With its emphasis on functionality and affordability, Germany’s Bauhaus took the world by storm in 1919 when the art school embraced a revolutionary philosophy of holistic design.
The university was founded by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar, a central German city revered at the time for its progressive cultural and intellectual renaissance. Born out of a post–World War I Europe that was simultaneously in tatters and at the cusp of a new industrial age, the Bauhaus aimed to join painters, carpenters, textile workers, and other artists in a future where ordinary objects—home appliances, toys, furniture, even apartment complexes—would be transformed into practical and beautiful tools accessible to all. In his 1919 Bauhaus Manifesto, Gropius wrote: “This world of mere drawing and painting . . . must at long last become a world that builds.”
In the 100 years since the school first opened, legendary creators such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Kahn, Charles and Ray Eames, and Steve Jobs have trailed in the Bauhaus’s footsteps, following the school’s driving ideology that practical items shouldn’t be considered too base for beautiful design. This founding philosophy gave rise to what became one of the most influential design movements of the 20th century, but not without a struggle.
The rise of a radical design movement
Gropius might have permanently located the Bauhaus in Weimar, but the school’s unorthodox approach to art and its forward-thinking instructors drew criticism from Germany’s right-wing government. In 1924, Weimar’s political leaders slashed the school’s budget in half, forcing Gropius to move the Bauhaus to the nearby industrial city of Dessau.
Eight years later, the school of art and design would again relocate—this time to Berlin—in the hopes of quelling criticism from the Nazis. But the last-ditch effort proved futile: One year later, in 1933, the German government forced the school’s closure. Gropius, along with many of his Bauhaus peers, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Breuer, Josef Albers, and László Moholy-Nagy, soon left Germany altogether. The Bauhaus only operated for 14 years. But in many ways, the institution’s influence blossomed after it shuttered, causing the leading thinkers of the art and design movement to emigrate around the world with their philosophy. Throughout 2019, Germany is paying homage to the hugely influential movement with a year-long centennial celebration that includes Bauhaus-themed exhibitions, events, and even new museums. Here’s how to follow Germany’s Bauhaus trail in honor of the 100th anniversary.
The beginnings of Bauhaus in Weimar
A modern-day Bauhaus pilgrimage begins in Weimar, where the city’s brand-new Bauhaus Museum opens on April 6. Tracing the movement’s Weimar years from 1919 through 1924, the five-floor museum will showcase more than 1,000 artifacts such as ceramics, textiles, and furniture produced by the legendary Bauhaus school—many of which will be presented for the first time.
Nearby in Weimar’s cultural quarter, the Neues Museum Weimar reopens on April 6 after a renovation that transforms the repository into a museum for the forerunners of modernism and the Bauhaus. A permanent exhibition, Van de Velde, Nietzsche and Modernism around 1900, will spotlight Belgian-born Henry Van de Velde (the architect who designed the original Bauhaus school in Weimar) and Friedrich Nietzsche, a one-time Weimar resident whose philosophy is thought to have laid the groundwork for modernism. Throughout the year, the Weimar Tourist Information Office is offering guided walking tours and self-guided audio tours that pass UNESCO-recognized Bauhaus landmarks across the city, including the Haus am Horn—the world’s first Bauhaus building prototype (slated to reopen in May following a careful renovation that restored the house to its original appearance)—and the original Bauhaus University Weimar, home to Gropius’s self-designed office.
A new direction in Dessau
Dessau’s architectural landscape became heavily influenced by Bauhaus design after political and financial pressure caused Gropius to relocate the school to the city in 1924. Street after street, historic apartment buildings designed by Gropius and his cohorts showcase flat roofs, small balconies, and personalized gardens—all design elements believed by Bauhaus philosophers to be therapeutic in living spaces.
The Gropius-designed Bauhaus Building became an instant architectural icon at its unveiling in 1926, with its readily identifiable logo, clean lines, and innovative glass walls. Today, guided tours of the Dessau university take visitors through Gropius’s former office, the school’s auditorium, and student dorm rooms, some of which may be booked for overnight stays.
Other particularly popular Bauhaus landmarks in Dessau are the newly restored Masters’ Houses, which served as studios and homes for Bauhaus heavyweights, including Gropius, Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, and Mies van der Rohe. On September 8, Dessau also opens its own Bauhaus Museum. The sleek glass exhibition space will recall the movement’s Dessau years of 1924 through 1932 with a vast collection of ceramics and furniture, table lamps, and fabrics designed by Bauhaus students. Travelers who want to see all of Dessau’s original Bauhaus-era buildings (there are more in this city than anywhere else in the world) should hop aboard a Bauhaus-themed city bus with stops at Dessau’s most notable architectural attractions.
Berlin, the end of the Bauhaus
In Germany’s capital, an offbeat Bauhaus site worth visiting is the horseshoe-shaped Hufeisensiedlung housing complex, located south of the city center in the suburbs of the Neukölln district. This UNESCO-recognized 1920s housing estate, designed by architect Bruno Taut (in collaboration with Martin Wagner), is considered one of the most significant examples of Bauhaus-era urban planning. One of the modernist residences, known as “Taut’s Home,” has been meticulously restored and is available to book for overnight stays. Vintage light fixtures and ceramic tile heating stoves promise visitors authenticity alongside the rare opportunity of experiencing life in a Bauhaus-designed home. For a more contemporary celebration of Bauhaus’s design philosophy in Berlin, visit the “bauhaus imaginista: Still Undead” exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, on display from March 15 through June 10. The international research project and exhibition celebrates the Bauhaus movement’s widespread impact around the world, connecting the German-born design philosophy to global arts and crafts movements in Morocco, China, Brazil, Russia, and beyond.
In West Berlin’s Charlottenburg neighborhood, an introductory timeline of Bauhaus history plus a gift shop filled with contemporary design objects occupy the Bauhaus Archive Museum, which is deemed “temporary” as the archive awaits a newly refurbished home in the school’s former Berlin headquarters (set to open in 2022).
A grand tour across Germany Throughout 2019, travelers interested in exploring Bauhaus landmarks beyond Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin can embark on the “Grand Tour of Modernism,” a self-directed tour that connects notable sites in Germany with ties to the century-old art and design movement. The digital platform provides an interactive map, specific itinerary recommendations, and directions for how to travel between the various destinations across Germany that showcase remnants of this movement credited for ushering in the modernist era.
How to Get There: Daily nonstop flights to Berlin are available from most international airports. Trains to both Weimar and Dessau depart regularly from Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof station. The trip to Dessau takes approximately 90 minutes. Trains to Weimar require a transfer in Erfurt or Leipzig; the full journey takes just over two hours.
>> Plan Your Trip with AFAR’s Guide to Germany