In 2019, Germany celebrated the 100th anniversary of the influential Bauhaus art and architecture style with special guided tours, exhibitions, and other events in cities and regions where Bauhaus has made a significant impact and where its foundation was built.
One of those regions is North Rhine-Westphalia. I spent three days in the cities of Krefeld, Essen, and Hagen also known as the “Bauhaus Triad” – to go in search of renowned Bauhaus NRW sites and learn more about the movement.
I'm not an expert when it comes to architecture – at all – but I love wandering around cities, looking up at façades and figuring out what stories lie behind them. So what follows isn't an all-you-need-to-know about Bauhaus in NRW but my personal experience discovering this style which will, hopefully, entice you to go and have a look in NRW yourself :-)
The sites in this article can be visited all year round, even now that the celebration year has passed.
While Weimar is known as the birthplace of Bauhaus, it was in North Rhine Westphalia that the seeds for the movement were sown and were many former teachers and students of the Bauhaus school went to live and work.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Hagen was the place where avant-garde architects pushed further development of the Art Nouveau style to focus more on function, which later led to the Bauhaus design principles.
It was also here that art lover Karl Ernst Osthaus founded the Folkwang Museum and from here that he supported architect Walter Gropius, who he'd help get a position in Weimar where Gropius would found the Bauhaus design movement.
When Osthaus died, the Folkwang Museum moved to Essen. This in combination with the growth of the city as an industrial and artistic center was like an invitation for modernist and later in particular Bauhaus artists, with whom the city kept close ties.
Thanks to its textile industry, Krefeld was an interesting playground for Bauhaus artists and no less than 25 of of them have left their mark on the city. Let's start our trip here.
Let's start our tour of Bauhaus in Krefeld in… a business park.
1. Verseidag in Mies van der Rohe Business Park
Famous modernist and Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe only ever designed one big factory complex and that's the one in Krefeld, known among locals and foreigners alike as the “Verseidag”. Unlike many of Mies' other projects, there hasn't been all that much written about this textile production site, giving it a bit of a mysterious cloak.
Not only was this the only factory complex Mies designed; it was also his last project before he left for the United States to flee the uprise of National Socialism.
The Verseidag was never fully completed – both because of the changing political climate and the economic crisis – and it's not entirely known how Mies supervised the building process from his base in Berlin and how often exactly he visited the construction site.
What is known, is that Mies only planned the original HE building and the dye shop himself. The planning of the rest of the buildings he handed over to his student, Erich Holthoff, who took charge over the Verseidag construction department.
The site is unique as up until then, factories used to be dark, dirty places. The Verseidag was and is anything but that. Mies gave its building large windows on all floors and white façades, two things that were unseen at the time and that give the place a timeless vibe when walking around it now.
Today, the Verseidag isn't a factory anymore. It's a multifunctional complex with coworking and office spaces that was in the last stages of being renovated when I visited it, to be finalized at the end of 2019. When finished, not only the Bauhaus buildings will have received a new function but also the older factory buildings on site. The site will then also host sports and wellness facilities, an event hall, a daycare, and various cafes.
It's possible to wander around the public areas of the Verseidag on your own as most buildings have a little plaque outside explaining what used to be there but during the Bauhaus celebration year, you can also join guided tours. More info on those here.
Mies van der Rohe Business Park GmbH & Co. KG
Girmesgath 5, 47803 Krefeld
It's free to park on Girmesgath.
2. Haus Lange and Haus Esters
Hermann Lange and Dr. Josef Esters were directors at the Verseidag but also personal fans of Mies. They both asked him to design them a house in Krefeld, right next to each other. Completed between 1928 and 1930, both buildings are open to the public today as museums for contemporary art.
You can only visit the houses during exhibitions but when there's something on, you're really getting two things for the price of one: seeing the houses from the inside and whatever expo is on at the moment.
When I was visiting, only one of two houses was open as they seemed to be still preparing the exhibition that will run until January 26, 2020 in the other house.
That exhibition focuses on alternative forms of domestic living by 16 international designers, architects, and other artists. The idea is to get a look into what “life at home” may look like in the future, based on a reflexion of what it entails right now.
While you have to pay entry to visit the houses, their gardens are free to wander around in and worth a look. They're not so big but are nicely landscaped and feature some interesting artworks.
Museums Haus Lange and Haus Esters
Wilhelmshofallee 91-97, 47800 Krefeld
It's free to park along Welhelmhofsallee.
3. Pavilion of Thomas Schütte
At the Kaiserpark in Krefeld, you can walk into a wooden structure by the artist Thomas Schütte that's both a sculpture and a functional exhibition and event space designed especially for the Bauhaus celebration year. The pavilion also serves as the departure point for Bauhaus-related guided tours.
