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Bauhaus getaway: Weimar or Dessau – which should you check out?

Both Weimar and Dessau lay claim to the title of Bauhaus Heimat. But which is worth the two-hour train ride? We compare.

Weimar: The once and future Bauhaus

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Andrew Alberts © heike hanada laboratory of art and architecture 2019

If the Bauhaus were a superhero, Weimar would be its origin story, and the city has just opened a pair of museums that recount its epic tale.

NEUES MUSEUM This 1869 monument houses a new permanent exhibit that combines expressionist paintings and Jugendstil furniture with multimedia displays, chronicling how a small cluster of Weimar influencers, headed by Friedrich Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth, turned the historic home of Bach, Goethe and Wagner into a 20th century hotbed of art and design. The Belgian designer Henry van de Velde was summoned to Weimar to create a groundbreaking arts and crafts academy alongside the existing school of art.

BAUHAUS MUSEUM A new €27-million building picks up the story as World War I ends and the two schools merge into one, dubbed the Bauhaus by director Walter Gropius. Critics have compared the grey, nearly windowless block by Potsdam-based architect Heike Hanada to a mausoleum, but the thousands of artefacts inside – from sofas to pottery and puppets – radiate their designers’ passion to reinvent daily life.

HAUS AM HORN Weimar’s only true Bauhaus building is this one-storey house built in 1923 to demonstrate the school’s principles and show off its students’ work. After a multi-year facelift, it reopens for tours in May.

BAUHAUS UNIVERSITY Yes, Weimar still has a cutting edge design school, housed in the original buildings designed by Henry van de Velde. A guided tour reveals restored wall paintings by Oskar Schlemmer and Herbert Beyer along with the city’s true design gem, Walter Gropius’ private office. This small space is so packed with colour, life and big architectural ideas, it alone makes the trek to Weimar worthwhile.

Dessau: New utopia by design

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Tadashi Okochi © Pen Magazine, 2010, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

By 1925, the Bauhaus had become a tad too progressive and was chased out of Weimar. The school landed in Dessau, a burgeoning industrial centre where Gropius felt they could best realise his motto: “Art and Technology – A New Unity.”

BAUHAUS BUILDINGS When it comes to buildings, Dessau got the good stuff, foremost being the iconic Bauhaus headquarters (1926, photo top) where teachers and students lived a focused, communal life and turned good design into a kind of secular religion. The restored complex with its four interlocking wings is still breathtaking. Gropius borrowed its forms from factories but added inventive detailing, graphics and colours. Today it’s open for daily tours (English on Fridays), and has a café and a bookstore.

MASTERS’ HOUSES Nearby are four blocky, white buildings designed to house faculty members including Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Beautifully restored, they vividly illustrate the Bauhaus principles of domestic life. English tours on Fridays.

BAUHAUS MUSEUM This year Dessau will also unveil a new museum for its collection of 40,000 Bauhaus-related works of art and furniture. The glass and steel structure by Spanish designers González Hinz Zabala is set to open in September, but until then you can tour the construction site on the first Sunday of each month.

BAUHAUS HOTEL Walk in the footsteps of Josef Albers and Marcel Breuer, then sleep in their beds. Dessau visitors can book a night in an original Bauhaus studio atelier, complete with authentic furnishings and a trademark tiny balcony.

A TASTE OF BAUHAUS Dessau’s other Bauhaus treats include dinner in Carl Fieger’s riverside Kornhaus Restaurant (1930) or a coffee from an adorably cute street kiosk (1932) by none other than Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.