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Bremen and Bauhaus

Updated: Mar 22, 2019

The Bauhaus, the school of design founded by Walter Gropius, celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Bremen is one of the cities where you can still see traces of this movement that revolutionised the world of art, architecture and design.

The Wilhelm Wagenfeld House is the only museum in northern Germany that is devoted entirely to the subject of design. It is named after Wilhelm Wagenfeld, who was born in Bremen and created the Wagenfeld lamp together with Carl Jakob Jucker – a fellow student at the Bauhaus. In celebration of this table lamp, one of the objects most commonly associated with the Bauhaus, the Wilhelm Wagenfeld House is mounting a special exhibition on Wagenfeld’s designs that runs from 23 May to 27 October.

The bronze statue of the Bremen Town Musicians next to Bremen town hall was created by Gerhard Marcks, who was among the first to teach at the Bauhaus in Weimar after it was founded. Venture a little further from the city centre and you’ll also find traces of the Bauhaus in the Vahr district. The 22-storey heritage-listed apartment building designed by architect Alvar Aalto here is still in use today. The influence of the Bauhaus is also evident in the buildings of the AfA-Siedlung estate in the eastern suburbs of Bremen, which were designed to maximise the elements of light, air and sun.

Architecture in Bremen covers a broad spectrum, from quaint half-timbering in the Schnoor quarter to Weser Renaissance on the market square, art deco along Böttcherstrasse and modern glass-fronted buildings in the Überseestadt district. But the city offers more than just architecture – art and culture play an important role, too. Established and up-and-coming artists work side by side and sometimes even hand in hand here, while special exhibitions entice visitors from all over the globe. Bremen is an inspiration for art lovers and artists and it has been for centuries.

Even the Bauhaus school, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, left its mark on Bremen, and Bremen-based artists also played their part in the movement. In 2019, exactly 100 years after the Bauhaus was established in Weimar, the German National Tourist Board is running a campaign to celebrate this fusion of art, design and architecture that was at the forefront of modernism. Let's venture on a Bauhaus tour of Bremen.

Gerhard Marcks – the Bremen Town Musicians sculptor

The best-known portrayal of the Bremen Town Musicians stands at Bremen's UNESCO World Heritage town hall. It was created by Gerhard Marcks, one of the greatest figurative sculptors of the 20th century in Germany. He was one of the first teachers at the newly founded Bauhaus school in Weimar in 1919, and also championed the merits of modelling and experimentation as the antithesis of production that was focused purely on industry.

Gerhard Marcks was from Berlin, and although he lived in his home city and in Weimar, Halle, Hamburg and Cologne, his foundation was established in 1969 in Bremen. Marcks has no direct connection to Bremen, save for the fact that in 1951 he created the Bremen Town Musicians statue, which has become the emblem of the city. During the mid-1960s, the sculptor and his art dealer came up with the idea of bringing together his work in a foundation. Bremen's city administrators saw this as an opportunity to add to the city's cultural offering.

The Gerhard Marcks Foundation, established in 1971, today preserves large parts of Marcks's works – around 430 sculptures, 12,000 drawings, and more than 1,000 printed works. These are displayed to the public in regularly changing special exhibitions. The Gerhard Marcks Museum is now one of northern Germany's most important museums of sculpture. It displays a broad spectrum of 20th century sculpture, with the work of Gerhard Marcks providing a constant frame of reference.

Wilhelm Wagenfeld – timeless design

Opposite the Gerhard Marcks House, the Wilhelm Wagenfeld Haus is part of the series of art galleries along Bremen's museum mile. It is named after the famous pioneer of German industrial design and is the only museum in northern Germany to focus solely on design.

Wilhelm Wagenfeld (1900–1990), born in Bremen, was primarily a designer of products. He was a Bauhaus student and became a pioneer of industrial design. Many of his creations are regarded as classics and are still produced today, such as the Bauhaus lamp, now also known as the Wagenfeld lamp, which he designed together with Carl Jacob Jucker.

In 1914, Wagenfeld completed an apprenticeship as an industrial draughtsman at Koch & Bergfeld, a silverware manufactory. He attended the Bremen state school of arts and crafts from 1916 until 1919, followed by the State Drawing Academy in Hanau, before spending a few months at the Worpswede artists' colony. In 1923, he attended a foundation course at the Bauhaus in Weimar, while also training in the metal workshop.

Wagenfeld's creations were characterised by their timeless design and modernist functionality, and they had a defining influence on style at the time. Many of his designs, of which there are more than 600, are regarded as classics and are still produced today, especially his glass and metal works.

The house is named after Wilhelm Wagenfeld, whose own work is a perfect embodiment of its aims: his utilitarian product development and timeless designs were always very popular with consumers; some of them are still being produced today. Together with his innovative marketing strategies, this helped his various business partners to achieve sustained commercial success over six decades. The Wilhelm Wagenfeld Foundation maintains an extensive collection and archive, and publishes books about Wagenfeld's oeuvre. A permanent exhibition about his work is currently being planned. 

Alvar Aalto – an architectural icon

One of the objectives of the Bauhaus was to combine architecture with the other forms of art. Indeed it says in the Bauhaus founding manifesto that "the ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building." In architecture, the modular approach to construction was applied not only to industrial facilities but also to the creation of affordable housing, for example in satellite towns of larger cities.

A 65 metre high apartment block, designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, was built between 1959 and 1961 in the Vahr district of Bremen by the contractor Neue Heimat (today known as GEWOBA). The building is Vahr's most famous landmark and a listed site of historical interest.

Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (1898–1976) was an urban planner and furniture designer. He became known for unique approach focused on 'organic construction', and is regarded in many Nordic countries as the father of modernism and a pioneer of Finnish architecture. He drew inspiration from the German Association of Craftsmen and from the Bauhaus. Aalto's design reflected a desire for the house as a whole and each individual apartment to be unique (the apartments on each floor have different layouts), for the balconies to catch the evening sun and for the residents to be able to interact and engage in community activities (spacious corridors, communal areas on the ground floor) but also be able to retreat into their own personal space (neighbours are not able to see into each other's apartments).

In 1974, the Aalto-Hochhaus in the Vahr district was awarded the Association of German Architects prize in recognition of its status as a distinctive and defining landmark. Vahr itself gained nationwide recognition in 2004 thanks to the novel Neue Vahr Süd by Sven Regener.