“Modernism has Tradition in Thuringia”

Thüringische Staatskanzlei
Ministerpräsident Bodo Ramelow

Mr Minister-President, is there a Bauhausler you particularly appreciate and if so, why?

To choose a single person from the multitude of interesting people is not an easy fit. A person who I hold in high esteem is – without any doubt – Alfred Arndt. With the “People’s House” in Probstzella he left us the largest Bauhaus ensemble in Thuringia. One can still feel the Bauhaus atmosphere here today. One would hardly expect this on the hillside of the Thuringian Forest of all places! The building is quite the monument; one can also stay there overnight, visit the small museum and go for endless hikes along the Thuringian Sea, which is perfect for avid hikers like myself. If I could meet Alfred Arndt, I would like to talk to him about this project, or also about his attempts to reopen the Bauhaus in Weimar after 1945.

The central exhibition’s title is: “The Bauhaus is from Weimar”. Do you think the Bauhaus has a specifically “Thuringian” component?

Thuringia is the cradle of the Bauhaus and is inextricably linked to its history. Modern thinking – not only in art and architecture – has one of its most important beginnings here. Obviously this legacy is preserved by the Bauhaus University Weimar, which deliberately sees itself as successor institution. Just like 100 years ago, the emphasis is on the Bauhaus’ experimental character. During the launch of the Bauhaus Museum with a fabulous party it also became clear that: The Bauhaus lives in Weimar. Therefore it is absolutely legitimate to say that: modernism has tradition in Thuringia.

Your presidency coincides with the Bauhaus Centenary that is being celebrated with countless events throughout the entire association. What are your goals for this period?

The Bauhaus Association has been setting out the major goals and milestones in the years since 2012, ever since diligently preparing for the Centenary. This year we’ll be reaping the fruit of what we’ve been sowing. It’s our main objective to invite and welcome the world to come and celebrate the Centenary together with us throughout Germany. And it’s already becoming apparent that we’ll reach this goal.

Which (perhaps less well known) events are particularly dear to you during this year?

In 2019 we will experience a comprehensive very abundant, colourful and diverse programme both in Thuringia and nationwide, which I’m very much looking forward to in its entirety. We have something to offer from all fields and it’s wonderful to see how many of our cultural players will take part in this special year. We already experienced some highlights in Thuringia with the Week of Democracy in Weimar in February 2019 as well as the opening of the new Bauhaus Museum in April. I’m very much looking forward to the “Kunstfest” (arts festival) in August, which also acknowledges other important anniversaries, such as the Weimar Republic and the peaceful revolution. In September we will host the Triennial of Modernism with a special focus on Israel – also very exciting.

bloomimages GmbH 2017
Bauhaus-Museum Weimar, Eingangsportal mit Vorplatz, Visualisierung
Visualisierung, 2018, © Tomás Saraceno
Foyer mit dem Kunstwer >> Sundial for Spatial Echoes << von Tomás Saraceno

Thus Weimar as the cradle of the Bauhaus also had the honour to open the first of the three new Bauhaus Museums. Hand on heart: Does the Bauhaus belong in the museum?

The concept of the “Bauhaus” certainly does not belong in the museum. And our house in Weimar is not designed to this end – on the contrary – it should be an open building with a big workshop area where the visitors can try their hand. The focus is on experimenting with materials and techniques, in conformity with the Bauhaus spirit. Nevertheless, the Bauhaus as a historic institution left us many objects that still amaze with their timeless modern aesthetics today. It is our mandate to preserve these objects for posterity, to make them accessible and to tell their story. Such an exhibition certainly needs a museum.

At the beginning of the Centenary the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, HKW raised the question of “How political is the Bauhaus?” We would like to ask you: How political is the Bauhaus Centenary meant to be?

