Who still knows Richard Paulick, the “chief architect of the GDR” today? An exhibition at the Bauhaus Dessau and a book trace his life. By Gunnar Decker
It seems paradoxical: the Bauhaus, a place of radical modernity, now has a century-long history. So is it now a museum thing? No, but it inevitably gets an aura of tradition, something that was always far from the principle of functional awareness. The long tabooed ornament regains its terrain over time, like grass that grows over the concrete.
If you walk through the empty Bauhaus building in Dessau today (no students, no teachers are currently disrupting the contemplation of the visitor due to the corona), admire door handles and lamps, you can feel at all times that the new is always a further overhaul of the old – up to occasional paradigm changes and leaps in quality.
How long the Bauhaus has stood in the struggles of time can be learned from the letters from Hermann Hesse’s youngest son Martin, who came to Dessau from Switzerland in 1932. He had met the Soviet architect Allenbach in Switzerland, who gave a lecture on “New Building in Moscow”. Martin Hesse is fascinated: the future is being built for the new person! He wants to be a photographer himself and expects Dessau to show solidarity in the way students and teachers interact with each other.
His disappointment is great, the Nazis are on the rise everywhere, but here you take care of your vanities. “Many people have the impression that they are universal geniuses and in reality everything is only superficial.” His conclusion: “I am absolutely unappealing with it.” On August 31, 1932 – the Weimar Republic still existed, but Dessau ruled Already the NSDAP, Martin Hesse reports to his father in Montagnola that the Nazis had closed the Bauhaus: “All staff and the masters have been fired for four weeks without any compensation.”
The young architect Richard Paulick, born next door in Roßlau in 1903, who had been an assistant to Walter Gropius from 1927 to 1930, also had to emigrate. But who still knows Richard Paulick, the “chief architect of the GDR” today? Hermann Henselmann certainly, he too is a cross-border commuter between neoclassicism and functionalism, between Berlin’s Stalinallee and Leipzig’s university high-rise, the impressive landmark of GDR modernism.
Paulick caused a sensation in 1926 with his “steel house” (a single-family house made of metal). Until 1933 he worked in Dessau as an independent architect, then had to emigrate. He was not a communist, as you often hear, but one of the founders of the SAP, the Socialist Workers’ Party. A small party between the KPD and the SPD, in which young people, especially in Saxony, gathered to fight against the emerging Nazi regime. People stayed away from the Stalinists in Moscow and also from the Social Democrats, who were too attached to legalism. But since they were young and inexperienced, the Gestapo usually had an easy time of it. The philosopher Gerd Irrlitz, whose father belonged to SAP, recently published the book »Resistance, not resignation. An anti-fascist resistance group of the SAP in Leipzig «published. In the GDR, the independent SAP did not fit into the scheme, its existence was kept secret – you shouldn’t find out about its resistance.
Paulick takes the Conte Rosso from Venice to Shanghai. There he finally received a professorship in 1942 and worked as a director of urban planning in the sense of the Bauhaus and “organized decentralization”. Because he also works for the Chiang Kai-shek national government, he has to leave the country after the victory of the Mao Tse-tung People’s Liberation Army. This chapter in Richard Paulick’s life was also taboo in the GDR. He wanted to emigrate to the USA in 1948, but Gropius urgently advised against this. So back to Germany, where there is a lot to rebuild? If so, where to: to West or East Germany?
Immediately after the war ended, Hans Scharoun was the planner for the reconstruction in the Soviet occupation zone – in the spirit of modern architecture. But when Paulick came to the GDR in the spring of 1950, a change of course had just taken place – towards the “building policy of the national form”. Against the background of the doctrinally “formalism dispute”, modern art and architecture were now considered “cosmopolitan”, “decadent” and “American”. Now it was built in Berlin in the style of neoclassicism – just like in Moscow or Warsaw. Modern minds called it confectioner style – the rule of the ornament over the function. The GDR philosopher Lothar Kuehne has written something valid about these questions of tradition and avant-garde in his book »Subject and Space«.
Paulick, like all architects around the world, was caught in a dilemma. Building on a large scale is expensive and needs an employer, the state. A delicate liaison. You inevitably become an opportunist, always hoping to smuggle in some of your ideas.
In the 1960s, the Bauhaus returned to the discourse; people wanted to build houses in an industrial way in the GDR. So did the utopia of the new city finally take shape, in which one lives differently than in the old, hierarchically structured one, in which everything is grouped around a center? Hope was raised again – and disappointed. Hoyerswerda, Schwedt and Halle-Neustadt became probation areas for Paulick. But of “clearly defined residential complexes” remained mere blocks, manufactured in increasingly poor quality. It was not a city, at most a satellite to the city. Or as Heiner Müller sarcastically put it: »Fuck cells with district heating«.
This is a central theme of every social theory – building for a present that nevertheless has a promising spark in it. A window into the future! For the GDR, this meant asking what it means to live, work and live in a socialist way. Stefan Heym already thought about it in the 1960s in his novel »The Architects«, which had remained unpublished for a long time. Brigitte Reimann’s “Franziska Linkerhand”, this chronicle of disillusionment, remained a fragment. Shortly before the fall of the wall, Alfred Wellm published his important novel “Morisco” about a successful architect who – driven by disgust at the prevailing building practice – left the company and restored a castle in the country with some bricklayers.
Thomas Flierl has a material-rich and detailed book for the exhibition »Bauhaus Shanghai Stalinallee HaNeu. The Way of Life of the Architect Richard Paulick 1903 – 1979 «, which contains much more than the rather spartan show shows. This is limited to a dozen display boards and display cases with letters in a single room – so the GDR architecture is still sitting at the cat table, even in the Bauhaus today. Flierl criticizes that the GDR architecture was processed after 1990 as “architecture without architects”, “without a name, ie without a face, without its own story”. The buildings reflect the inner drama of German post-war history. Changes were laboriously fought for or failed. How the idea and ideology merge can be experienced here as a model.
Our present is by no means as free of ideology as it thinks of itself. How else could it be that typical buildings such as the Palace of the Republic, which could have told more about the lost country of the GDR than entire history books, were hastily torn down?
Iconic storming, however, which saves controversy in terms of content and instead simply removes unpleasant witnesses of the past, lays the seeds for a new spirit. If there is anything to be learned from the disrespectful handling of GDR history, it is.
»Bauhaus Shanghai Stalinallee HaNeu. The life of the architect Richard Paulick 1903-1979 «, until August 23, Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Gropiusallee 38, Dessau-Roßlau.
Thomas Flierl (ed.): Bauhaus Shanghai Stalinallee Ha-Neu. The life path of the architect Richard Paulick 1903-1979. Lukas-Verlag, 264 p., 200 ill., Br., 30 €.