods in London. Her mother’s sickness, the inability to find work in England (she did not speak the language, was of impaired hearing, with no friends – for the English she was a German), in 1938 she came back to Zmajevac. Sadly, in April of 1944 she was deported to Auschwitz together with her family, and she died there.
Text by: Antonija Mlikota, Professor at the Art History Department at the University of Zadar, Croatia