When preparing for the year 2019 in Thuringia we always departed from the central idea of jointly considering the centenaries of the Bauhaus and the Weimar Constitution, as the Bauhaus can’t be seen separately from the Weimar Republic. The history of the Bauhaus is also one of political repression and ultimately of expulsion. This becomes quite clear when, for example, looking at the gate of the Buchenwald concentration camp – which today is a memorial site. The Bauhausler Franz Ehrlich designed the lettering for the gate while he was a prisoner there. Hence the critical examination of the Bauhaus and its time – including the political dimensions – was always very important to us. This period should teach us that there must be a place in our society for “being different” and that room for creativity requires special political protection. Also today – 100 years later – we’re experiencing an increasing rise in nationalist and populist tendencies in Europe. Therefore now in 2019 we clearly want to convey the message “Never again!” Never again can we allow that cultural diversity and the free and democratic order are under threat.

Education is the responsibility of the states. According to a study of the DZHW (German centre for higher education research and science studies) the opportunity to study at university still strongly depends on one’s family of origin. Isn’t the attention the Bauhaus is receiving – having pledged to accept “any respectable person, no matter their age or sex” – the perfect occasion to finally destroy the tiresome German gap in access to higher education?

First of all I would like to stress that our universities today accept students irrespective of their age or sex or even their origin. That is not the point where there is a bottleneck, as fundamentally and at least in theory, everyone has the possibility to take up studies. One won’t find expensive elite universities promoting social segregation. This is something we can be really proud of. Nonetheless, we know that even today the educational opportunities depend on the parents’ financial situation. Although the state created instruments such as the “BAföG” (financial promotion for students), I believe that politicians still have the duty to set the parameters so that opportunities really are equal. This applies both to universities and schools. Allow me one short thought: Is it really that desirable to have a nation of academics? The Bauhaus motto was: “Unity of arts and crafts”. We shouldn’t make the mistake to only value professions that require studying. The Bauhaus upheld crafts, not academic and theoretical education. We should therefore also remember to appreciate crafts more often.

The Bauhaus dreamt of the “new human being”, while we’re a bit more reluctant, having experienced the dictatorships of the 20th century. Which dreams of modernism do you think are still so up-to-date that it would be worth trying to “shape society”?

One of the central questions the Bauhaus asks, which is also taken up by us in Thuringia, is: “How do we want to live?”. The Bauhaus wanted to change society, wanted to shape a modern human being and a modern environment for this human being. It had a forward-looking focus, wanted to create a future. Especially in the light of current social developments it is important to remember these ideas and to address the very specific question what the Bauhaus continues to teach us till this day. In times of increasing urbanisation (and as a consequence thereof more and more gentrification) we have to reassess how we want to live together. Aspects such as sustainability – particularly from the environmental point of view – have to thus be considered. For example the international building exhibition in Thuringia also offers an interesting link for new impulses in building.

[Translate to English:] Weimar, Haus am Horn – Foto: Tillmann Franzen (2018)
[Translate to English:] Weimar, Hauptgebäude der Bauhaus-Universität – Foto: Tillmann Franzen (2018)

Many citizens believe that politicians don’t have much imagination. What do you think of an “experimental preliminary course” in the manner of the Bauhaus for future elected representatives?

That is of course an exciting idea, even though I don’t spontaneously know what the design of such a preliminary course for elected representatives should look like. In principal it is important to have a certain degree of creativity and inventiveness in all fields. However, I don’t believe that a “preliminary course” would be particularly conducive in this case. It is far more important that the professional environment develops and allows for a culture of creativity.

Will the year 2020 bring the end of the cooperation of the Bauhaus Association 2019? What will remain of 100 years bauhaus?

Sustainability will certainly be a topic we’ll be engaging with in the committees this year. What will certainly remain is the Bauhaus Kooperation Berlin Dessau Weimar gGmbH – the inter-state and inter-institutional cooperation of the three institutions maintaining collections. And of course also the two new museums in Weimar and Dessau, which will be joined by the new building in Berlin after the centenary.

[Translate to English:] Headline

Mr Ramelow, thank you for the interview!

    [NF 2019; Translation RHN]

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