Berlin Stories and Tips

A Distinguished Silhouette over the Landwehrkanal

Last year when I visited Berlin on a 4 day trip, the Bauhaus-Archive Museum was one of the great museums in the city I chose to visit. The museum is situated by the Landwehrkanal which runs parallel to the River Spree in Berlin.

The building is one of Walter Gropius' later designs who was the founder of the Bahaus movement. It was built from 1976 to 1979 in Berlin on the flattest piece of land near the canal. The design is similar to the building that had already been built in Darmstadt. Gropius had always wanted his work to be admired in the city of Berlin. The distinguished silhouette of the building is admirable indeed but once inside the building it is a different story. The inside of the museum is very unpretentious and I felt as though I was going back to my youth and walking through the rooms on the lower floor of my secondary school. The building definitely has an institutional feel to it.

The museum now in Berlin is the home of the largest collection and covers the entire spectrum of all the activities involved with this movement. Some of the designs that most people will recognise are the ones of chairs, buildings, tea pots and office furniture. These have travelled world wide and are still popular today.

Collections
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I'll start with the collection of art as this is the field I am most interested in. Having walked through the entrance and paid our admission fee, I was undecided as where to look first. There is a vast mixture of drawings, collages, watercolours and sculptures displayed in this area. Some works are from the great masters themselves - others are the works of their students. The collection of work in this area is quite a sombre one. It doesn't shout out at you and say,'Look at me!' Most of the work displayed on paper is quite old and frayed around the edges. Many of the drawings are sketches and rough sketches at that. They could be interpreted as naive but are fascinating in the way single angular lines and shapes are the beginnings of contemporary pieces of furniture, lamps and buildings.

Of all the artists work on display I think Wassily Kandinsky's is my favourite. Probably because the Russian born artist's work is vibrant and busting with colour and does shout at you. Although he was influenced by the Impressionist movement he went his own way and experimented with lots of different styles. He started to add a blob here and there, a straight or a curved line would be added with a palette knife but everything would blend in on the canvas to add a sense of harmony. He is known as the founder of abstract art and in his earlier years participted in several different movements and later joined the Bahaus School.

Another section that I found intersting was the collection of commercial work. Having always been interested in marketing and had to do a lot of my own in my earlier days I was fascinated by the early samples of posters, forms of lettering and different ideas used for advertising products of the time.

Georg Muche was a character of great interest and there are several exhibits of his work on show in the museum. His main creative interest was weaving and he was asked to join the Bahaus School by Klee and Gropier. He set up and was in charge of the weaving workshop and was responsible for the Experimental House along with Marcel Breur. He became very influential in the architectural study group and produced the original Stahlhaus at Dessau - Torten which was a prototype for the ideal of inexpensive homes suitable for one family, built of pre-fabricated steel pieces welded on a metal frame. Although not a prolific artist most of his prints were very experimental and influenced by artists such as Marc Chagall and Paul Klee. His use of colour was usually in blocks with the odd geometrical shape forming patterns in the forefront of the painting.

The workshop area is very interesting and I think actually was my favourite part of the museum. I remember the room being packed to the brim with exhibits. The room was far to small to display everything. The collection takes us through every Bahaus period and displays all products made either by hand or prototypes for mass production. A lot of the simple pieces of furniture, lamps, chairs, ceramics and items made from metal, are easily recognisable in furniture shops today.

Famous pieces such as Marcel Breuer's Wassily Chair which was the first bent tubular steel chair. This design has been copied many times and are sold in most contemporary furniture shops all over the world. It is a classic piece of furniture. He also designed the Laccio Nested table set which is a lounge table made from tubular steel with a laminated top. It is versatile because not only is there one long table but a smaller table nesting over the top. Very simple, very clever and exhibits an aesthetic tecnique. Cesca chairs are also his design and are probably the most popular of the cantilever chairs. Cantilever chairs are a very simplistic design made from metal tubing and have no back legs.

Apart from furniture there are accessories like lamps including the famous Bahaus table lamp designed by Wilhem Wagenfield in 1924 which is a famous icon and has been copied and changed over the years but most offce lamps today are made from the original design. This is my favourite design of lamp as it is so versatile - it can be moved in lots of directions, is elegant although slightly industrial looking. Other works from the texile workshop are on display including ceramics and kitchen utensils made from metal.

The collection of works in the architecture section covers approximately two hundred works from all the courses taught during the Bahaus movement. The topics covered are technical study, study of ground plans and interior decoration. Most of the work is documented by photographs, documented sheets and a row of architectural models. The most important model is the one of the Bahaus building in Dessau which was built in 1925. I do love architecture and am partialled to a Bahaus building which there are many distributed throughout the world. This section was very interesting especially the simplistic drawings.

Now we move on to the photography section which is also very exciting as most of the work displayed is from the twenties and thirties. One of the photographers work I really like is Walter Paterhans who was a German photographer and taught at the Bahaus School. All his photographs are a work of art and depict great beauty. He used his camera to illustrate the expressions of the times, experimenting with methods of composition. He loved taking snapshots of everyday things and loved to photograph objects in the form of still lifes. There are photographs of architecture also and portraits.

On the top floor of the museum is the library and it is accessible to everyone. The special collection covers all aspects of Bahaus life documenting art, architecture, photography, with the main focus on the twenties. There is a wonderful selection of old and modern magazines.

When you have finished your visit to the museum don't forget to call into the shop where you can buy copies of some of the famous icons and designs from the Bahaus lamp to one of Aalto's vases. All items are beautifully displayed on stacked glass shelving which are immaculate. Sales from the shop help to finance the museum and contributes to the printing and publishing of magazines, and also towards the acquisition of other Bahaus works which are exhibited in other parts of the world.

There is a Bahaus cafe which is fitted out with Bahaus design tables and chairs, of course. We did stop and have a cup of coffee because I wanted to sit on one of the cantilever chairs just for fun. The cafe was quite busy and reminded me of my student days as it definitely had a 'university feel' to it. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, basic snacks and cakes are on offer and in the summer there is a terrace where you can sit out and look at the canal.

I had waited a long time to visit the Bahaus museum and although I really enjoyed it I wasn't as impressed with it as I thought I would have been. The museum building itself is a fantastic design but seemed very jaded on the outside and weather damage was beginning to take its toll. So repairs are definitely needed there. Inside, it was like a huge institution and was very silent which I found a bit off-putting.

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