It has a diameter of almost 15 meters (42.2 feet) and can be divided into 8 different areas which can be used for lectures, screenings of documentaries, exhibitions and showcasing other types of information about the Bauhaus members that lived and worked in Krefeld.
The Bauhaus pavilion is octagonal. One side is the entrance and the other sides form compartments that are small exhibition spaces. When I was there, five of those spaces showed documentaries and interviews about Bauhaus while two only displayed photos and documents. Some of the “movie” spaces also showcased photos.
If you understand German, it's an amazing place to learn about Bauhaus. If you don't understand German… not so much. In total, there's about three hours worth of footage to watch and you can do so from comfortable beach chairs but it's all in German. The booklet that summarizes what each exhibition space is about is also only in German.
Now, I understand a bit of German and can do things like order food and ask basic questions but understanding three hours worth of architectural insights goes beyond my capabilities.
I felt it was a shame that none of the footage was subtitled or that there wasn't a summary booklet in English as from the things I could understand (I did try watching parts of the documentaries), what was shown was interesting.
Another thing I think would have been cool is if you would have the possibility to return. Three hours of footage is a lot and you can't drink anything or go to the toilet at the pavilion. I can imagine that someone who's really interested in Bauhaus might want to see it all but will find it hard to stay focused/hydrated/un-needing of a toilet for that long.
So final verdict: a must-do if you understand German. If not, the other Bauhaus sites in Krefeld are more interesting.
Thomas Schütte Pavillon, Wilhelmshofallee/Kaiserstraße, 47800 Krefeld
You can park for free on Wilhelmhofsallee.
1. The Zollverein
The Zollverein is a 100 hectares big former coal mine and UNESCO World Heritage site turned into a multi-purpose site with a strong connection to the artistic and industrial history of the Ruhr Area. It's home to the regional Ruhr Museum, the Red Dot Design Museum, a range of cafes, the Phänomania Experience Field, walking and cycling routes, art installations, and a variety of book, furniture, jewelry, and design shops.
It's also the place in Essen where the Bauhaus 100 anniversary is celebrated with a wide range of events.
Zollverein as a Bauhaus site
Zollverein was built according to the Bauhaus principle that form needs to follow function. The 20 buildings of the site are arranged symmetrically along two axes and most of them show a strong influence by modernist architecture.
A highlight for Bauhaus lovers at Zollverein is Shaft 12. Designed by the architects Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, it stood out because of its simple and functional design. The shaft was opened in 1932 and the combination of its cubicle buildings and steel trusses quickly earned Zollverein the reputation of most beautiful coal mine in the world.
If you're interested in learning more about the connection between the Zollverein and the Bauhaus movement, make sure to follow the guided tour “Zollverein Architecture Yesterday and Today”, put on especially for the Bauhaus celebration year.
Exhibition: “Awakening in the West. The Margarethenhöhe Artists‘ Colony”
The Ruhr Museum at the Zollverein focuses on the natural and cultural history of the Ruhr region all the way from the formation of coal 300 million years ago to the present day. For Bauhaus 100, it has put on the dedicated exhibition “Awakening in the West”.
This exhibition focuses on the construction of and communal life at Margarethenhöhe, an artists' colony in Essen that is no longer used as such, but that you can still walk through today. More than 600 objects illustrate how these artists developed themselves, their work, and their life at the settlement in the 1920s.
I really liked how the exhibition was put together. The first part was about the colony as an architectural project while the second part focused more on the artists that lived there. Explanation plaques were both in English and in German and there was a very informative audio guide in English.
Rest of the Ruhr Museum
Since you're already there, make sure to check out the rest of the Ruhr Museum as well. There's a permanent exhibition and a floor with an interactive exhibition about the Route of Industrial Heritage. By tapping and swiping touch screens, you can learn more about the history and current use of industrial sites around Europe but mostly in Germany.
To get there, you walk through a hall with old machinery and from there, you can get up to the panoramic rooftop.
All sections of the museum have separate tickets so you can decide if you want to see everything or just a part.
Red Dot Design Museum
When I was at Zollverein, I also visited the Red Dot Design Museum. The Red Dot Design Museum showcases design objects from about 45 countries over an exhibition area of more than 4,000 m².
What's cool is that all of these sleek looking objects that we now use in everyday life are displayed in this old industrial building of which the interior has been really well maintained. So you see, for example, these slick white electronics against an old brick wall.
Because the museum has over 2,000 objects on display, it selects a few of them every month to be highlighted as “product of the month”. The permanent exhibition gives visitors an idea of how design has evolved over the years as well as how it differs from country to country. It's complemented by special temporary exhibitions that focus on a specific topic.
More things to do at the Zollverein
I focused on the Bauhaus-related activities at the Zollverein above, but really the whole site is interesting for those wanting to learn – and especially see – more of this architecture movement.
