Before there was the band Bauhaus, there was the Bauhaus Band:
In the documentary Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century, former student Kurt Kranz talks about the school band and student life there:
“The Bauhaus Band was a sort of cross between Dixieland and… let’s say, something partly inspired by Hindemith and his electric piano. When we dared to go out onto the streets– especially the girl weavers who wore trousers– there was always uproar. “Impossible!” people would say. When we came along with ponytails, mothers warned daughters ‘Don’t look! They’re from the Bauhaus!’ We were the punks of Dessau!”
The thing that really interested me about this documentary– which I just showed to my design history students– is the revelation that, along with all the endlessly-touted contributions that the school made to our architecture and interior design ( ‘Our cities it turned into rather mechanical machines, and turned our interiors into rather nice, simplifed kitchen-like instruments’ as one talking head nicely summarizes), it also created a fixture in our social landscape: the ragtag student radical. The basic elements of Kranz vignette– ponytails, androgyny, spontaneous happenings and pranks, horrified middle-class on-lookers– all sound like staples of the early 60s, but the microcosm Kranz describes happened 30 years earlier.
In a culturally chauvinistic way, I tend to assume that there was something genteel and restrained about college life the world over until the early 60s when – poof! – the student radical suddenly emerges on the American college campus on the strength of demographic factors, post-war prosperity, the social protest movements of the 60s and everything else. But, in a ‘winners write the history books’-type way, I tend to forget that the atmosphere in Germany between the wars was more politically galvanizing than anything the U.S. has ever experienced– I mean, you had a short-lived communist coup AND a fascist takeover within 14 years, and all centered around the city of Weimar where the first incarnation of the school was headquartered. Plus, the Bauhaus preached all the the free-thinking ideas– question everything, knock down gender roles, etc– that we associate with the liberal campus environment.
There’s also a nice bit about Johannes Itten, the mysterious instructor who taught a foundation course that hugely shaped the spirit of the school for its entire lifespan. You always read about Itten being a bit of a weirdo, but I hadn’t realized that he was a full-blown mystic who opened classes with chanting and dabbled in Zoroastrianism:
World’s oldest religion, baby!
Also, there’s an interesting discussion of the Nazis’ contradictory attitudes to avant-garde design– onthe one hand, they persecuted the Bauhaus teachers and students and promoted a pretentiously rusticated style of furniture design. But this opposition was mainly for show– the director briefly summons an entertaining photo of Hitler lounging in a tubular steel chair as evidence of their basic hypocrisy: