travel

Time travel: a visit to the Bauhaus

Photos:  Frances Ambler

In our late summer issue, we share four different stories of time travel. Frances Ambler wrote about what it was like to spend a night at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany.

"I was standing in front of the then ultra-modern building… Its architecture represented to me the beginning of a new era.” So wrote student Hannes Beckmann on arriving at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Walter Gropius designed the building to match this ambitious art school, a vision of soaring glass, proclaiming its own name in huge letters down its side. Its photograph was circulated around the world – at first a symbol of German creativity and forward thinking; later, after its closure by the Nazis, a symbol of a lost era.

As I stood there, in grey drizzle, it wasn’t quite living up to this promise. I was staying overnight in one of the 28 studio rooms where students had worked and slept, part of my research for my book, The Study of the Bauhaus. The room had the single bed, fitted cupboards and sink familiar from student halls – here, however, the furnishings revealed the creativity of its former inhabitants: the tubular metal furniture devised by Marcel Breuer seen in a set of nesting tables; the modernist patterns promoted by the weaving workshop present in a bedspread devised by Gunta Stölzl. Echoing the pattern of my own student life, I crawled into bed with my phone, distracting myself with the hum of contemporary online life.

If I went to bed in a 21st-century fug, I woke up in the optimism of the 1920s. Bright blue sky had taken the place of the grey. The huge desk by the window suddenly looked inviting. I stepped onto the balcony, and looked over the surrounding town in a new light.

The day opened up a Bauhaus experience bigger than the room: what had been the student canteen, auditorium and gym, the spaces where workshops once whirred with activity. On a tour, we stopped in one of the studio rooms, made up as it would have been then. It had belonged to Marianne Brandt, who had found her calling in the metal workshops, inventing lamps, ashtrays and her now-famous tea set, which today sell for thousands of pounds. It was right next door to the room where I’d spent the night.

Looking at Brandt’s record player, I understood my earlier disconnect. The many snapshots taken by the students themselves show them in and out of each others' rooms, leaning across their balconies and throwing impromptu parties – rows of cakes spread across the nesting tables, grinning attendees squished onto the single bed. They experimented and learnt together; they also gave friendship.

Right wing opponents forced the Bauhaus to close in Dessau in 1932, and it moved, temporarily, to Berlin before finally closing the following year. Its students spread out around the world. We tend to hear the names of the lucky ones, such as Josef Albers or Marcel Breuer, who forged new lives in America. Others struggled in Germany, their careers never reaching such dizzy heights. Some suffered in concentration camps. The building itself was damaged in bombing, only fully opening for visitors four years ago.

But the Bauhaus was always more than its building. It was about the people and their desire and determination to build a better world – a spirit that blazed as brightly as that day’s blue sky.

The Story of the Bauhaus is published on 11 October (Ilex Publishing). You can pre-order a copy here. And enjoy three other stories of time travel in our late summer issue.

The car

photo  betül vargün    

photo betül vargün

 

words rebecca tantony

In the beating heart of an engine unused, I wait

She tells me she will wait opposite the pub. Tells me the registration number and that I need to climb in the back seat. The front’s piled with books, she says, water-bottles, maps. I open the door, squeeze in beside a suitcase and two sleeping bags. She turns around, says, “Great to met you Aisha. I tried to pack light but it's three months on the road, you know, It’s like I need to bring it all in case I never came back”.

It’s strange how a stranger can wear the face of familiarity, remind you something about home.

“Good to meet you too Josiane.” I reply. Take it all in; the smell of cumin, the roof covered in postcards – hams and flamenco dancers in Seville, ornate temples in Oaxaca, snapshots of friends strung up like rosaries. I take her in too. Late twenties perhaps. Heavy smile, light voice. 

I was only going as far as France. A month before I had fallen for a man and wanted to try and recreate the weekend of romance we’d first found. Those melted evenings – cheese and wine on the balcony, our mouths speaking in tongues. A friend said she knew someone driving through Paris, so I thought I would catch a ride with Josiane into that unknown future.

“A road trip. Exciting”, she says, clips in her seat belt, sets the wipers back and forth. I think we’re about to pull away so I try find my belt too, then see she wants to catch my reflection in the mirror, so I stop fumbling. “Nervous too”, she adds, “I just listened to a news report about The Jungle. Apparently loads of Eritrean teenagers are trying to rebuild it, and I was like shit we’re gonna be driving past there. Maybe we’ll never leave. Just keep helping them, brick after brick, rebuild something from the rubble”. I shuffle. “How long will you be in France?”

“I’m not sure,” I say. Sometimes it’s a few days, in other moments I never leave. My French lover and I make children, I learn to cook foods fried in butter, how to say expensive words. “It’s a strange time to be leaving, with Brexit and all. Maybe they won’t let us back in”. I smile weakly.

“Yeah, more than ever. I wonder how many times I can go and come back again with nothing to offer on my return. I’m always leaving. It’s like there is a version of me out there who laughs louder than  I do here”. 

Recognition: that feeling of home again. A place. A person. A room. A moment. Your own skin. I point to the postcard, “But we, you, have all these memories”.

She turns back to the front, clips her seat belt in again, “Yeah we have so many memories”. Flips on the indicator. “Let’s have a road-trip song, something to remind us of the moment we left”. She shuffles through her CDs, “This is the one, it was playing in a cafe when I met this woman in Marrakech”. Some Arabic pop music speeds through the speakers. We listen. After a while she says, “Her name was Asha. She was from Palestine originally, had only been in Morocco for two months”. She taps the wheel, I stare into the mirror, watch her eyes steer between mine and the road ahead. “She left. Because she had to”.

I’d like to say that next we opened up like windows, stories of ourselves filling the few empty spaces of that car. That our leaky-exhaust-pipe-mouths talked through the length of that journey. That we arrived in Paris. I kissed her farewell, twice, because I was a continental woman now, with a French lover famous for his “little deaths”. But it didn't happen like that. In fact, two days later my French lover texted to say he’d met someone new.

Instead, just as the music stops, she sits staring out in front of her, as if looking at this unworn world – this new place just noticed, or perhaps an old place never before seen. After a while she unclips the belt, grabs her backpack, opens the door, gets out the car, and with the key still in the ignition, leaves. Just walks, into the buzz of our electric city. And I sit there, stunned, watch her go like I’ve just lost part of my own being. Who knows what had brought us here together? All the trips taken, all those left behind. I sit in the hum of that car, the beating heart of an engine unused. I wait. But she never returns. In fact, I think I am still there now. In-between places, like at an airport, neither leaving or arriving anywhere. Just a memory for us both to keep, formed and lost, somewhere along the way. 

 

Rebecca Tantony is a poet and writer of flash non-fiction, who loves hanging out with her cat Chicken and radio singing at traffic lights. @rebeccatantony, website: www.rebecca-tantony.com