A Study Guide to the Bauhaus

Join us on a journey through time to 1927 at the Dessau Bauhaus

By Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

Bauhaus I.D. of Arieh Sharon (1928/1929) by Bauhaus DessauBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Getting accepted

You want to go to the Bauhaus? Then show us what you’ve got. Put together a portfolio of samples of your work and send it to Mr. Gropius. He’ll decide if you have the aptitude and have earned your student card. The card in this photo, by the way, belongs to Arieh Sharon, who is already a year ahead of you (note that name – he’s going to be a major architect in Israel later on).

Documents. the bauhaus in dessau. lesson plan - Page 2 (1925) by unknown (design) Bauhaus Dessau, printing press (made) (?)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Here is an overview of everything you need for your application: 1. work samples like drawings or drafts, 2. CV, 3. Police Clearance Certificate, 4. Health Certificate, 5. Photo, 6. other certificates like diploma or Certificate of Apprenticeship, if you have.

Portrait of Hannes Meyer (1928, ca. 1990) by Lotte Collein (née Gerson)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

But you can always wait until Hannes Meyer becomes Director next year. Then the Bauhaus will be open to all students. Meyer’s fundamentally friendly attitude can be summed up as “everyone can find their place somewhere, life turns no-one down “.

Of course then it will be a bit full at the Bauhaus. In the 1929-30 winter semester there are 200 students instead of the previous 150.

Untitled (Bauhaus building, Dessau, architect Walter Gropius, view from the west with workshop wing) (1931/1932) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Your school

You’ve been accepted? Then it’s off to Dessau! The Bauhaus is just a few metres away from the railway station. Step by step you come closer to this amazing building that was only inaugurated last year, on 4 December 1926, with more than 1,000 guests from all over Germany and the world. Perhaps the city is under a blanket of fog and you feel like the journalist Nelly Schwalacher, who described her impressions like this in 1927:

Bauhaus building by night (1928/1929) by Edmund ColleinBauhaus Dessau Foundation

“Here and there uncertain rays of light penetrate the moist air. But from over there a radiant cone of light attracts the eye. A giant cube of light – the new Bauhaus building … glass, glass, and there, where walls ascend, they radiate their blinding white colour. I have never before seen such a reflector of light.”

Untitled (students of the architecture department leave for a trip from in front of the Bauhaus building, Dessau) (1932) by Albert HennigBauhaus Dessau Foundation

There is probably a horse-drawn carriage standing in front of the building. After all, there are not many cars around yet.

By the way, if you want to set out in this carriage for Greece in a few years with some of your fellow students, don’t bother taking much luggage. You will only get as far as the Harz Mountains before the horse drops dead of old age.

Dessau Bauhaus heads (from the Bauhaus photo album by Fritz Schreiber) (1931/32) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Student digs

As a first semester student you needn’t bother even applying for one of the 28 residential studios in the Prellerhaus. The Masters' Council decides on a semester-by-semester basis who can live there, und that will usually be students in the higher semesters and young masters. So to begin with, find yourself somewhere as a sub-let. A little tip – we know from your fellow student Marianne Brandt that the carpet in the gymnasium in the Bauhaus building is used by hard-up students as a place to sleep. There are showers there too.

Work plan for the wood workshop (1925) by Bauhaus DessauBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Student jobs

Money is a problem for many of your fellow students. But for Gropius, too, as it happens. He is constantly battling to steer the Bauhaus through financial crises. Fortunately you can earn a little bit extra while you’re studying – if you design something that industry is interested in, you get a share of the royalties (see the last paragraph in the carpentry work plan).

Untitled (Bauhauslers on the shore of the Elbe, including: Hinnerk Scheper, K. Wiegand, Ernst Neufert, Marcel Breuer, Herbert Bayer, Xanti Schawinsky, László Moholy-Nagy) (1921-05-21) by Irene Angela Bayer (née Hecht)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Marcel Breuer, for instance, has designed the famous tubular steel furniture. After his exam he got a job in the carpentry workshop, and became head of carpentry after 1925 as a young master. And Hinnerk Scheper (above, left), who is now the head of the wall painting department, was once a student at the Bauhaus ...

... just like Herbert Bayer (below, second from left), the head of the print and advertising workshop. Remember that: there’ll be one or two jobs in the Bauhaus when you’ve finished your course as well.

The masters of the Bauhaus (after 1926) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Your teachers

Life drawing with Paul Klee, painting with Wassily Kandinsky, practical building with Walter Gropius – your grandchildren will still be envying you for all this. Maybe one of these gentlemen will even invite you into his Master House and you’ll be able to sit on the terrace with your idol. With a teacher-student ratio of 1:15, there is at any rate plenty of opportunity to get to know the great masters better – and that is part of the plan.

