Berlin as the City of the Bauhaus Succession

Berlin as the City of the Bauhaus Succession

The name Bauhaus

Asked why he did not simply continue the Bauhaus in Berlin – which in the meantime had become his private school – under a different name, Mies replied in 1933, “The best thing Gropius did was to invent the name Bauhaus. I think it’s so good you shouldn’t change it.” “Bauhaus” had already long since become a kind of trademark by that time. However, not everyone understood it to mean the same thing. While for some the Bauhaus was the epitome of everything modern and progressive, the Nazis regarded the school as the epitome of cultural-bolshevist corruption and degeneration. The Bauhaus had been driven out of Weimar in 1925 and out of Dessau in 1932 under pressure from right-wing parties, and its self-dissolution in Berlin under pressure from the Nazis followed after only six months there.

The Bauhaus had ceased to exist, but the myth called “Bauhaus” lived on. It ultimately survived even the twelve years of the Nazi dictatorship, and even grew in strength during that period. In America, to which Gropius and Mies emigrated, the Bauhaus was immediately declared to be the inventor of a style – the International Style in Modernism. And what was thought to be the Bauhaus style – undecorated box architecture in colourless white, or with lots of glass – only became successful in Europe after 1945.


Walter Gropius, Interbau Apartment-Block, 1956-1957

Walter Gropius, Interbau Apartment-Block, 1956-1957

Universität der Künste, 2011
UdK: Hofseitig gelegene Kriegsruine
Die Halle der Universität der Künste Berlin mit Stellwand-Elementen eines Ausstellungssystems, 1998
Halle der Universität der Künste Berlin, 2011
Luftaufnahme des Märkischen Viertels: Wilhelmsruher Damm, Eichhorster Weg, Maarer Weg, Finsterwalder Straße (Reinickendor/ Wittenau-Nord), September 1969
Luftaufnahme von Gropiusstadt (Neukölln); 
links Bildhälfte Mitte: Hochhaus an der Wutzkyallee; rechts darüber: Hochhaus, das von Walter Gropius entworfen wurde, 8. Juli 1976
Die Kunsthochschule Berlin Weißensee, 1973
Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weißensee, 2009

Bauhaus as a starting-point

But the teaching approach used at the Bauhaus returned to the agenda again after 1945 as well – and in exactly the same place where the Bauhaus had once had to give up the struggle: in Berlin.

When one thinks of the successor institutions to the Bauhaus, one tends to think of places like Chicago, where Moholy-Nagy already founded a “New Bauhaus” in 1937, although it only survived for a year. Or one thinks of the College of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung, HfG) in Ulm, even the name of which appeals to the legacy of the (Dessau) Bauhaus, and which received a personal seal of approval from Gropius as a legitimate heir of his school. However, the internal dynamics of the HfG in Ulm led to the idea of the Bauhaus as an art school being more and more strongly criticized during the years in which it existed, from 1953 to 1968. The HfG increasingly tended to move in a different direction – towards the design of every area of life on a scientific basis.

In fact, however, there were also institutions in Berlin that attempted to take up the Bauhaus tradition once again after 1945. Berlin had in any case been the unofficial capital of modernism before 1933. Gropius and Mies had their own private architectural offices there, and Bruno Taut – although he was not a member of the Bauhaus himself – planned and built entire districts using the language of the New Architecture.

Bauhaus figures at universities (in West Germany)

As early as 1945, Max Taut – Bruno’s younger brother – was to take over as director of the Department of Architecture in the College of the Fine Arts (Hochschule für Bildende Künste, HfBK) in Berlin. When making appointments to his department, he put his trust clearly on former members of the Bauhaus – the second generation, so to speak – such as Georg Neidenberger (basic course), Eduard Ludwig (design), and Wils Ebert (urban planning). The faculty had a certain sense of mission in following on from the New Architecture. They regarded themselves (still) as something special – i.e., as architectural artists, in contrast to the engineers in the immediately adjoining Technical University. Most of the former Bauhaus students had more or less played along during the Third Reich and had somehow come through, but the honorary title “Bauhaus figures” also gave them the extra status of belonging to an order that had been persecuted by the Nazis and had continued to exist in secret in order to become a reference point for a new start, in colleges of art as well, after 1945.

Karl Otto, who like Eduard Ludwig had formerly been employed in Mies van der Rohe’s Berlin office, was appointed Director of the HfBK in 1955 after Karl Hofer’s resignation. Otto’s intention was that “the spirit of the Bauhaus, in which new ways of entering into creativity were sought, should remain alive for the training of the younger generation today as well”. In a speech given in 1963, Otto was still describing the Bauhaus as “a classic model of art education for our times” that expressed itself in the unity of applied and free art at the college. However, this alleged unity was only organizational in nature. An interdisciplinary basic course of the type aimed for by the Department of Architecture at the HfBK, shaped as it was by the Bauhaus, had by that time already been abandoned again after a brief experiment.

