Bauhaus, whose literal meaning in German is “building-house”, has become a generic term for the aesthetically functional designs that emerged from the art and design school at Dessau. The Bauhaus movement began with the Novembergruppe, founded in 1918 by Expressionist painter Max Pechstein to utilize art for revolutionary purposes. Members included Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Emil Nolde, Eric Mendelssohn and architect Walter Gropius. In 1919 Gropius was invited by Germany‘s new republican government to oversee the amalgamation of the School of Arts and Crafts and the Academy of Fine Arts in Weimar into the Staatliche Bauhaus Weimar. The new institution was to break down barriers between art and craft, creating a new form of applied art. It attracted over two hundred students who studied typography, furniture design, ceramics, wood-, glass- and metalworking under exponents like Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and László Moholy-Nagy.

Financial problems and opposition from the conservative administration in Weimar eventually forced a relocation to Dessau, chosen because, as home to a number of modern industrial concerns, notably an aeroplane factory and a chemical works, it could provide financial and material support. Dessau’s Bauhausgebäude, designed by Gropius and inaugurated on December 4, 1926, is one of the movement’s classic buildings. Towards the end of the 1920s, the staff and students of the Bauhaus school became increasingly embroiled in the political battles of the time. As a result, Gropius was pressurized into resigning by the authorities and replaced by Swiss architect Hannes Meyer. He, in turn, was dismissed in 1930 because of the increasingly left-wing orientation of the school. His successor Ludwig Mies van der Rohe tried to establish an apolitical atmosphere, but throughout the early 1930s Dessau’s Nazi town councillors called for an end to Bauhaus subsidies. Their efforts finally succeeded in 1932, forcing the school to close and relocate to a disused telephone factory in more liberal Berlin. However, after the Nazis came to power, police harassment reached such a pitch that in 1933, Mies van der Rohe decided to shut up shop for good. He and many of the staff and students subsequently went into exile in the USA, where they helped found a successor movement known as the International Style.

24 hours of Bauhaus

If you’re in Dessau on a Bauhaus pilgrimage, be sure to pick up a 24-hour ticket (€15) at the Bauhausgebäude. It gets you into all Bauhaus buildings open to the public and on all tours of them within a 24-hour period. Complete the experience by dining at the Bauhaus Mensa or the Kornhaus and sleep in the Prellerhaus, the school’s former student accommodation .

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