Walter Gropius in front of his home in Dessau (1926/27) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

In his 1919 manifesto Gropius was already calling for the “cultivation of friendly intercourse between Masters and students outside work, with theatre, lectures, poetry, music, fancy dress parties and the establishment of a sense of light-hearted ceremony in these gatherings.” A propos fancy dress parties!

Untitled (Bauhauslers on the shore of the Elbe near Dessau) (1925) by Irene Angela Bayer (née Hecht)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Parties

You’ve probably already heard of the legendary parties. There are a lot of parties at the Bauhaus! Spontaneous ones like this one on the beach, or ones that are planned well in advance like the big fancy dress parties, each with its own theme and planned well ahead under the leadership of Oskar Schlemmer.

Bauhaus stage. Pantomime 'Treppenwitz' by Oskar Schlemmer (1927) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Schlemmer also uses these public parties as a kind of trial run for his stage workshop.

Untitled (Konrad Püschel and Hilde Katz dressed for the Metal Party) (1929-02-09) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Even if you have already missed one or two of these amazing parties, don’t worry – the best is yet to come. The Metallic Party is going to be the absolute pinnacle of all Bauhaus parties. Save the date: 9 February 1929!

I can tell you this much already – there will be silver globes hanging from the ceilings, and the walls will be hung with metal. The guests will enter the party rooms on a slide made of tin sheet ….

Cabinetmaking workshop. Kaminski, Levedag, Bayer, Groß, Decker, Meyer-Waldeck, Bücking, Hassenpflug (students of the cabinetmaking workshop on the canteen terrace) (ca. 1928) by Konrad PüschelBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Training

Weaving carpets, printing posters or making furniture all day in the workshop – this is not how you may have imagined studying at the avant-garde school of design and architecture. But Gropius has big things in mind for you; he wants you to grow into “a new type of employee for industry and craftsman trades who masters technique and form in equal measure.”

Ruth Hollos on loom in self-woven dress (1931/32) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

This means that you, like everyone else at the Bauhaus, must complete an apprenticeship in a trade and later take a journeyman examination with the local Chamber of Crafts.

But the workshops are not just there to train you; they are there for production as well. The Bauhaus earns its money from the prototypes produced here for industry, and from the advertising posters, carpets and lamps.

You need the Bauhaus (1928) by Margaretha (Grete) ReichardtBauhaus Dessau Foundation

There is sometimes immense pressure in the workshops, as your fellow student Margaretha Reichardt criticises in this collage.

Aside from all the many contract orders – “is there any time left over for experimenting?”

The Transformation of Women's Fashion (1925) by UnknownKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The Vorkurs

But before you are assigned to a workshop, you have to do the foundation course: called Vorkurs. That lasts two semesters and is compulsory for everyone. Don’t be alarmed if the teacher Josef Albers gives you an old newspaper in the first session and tells you to “make more out of it than is there yet at the moment. I would also like you to respect the material and form it sensibly taking account of its characteristics. If you can do that without using aids such as a knife, scissors or glue, then so much the better. Have fun!”

Study from Josef Albers' preliminary course. Folded and striated paper (ca. 1926) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

But please don’t just cobble together an aeroplane or a boat! It’s best to fold the newspaper lengthways so that the paper can stand on its narrowest side, the edge – and that is how your teacher will know that you have understood the material (it doesn’t even need to be an artistic bit of folding like the ‘Grätenfaltung’ in this foundation course study).

Study from Josef Albers' . Material study. A single and a double paper sphere (ca. 1926) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

During the foundation course (you have to go through math, physics, and performing geometry, too) the teacher will let you experiment with all sorts of different materials. He finds that trying things out takes precedence over studying – and that brings us to our next topic …

Class with Alcar Rudelt, with students of the building department in front of the Bauhaus. From l. to r.: Heinz Nowag, Ernst Hegel, Hans Bellmann, Fritz Schreiber, Albert Kahmke, Alcar Rudelt (1932-05) by Stella SteynBauhaus Dessau Foundation

New methods

No exam stress, no marks, and if you don’t want to do an assignment there are no repercussions – sounds good? In fact, the Bauhaus is revolutionising not only design and architecture but also and first and foremost teaching. ‘Learning by doing’ and ‘trial and error’ are two maxims applied to the method of training. And what’s more, care is taken from the very beginning to see that you develop your skills by working on actual projects. Boring it is not.

"young people, come to the bauhaus!" (Double page from a Bauhaus advertising brochure) (1929) by Hannes Meyer (design)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

But it does make demands on your motivation and discipline. As guest teacher Hanns Riedel notes here, studying at the Bauhaus requires not just talent but also strength of character.