The spirit of the Bauhaus shapes the cityscape

However, Bauhaus figures and their intellectual allies also decisively shaped the Berlin cityscape even outside of the academy. Examples from the reconstruction period include the renovation of the destroyed main building of the HfBK on Steinplatz: Willi Claus, who was a professor there from 1945 to 1974, did not carry out a reconstruction, but only repaired it in accordance with its practical value. Even today, the interior of the historicist building offers nothing but bare, whitewashed walls.

In particular, not only the “crème de la crème” of the international architectural profession (with modernist views, of course) took part in the 1958 “Interbau”, but also a large number of HfBK professors. The Hansaviertel in Berlin, which was completely vacated and rebuilt for the “Interbau”, became a showpiece for modernist thinking. Participants regarded themselves as pointing the way to the “city of tomorrow”. An exhibition with the same name formed part of the “Interbau”. The Director of the HfBK, Karl Otto, was responsible for the show. A professor at the HfBK, Eduard Ludwig, built a small “carpet estate” consisting of five atrium buildings for the “Interbau”, which quite obviously took as its starting-point what he had learned at the Bauhaus from Mies van der Rohe and his studies on the courtyard house.

Mies himself, incidentally, was also invited to the “Interbau”. However, after a 30-centimeter high stack of German building regulations was sent to Chicago for him, he gratefully declined. Nevertheless, influential Bauhaus fans in Berlin – including the city councillor responsible for the building department at the time, Werner Düttmann – were absolutely determined to have a modern building by Mies erected in Berlin as an act of reparation, and a few years later the old master was offered an opportunity to build practically whatever he wanted. He was given a completely free hand. The result was the New National Gallery, opened in 1968 – Mies’s last work and his bequest to the city.

The rest of West Berlin’s postwar cityscape was also rebuilt in the modernist style as well, although due to reservations over property rights it was not possible to build as extensively and consistently as in the Hansaviertel. Whole estates of ribbon developments and high-rise buildings were erected that claimed reference to the Bauhaus. The Berlin Bauhaus Archive building, incidentally, is by Gropius himself; it was originally designed for Darmstadt in 1964. Only completed posthumously in a modified form in 1979, it somehow doesn’t quite suit the Berlin cityscape, however. Even today, part of the Berlin district of Neukölln still bears Gropius’s name. Social housing for around 18,000 residents was built in the “Gropiusstadt” from 1962 to 1975. In large estates like this, as in the Märkisches Viertel (1963–1974) as well, it was already the third Bauhaus generation that was at work, so to speak. These were the former students of the Bauhaus students who trained the younger generation of architects at the HfBK after the war. This generation, most of whom have now already died, was the “terminal moraine of modernism”, as the architect Georg Heinrichs once ironically described himself. Heinrichs had studied at the HfBK because of its Bauhaus legacy and later became one of the architects responsible for the Märkisches Viertel. This satellite town, which was heavily criticized even while it was still being built, represented the end point of modernism for the time being; the 1980s were already shaped by postmodernism. The name “Bauhaus” had in the meantime almost become a term of abuse.

Bauhaus East

All of the above is concerned with the influence of the Bauhaus in “Berlin (West)”, as it was officially known in the West. But the art college in Berlin-Weissensee, in the former eastern sector of the four-sector city, may perhaps be able to claim the legacy of the Bauhaus with even greater justification – and not only because former Bauhaus figures such as Theo Balden, Selman Selmanagic and Herbert Hirche taught there. Even today, the college, founded in 1946, includes a kind of joint interdisciplinary basic course for all students, interdisciplinary work in workshops, and – as when Hannes Meyer was Director of the Bauhaus – an intensive theoretical curriculum. The Mart Stam Society, as an association with a distinguished membership sponsoring the college, even today recalls in its name the shaping influence of an intellectual ally of the Bauhaus. The Dutchman (and co-inventor of the famous cantilever chair) was only briefly present at the Bauhaus as a short-term guest lecturer, but during his period of office as president beginning in 1950, he modelled the college’s curriculum on the Bauhaus. After only two years, Stam had to leave the Weissensee college again following accusations of formalism. Despite this, the Bauhaus legacy perhaps survived in Weissensee in a purer form than at any other art school in Germany.

The spirit has gone

The interdisciplinary aspect is capable of being implemented more practically at this relatively small institution, which has 650 students today, than at giant tankers such as the University of the Arts (Universität der Künste, UdK), the former HfBK. Although musical and drama training are also offered there alongside applied and free art, there are in the meantime no more traces left of the interdisciplinary spirit of the Bauhaus – particularly since the ultimate goal of all artistic activity, architecture, has now been almost invisibly incorporated into the faculty of design. The failure of the Bauhaus idea at the UdK is symptomatic, in a sense: in the mass-production system of today’s universities, the Bauhaus idea can no longer function. The name “Bauhaus” appears here at best merely as an object of historical study.


After 1945, attempts were made in Berlin (and elsewhere) to follow on from the Bauhaus, not least because it promised to offer solutions to urgent problems and a new start had to be made everywhere. The problems at least have remained, although today they are different ones. It may be instructive to recall that in comparison with today’s art schools, the Bauhaus was considerably more experimental and enjoyable. After all, the belief was that life could be improved through design.


Ronald Berg