Thursday, 14 May 2009

Weimar Redux Three

Boy, watching rehearsals exhausted me. There's a big power struggle going on now between the troupes in Weimar and in the much bigger neighbor, Erfurt. Weimar is afraid that its bigger, duller neighbor is going to move for a merger of the two troupes, leaving the smaller city out in the cold. Weimar finds this merger talk particularly unsettling on the eve of our year in the sun as the Cultural Capital of Europe. We'll see."

We got into his VW, and he pulled away carefully,"I want you begin where the Bauhaus ended. When the provincial government got tired of their unreasonable "artistic" personalities, they decided to split for Dessau, about two hours by train on the way to Berlin. It's a small lovely stube with an outdoor terrace overlooking the Ilm River which runs through Weimar. The small village is called Oberweimar."

As he slowed down to park, he pointed to a barracksy-looking apartment complex. "That's DDRchitecture. We call it narchitecture it's so ugly. But notice the one on the left is being 'restored'. Not as ugly as the derelict one next to it. Eh? There's a lot of that "saving" going on in Weimar these days. A dozen years of Nazi architecture plus almost fifty more of socialist good works have left us with a big mess. That is why Kohl felt it was so important to get Weimar the Cultural Capital focus on Goethe's 250th birthday. We've got to show ourselves in the East that the long term disaster is not necessarily permanent."

The house we entered suddenly became a noisy neighborhood bar, with a local brew advertising itself with a lounging Goethe downing a long draft. "Guten Abend, Christiane. Ich habe eine Reporter von San Francisco wer Bauhaus liebt. Can we sit in the corner table if it's free?" The amiable grandmotherly type replied, "Ja, naturlich, Herr Lehmann. Follow me." And she threaded her way carefully through the joyfully carousing tables full of people in work clothes, relaxing after a hard day somewhere nearby.

She took us to the far left corner of the room where a curving Jugendstil bench was to be our prize. I only reluctantly sat down, the patterned wood was such a joy to my eyes. On the two walls forming the corner were old framed photos, except for one gloriously inscribed image, BAUHAUS ABENDE!

"You love the Bauhaus, Jake?" Christian pointed at the photos."Well, now you can relive the last sorrowful moments of the Bauhaus in Weimar." There was a copy of the invitation to that two day bash for the 28th and 29th of March, 1925. LETZER TANZE it read, with a small notice that there would be a lottery where the luckiest dancers could get a Feininger, a Klee, a Kandisky--"und anderes"--some classy dancing! For a measly five Reichsmarks. And there was more. A run through of Oskar Schlemmers' "META" Ausfuhrung, complete with his saucily geometric costumes. The amateur actors posed stiffly with their signs LUSTKRAFT, HOCHPUNKT, among others. What a sad and thrilling night that must have been.

"Heh, it must have been a crowded dance floor," I parried, wondering how those happy Kunstlers could ever have moved at all in this crowded room. "Oh no," Christian explained, "Their Ball Saal was next door. It's now been demoted to a lowly floor installing service." Frau Klostermann handed us menus, where I was distracted from ordering by reading the history of the house.

Her great-grandfather had opened it in 1914. They modernized it in 1993--but kept the old World War I furniture. "I'm glad they didn't furnish it with Bauhaus stuff. I can't imagine myself enjoying getting loaded on a Marcel Breuer bent aluminum stool." "Granted," Chris smiled, "Most modern chairs were meant to be looked at not sat on." "You can say that again," I added, "When I went to the Basel Art Fair last year, I took their free shuttle out to the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein. They have a modern chair Hall of Fame next to the factory, and I swear of the 84 winners I wouldn't sit on but ten of them. I'm of the painfully acquired opinion that every chair, modern or not, must be judged a posteriori, by putting one judging rear end on some designer's fantasy."

"Let's get down to business, Jake. I want you to see some architectural students from the Bauhaus Uni who have rented an apartment to finish their diploma projects. They're a lively bunch. Some of them are even beautiful. And, of course, they're eager to carry on the Bauhaus traditions in their own sweet ways." I looked dumbly at the menu, with nary a word in English. "Can we start with a beer while I try to psych out this SPEISEKARTE. What the hell is that?" "Easy, speise for 'eats', karte for "'card'. At McDonald's you'd call it a menu! Why don't you try the Soljanka soup--only the Russian name is a relic of the DDR times--it's a German translation of Borscht which really tastes more like wild game soup. I think they recycle their old meat and veggies in making it. And the Radeberg goulash has local dumplings you'll love. Everybody goes for that local dish."

"You said Bauhaus Uni. I take OO-KNEE is kraut for University."

"Yessir. Just another big of Denglish, a sometimes confusing German/English blend. Clipped is faster, faster is Amerikanischer. So crime shows on TV are Krimis and prominent celebrities are Promis and professionals are Profis. The professors hate it, but they whine in vain."

"And there's still a Bauhaus?"

He laughed, "No, that's a recent aberration. There's are hundreds of so-called Hochschule in Germany competing for students and budgets. And what's a run down old East German village (there are only 60,000 people here when the wind is blowing off Buchenwald in our direction) to do. Sell its past: Goethe and Schiller in the early 19th century, Lizst and his retinue in the middle, and nutty Nietzsche at the end. And there's the splendid Belgian Henrik van der Velde, who was a kind of forerunner of the Staatliches Bauhaus (and in my humble non-professional opinion a much greater architect--you must see the buildings he made in the early twentieth century, the Bauhaus teaches in one and is restoring the other--and his villas, much the best architecture in all of Thuringia).

Anyway a few years ago a few hot shot academic administrators resurrected the Bauhaus name. It was a smart, if cynical, move. For one thing, they get a lot of Bauhaus schmoozers to come and lecture for peanuts. If you're here for a few days there's a really tasty architect/historian from Leicester, England coming to lecture on the Alvar Aalto centennial."

"Tell me, Christian, how come you speak such street English? You sure didn't learn it like most Germans by taking BBC courses."

"Right you are, Jake. I was exchange student in Detroit when was a junior in high school. Kingswood Academy in Cranbrook, a ritzy suburb North of Detroit. That's where I picked up my passion for architecture. Do you know the stuff of Eliel Saarinen?"

"Sure do. I'm a fanatic for his son Eero's work."

"Ho, ho. General Motors Tech Center. Dulles Airport. TWA Terminal. Milwaukee Art Museum. There's one son who knew what his father was doing."

"And that explains the mysterious Canadian 'eh' in your speech? Went slumming in Windsor, eh?"

"Eggactly. And how is the Soljanka? To judge from your slurping, it appears agreeable."

"Beats Campbells by a mile. And the goulash could be Budapest's best. And those dumplings are strangely delicious. I should have been a peasant, if this is how they ate."

"I take that as UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER from the Burger Kingdom."

"Ratified. But remember I'm no fast foodnik. I'm from San Francisco.

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