I visited the museum but I also spent ample time just wandering around the grounds, trying to find all the art installations and sculptures that are scattered around. I especially like the Ring Promenade, a 3.5 km circular path that connects the different Zollverein sites. I walked it but I also saw people doing it by bike.
The Ring Promenade is part of the Zollverein Park where plants have emerged on the spots where coal waste used to be stored. It's a place where locals and visitors alike can come to relax with a book or a picnic.
Yup, the Zollverein site itself is actually free to access. You only pay admission if you want to go to a museum or attend a special event.
Gelsenkirchener Str. 181
2. The Margarethenhöhe settlement
After having seen the exhibition about the Margarethenhöhe settlement at the Rurh museum, you can go check it out for yourself.
The Margarethenhöhe settlement was built by the city of Essen and the family and company of Friedrich Krupp. When Friedrich passed away, his wife Margarethe saw it as her duty to continue the social welfare work he'd been doing.
She established the Margarethe Krupp Foundation for Housing Provision on December 1, 1906, not just for employees of the company but all citizens of Essen.
Margarethe provided the foundation with land and capital and a nationwide competition was held to find an architect for the project. That architect became Georg Metzendorf. He was chosen in large part because of a similar project he'd successfully finished in Darmstadt, the settlement Mathildenhöhe.
The place quickly became a magnet for various kind of artists who moved and established their studios there. This didn't happen at random, though. The foundation had a say in who could rent at Margarethenhöhe and was thus able to make sure the “colony” had artists from different art forms such as ceramics, painting, and goldsmithery.
Lots of them contributed to the garden city with the creation of monuments, sculptures, and other kinds of decorations.
Walking around, you can see how the houses all look alike but are never fully the same. That's because the same materials were used but always in different ways.
Nowadays, it's almost impossible to rent a place here as the suburb is located in the popular south of Essen. Many people who live here, have inherited the right to rent from a deceased family member. If you're not in such luck, you'll end up on a very long waiting list.
Construction of the suburb happened in no less than 29 phases between 1909 and 1938. It was heavily damaged during World War II but restored after.
It's free to park on the streets of Margarethenhöhe. I entered Am Brückenkopf 8 – an address I found online – in Google Maps to drive there. Am Brückenkopf is the tiny street right in front of the Margarethenhöhe entrance gate.
3. More Bauhaus in Essen
To find out more about the city's Bauhaus 100 program, look here.
There are several sites related to Bauhaus in Hagen you can visit all-year-round. Let's have a look!
1. Osthaus-Museum Hagen
The interior of the Karl Ernst Osthaus-Museum was originally designed by the famous architect Henry van de Velde to house the art collection from avant-garde art patron Karl Ernst Osthaus. It was then called the Folkwang Museum.
The collection of the Folkwang Museum was sold by the heirs of Osthaus to the city of Essen but the city of Hagen managed to buy the building. It's been restored several times since and is now a center for art nouveau and expressionist art, usually linked to Osthaus and the artistic circles he moved in.
As a patron, Osthaus was of high importance to the Bauhaus movement. He was a close friend of Walter Gropius, one of the founders of the movement in Weimar, and provided him with work and contracts. He also recommended him to Henry van de Velde for the Weimar Institute of Applied Arts, which would become the Bauhaus in 1919.
In other words, you could say that the true roots of the Bauhaus lie in Hagen.
For the celebration of Bauhaus 100, the Osthaus-Museum puts up several exhibitions throughout the year. I went to “Between housing and dictatorship: the twenties in Hagen”, which illustrates the influence the Bauhaus movement had in the city of Hagen. It's still on until June 2.
2. Hohenhof – Museum des Hagener Impuls
The Hohenhof is an Art Nouveau villa by Flemish architect Henry van de Velde designed for Osthaus to live in. Not only the structure of the building is by Van de Velde, but everything from the furniture to the wall decorations, lamps, and even cutlery. Many of these objects have been preserved and are on display.
The villa was finished in 1908 and meant to be part of a larger artist colony consisting of 16 villas – the Gartenstadt Hohenhagen – but the project wasn't finished yet when Osthaus died in 1921 and has remained incomplete. Today, the museum gives an overview of the life and work of Osthaus and also hosts temporary exhibitions.
The Hohenhof's simplicity and functionalism is itself the center of an exhibition for the Bauhaus celebration year. I went to see it have to say was well worth it especially for all the drawings but also just to see the interior of the house.
The only thing that was unfortunate was that, again, all the information was in German. It is possible to get a guided tour here.
! Only open on weekends.
More Bauhaus in NRW
If three cities are not enough for you, make sure to check out the Bauhaus exhibition overview and the overview of guided tours and routes on the website of the Nordrhein-Westfalen tourism board.
Don't forget travel insurance
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