Untitled (Elsa Franke and an unknown person, smoking in the Bauhaus Dessau) (undated (1929/1931)) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Being a woman

You are a woman and have no interest at all in textiles? Then it doesn’t look good for you at the moment, because women are mostly packed off to the weaving shop after the foundation course – they are not thought to be up to much. Only a few of your female fellow students have managed to gain admittance to other workshops, and have been more successful there than some of their male fellow students. I’m thinking of Alma Buscher in the carpentry workshop and Marianne Brandt in the metal workshop, for example.

Untitled (students on the terrace of the Bauhaus building, Dessau, behind the canteen. From l. to r.: Moses Bahelfer, Hilde Reiss, unknown, Jean Weinfeld, Selman Selmanagic, unknown) (1931) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. When you have completed your foundation course in a year’s time, Hannes Meyer will be the Director, and he will actually put the equality of opportunity that Gropius once just talked about into practice. Then you will be able to choose your own workshop – and will even be admitted for architecture (inconceivable under Gropius!).

Then, along with Hilde Reis (pictured here), you would be one of the first female architecture students at the Bauhaus.

Bauatelier Gropius (Gropius architecture studio with Kurt Stolp, Hermann Bunzel and Hermann Trinkaus) (1927/1928) by Edmund ColleinBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Architecture

In fact you really can study architecture at the Bauhaus from 1 April 1927 – and that’s no April fool‘s joke. Until then, the Bauhaus did not have its own building department and all building commissions were carried out by Gropius’ firm in Berlin …

Untitled (Bauhaus building, Dessau, architect Walter Gropius, southwest view) (1931/1932) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

... such as the school building in Dessau.

Sharon, Rosel Berger (portrait of Arieh Sharon in the Bauhaus building, Rosa Berger in the background) (ca. 1928) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

The course in architecture lasts nine semesters and finishes with a diploma. Arieh Sharon – remember? we were looking at his student card at the beginning – will be one of the first students in the building department. When he graduates on 27 November 1929 his Bauhaus diploma will bear the number 6.

High jump in front of the Bauhaus (Prellerhaus) (1931) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Sport

You like doing sport – and so you are completely in line with the health trend of your time, with the healthy, active human being as the ideal of the ‘physical culture movement’? You will have plenty of opportunity for movement and exercise. True, sport is not introduced as an official teaching subject until 1928 by Hannes Meyer, but sports teachers are already being appointed now. They are not always needed – you can of course always play football or handball, go running or swim in the nearby Elbe …

Untitled (Bauhauslers on the shore of the Elbe) (1925-05-21) by Irene Angela Bayer (née Hecht)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

… stand synchronously on one leg …

Untitled (Bauhauslers on the shore of the Elbe near Dessau, among them: Marcel Breuer and Richard Paulick) (1925-05-21) by Irene Angela Bayer (née Hecht)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

… or simply just relax with your fellow students at any time.

Untitled (Preservation of Kind - Love. Studies on the theme Man and Environment, elements of a design theory, sketches for own class) (1931/1932) by Joost SchmidtBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Love

Perhaps you will discover not just your passion for design but also for another person at the Bauhaus. It is not unlikely. A lot of couples have already got together here. By the end, at least 70 couples will have come out of the Bauhaus – not to mention the countless love affairs.

Untitled (profile portrait of Lou Scheper (?)) (ca. 1929) by Erich KrauseBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Perhaps you’ll be lucky and find your soul mate, someone who will complement and inspire you in your life as well as in your art. Perhaps you’ll be even luckier, and your love will last a lifetime. Like it will for Lou (pictured here) and Hinnerk Scheper. Or Anni and Josef Albers.

Beach tableau (myself with Lena Meyer-Bergner) (1931) by Hannes MeyerBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Later on, the textile workshop student Lena Bergner and Bauhaus Director Hannes Meyer will have an ever-closer relationship as well.

Lena will become Meyer’s wife and follow him to Moscow and Mexico.

Four intertwined people (Bauhauslers on the terrace of the Bauhaus canteen with Hermann "Sven" Gautel (top) and Hin Bredendieck (bottom)) (ca. 1929) by Erich KrauseBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Community

Even if you don’t find your great love, you will not be lonely at the Bauhaus! As your fellow student Pius Pahl will later say about his time as a student at the Bauhaus, “Bauhaus people feel that they are part of the Bauhaus in the same way as monks may feel themselves part of their monastery.” And Herbert Bayer remembers “a unifying atmosphere – the spirit of a group in which each individual actively participated in exploring the new (...) Group spirit dominated our thoughts and feelings, our life and our work.“

Well, that’s enough theory. Now it’s time to take the plunge into this very special community – and write design history!

Read more about Bauhaus Design
Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Cornelia Jeske

Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

www.bauhaus-dessau.de

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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