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Exploring Germany’s Remarkable Dessau Bauhaus Heritage

Dessau, Germany - Bauhaus Building Panorama

I traveled to Germany to experience the evolution of the Bauhaus School, the 20th century’s most influential art, architecture, and design school that inspired a mindset and style known as Modernism.  Dessau, an industrial city in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, holds the world’s largest collection of Bauhaus buildings. Much of the city’s Bauhaus architecture traces back to The Bauhaus School, which relocated to Dessau from Weimar in 1925.

Twelve of the Bauhaus buildings in the city are open to the public, including the Bauhaus building, the Masters’ Houses, Walter Gropius’ employment office, and the consumer building. 

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Exploring the Bauhaus School Campus in Dessau

A visit to the former Bauhaus School campus is an ideal introduction to Dessau’s Bauhaus legacy. The Bauhaus School relocated to Dessau from Weimar in 1926 under the leadership of Walter Gropius, who designed the main campus building. 

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The Bauhaus Building: A Symbol of Modernist Architecture

The Bauhaus Building anchors the campus as the emblem of the school’s architectural language, clad in glass with a gray concrete core. 

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A theater on the first floor staged dance workshops and performances under the direction of Bauhaus master Oskar Schlemmer, exploring similarities between the building and the human movement.

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Students designed the seating and light fixtures while studying performance arts that informed their work. 

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The school theater played an important role in cultivating ideas and a new mindset. 

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Also, I visited Walter Gropius’ office in the building, a cube-shaped room resembling his office at the Weimar Bauhaus University. Furnishings are reproductions of Gropius’ designs.

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The building survived renovations, transformations, destruction, reconstruction, democracy,  dictatorship, and war. In 1976,  The German Democratic Republic renovated the Bauhaus Building after acknowledging the cultural significance of Dessau’s Bauhaus legacy.

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Today, The Bauhaus Building serves as headquarters for the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, formed in 1994 after Germany’s reunification.  

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The asymmetrical campus also consists of a workshop wing and the vocational school connected by the bridge and a studio building. 

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Masters’ Houses: Living in Bauhaus Style

From the Bauhaus Building, I walked a few blocks over to a residential street with a row of white cube-shaped homes known as The Masters’ Houses. 

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Gropius built three semi-detached houses and one single-family home for the Bauhaus masters and their families.

Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky all lived here. When the Bauhaus closed and left Dessau in 1932, its instructors moved out of the Master’s houses, taking their furnishings with them.

Today the houses function as museums and house the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.

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Dessau Bauhaus Museum

Next, I recommend heading over to the Dessau Bauhaus Museum, which holds the world’s second-largest collection of Bauhaus objects, a total of about 49,000 items.

The glass cube building resides in the city center with a ground floor of public space. The remaining floors house the Bauhaus collections for ticketed visitors.

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The museum opened in 2019, commemorating the 100th anniversary of The Bauhaus School.

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Here, you can see student works, teaching notes, drafts, and prototypes from the workshops.

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The Kornhaus

Another Bauhaus building listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List is The Kornhaus restaurant on the banks of the Elbe river.

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The name is an homage to a historic mill that stood on the site until the 1870s. Bauhaus architect Carl Fieger designed the semicircular structure with a glass veranda that appears to float above the landscape. 

The sign in front of the restaurant says that guests attending the inauguration of the new restaurant on June 6, 1930, were amazed by the bold curves of the construction that Bauhaus architect Carl Feiger had set in the romantic landscape of the River Elbe. The restaurant is open to the public, and you can book guided tours.  

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I end my visit with a trip outside city limits to the Dessau-Törten settlement, built by Watler Gropius and his architects as worker housing. Each of the 314 terraced houses has a garden for workers to cultivate their fruits and vegetables.

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The city of Dessau commissioned the Bauhaus School to design the experimental housing in 1926. The worker housing complex became known as model houses for the modern age. 

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For six years, the Bauhaus thrived with the support and patronage of local government. In 1932, the National Socialists forced out the Bauhaus School, and it moved to Berlin before it permanently closed less than a year later.

What to know if you go:

I recommend reading up on the history of the Bauhaus before exploring the cities, sites, and structures that embody its legacy. To the uninformed eye, Bauhaus architecture can appear sterile, stark, and simple, but the beauty is in the ethos of “form follows function.”

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When you understand this fundamental principle and that the Bauhaus school aimed to democratize good design, you can fully appreciate its works. 

September is an ideal time to visit Dessau because you can experience The Bauhaus festival, held the first weekend in September, in conjunction with area universities and art schools that create special installations reflecting the Bauhaus ideas.

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To experience the city’s former industrial core, I recommend The Brauhaus restaurant, which shares the same owners as the Kornhaus restaurant.

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The Brauhaus resides on the site of the original brewery destroyed in a World War Two bombing.  

The German National Tourist Board is a great resource for researching and planning your trip. I recommend starting there to learn about all Germany has to offer.

To see and learn more about Dessau, watch my episode of The Design Tourist:

My takeaway:

Dessau was once a thriving industrial city that lost many inhabitants after The German Democratic Republic took over private factories. When Germany reunified and private ownership was possible again, many factories became obsolete. Today, Bauhaus tourism is the city’s main economic engine.  Locals estimate that Dessau has lost one-third of its population since its industrial heyday, with roughly 80 thousand inhabitants remaining. 

Picture of Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist (www.TheDesignTourist.com) that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: https://thedesigntourist.com/the-magazine/ Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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