Bauhaus treasure in pine forest

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. Photo: Christoph Petras, 2011.

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Those setting off by bike in direction Wandlitz from the last station of the Berlin S-Bahn line number 2 at Bernau station, are most probably heading to the close-by Liepnitzsee. Only few know that a large Bauhaus school-building lies hidden in the pine forests, which is well worth a visit.

Back then, it was meant to introduce union workers to communal life and a new culture of living and way of life in a natural environment. The school is a built socio-educational programme.It was designed by the second head of the Bauhaus Hannes Meyer and his long-time partner Hans Wittwer. The construction became a study project for the entire Bauhaus. Bauhaus students participated in the planning and the building of the school that opened in May 1930. Large parts of the interior design originated at the Dessau workshops. Since 1977 the complex has been a historically protected building. As of 2017 it could become part of the UNESCO world heritage – a respective proposal was already submitted. Following previously completed extensive renovation work of the building complex, the area’s outdoor facilities are now being restored and redesigned taking into consideration monument protection.

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. Photo: Christoph Petras, 2011.
ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau. Architecture by Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer, 1928.

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A few kilometres from the Bernau town’s border a small nondescript sign shows the way to the Bauhaus landmark. Here the visitor will not be greeted by brilliant white buildings, as is the case in Dessau. Here, the pure materials – bricks, glass and steel – dominate. The complex, which used to house up to 120 workers for four weeks a time for training and recreation, has an almost industrial character and therefore charmingly contrasts with the surrounding idyllic landscape.

Today the “Meyer-Wittwer-Bau” the main building of the complex, is used by the Handwerkskammer Berlin (Berlin chamber of trade and crafts) as dormitory and its interior is only partially accessible for visitors. The Trade Union School with its teachers’ residences, is the Bauhaus’ second school complex following Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus building in Dessau and is one of the largest Bauhaus ensembles worldwide.

Photo: Junkers, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.
Trade Union School of the General German Trade Union Federation (ADGB), Bernau bei Berlin, aerial around 1930. In the 1950s the school was expanded. At that time it received a new entrance building and thus, a new face.

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Those wanting to learn more about the school building, its history and different usages, should ring the doorbell at house number 9 of the former teachers’ houses. This is where the offices of the Association for the Preservation of the Trade Union School Landmark Bernau are located. The Association has been dedicated to the preservation of the historic building for over 25 years. In order to visit the entire school, one should join a guided tour, which the Association offers from April through August on two Sundays a month. Then, rooms such as the dormitories, the auditorium or the dining hall are also on view that are normally not open to visitors.

But it is also well worth exploring the complex on one’s own. It is best to start off the discovery tour with a walk around the main building. To this end, first follow the narrow path between the teachers’ residences and the main entrance behind the building. Here one gets a good idea how harmoniously Meyer and his partner Wittwer integrated the buildings into the natural landscape and arranged them around a small lake. The school already included a large sports complex with a swimming pool at that time. Following a comprehensive renovation, the Freibad Waldfrieden (outdoor swimming pool Waldfrieden) is now again open for swimming from May to September.

Photo: Christoph Petras, 2011. Bauhaus Kooperation.
Winter garden at ADBG Trade Union School, Architecture by Hannes Meyer und Hans Wittwer, 1928.

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A bit further along the path one sees the winter garden. Along with the distinctive chimneys of the entrance building, it fell prey to the extensive reconstruction and expansion work. In the course of the renovation of the building complex in the years 2002 to 2007, Winfried Brenne, the architect carrying out the renovation could finally convince the owner of the winter garden’s spatial quality and its significance for the building as a whole. Today the boarding school’s canteen is located here and is particularly popular with today’s diners. After all, which school can boast with a dining hall with a view of the lake? As part of the tours offered by the landmark association, external visitors can also enjoy this special view of the Bauhaus landmark.

The outdoor tour ends at a small door by the last house, where a long glass passageway connects the individual houses with the communal wing as well as the school wing with the gymnasium. In the future, not only boarding-house residents and Bauhaus explorers could meet here, but also international artists, designers and curators. In August 2016 an international summer school on “universalism” will take place on the grounds for the first time.

Moreover, the association “Trade Union School Landmark Bernau” is planning a comprehensive programme for the Bauhaus Centenary 2019. At the latest then this Bauhaus treasure in the pine forest will no longer be an insider tip. Who knows if the Freibad Waldfrieden will then be as full as the nearby Liepnitzsee? Therefore Bauhaus explorers should definitely already set off during this swimming season, which officially starts on 14 May.

Hannes Meyer – A Portrait [2015]

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Alternativer Text
"Hannes Meyer – Ein Portrait". Ein Film von Leef Hansen, Valentin Heller, Franziska Schiegl und Hannah Boose. Produziert vom Department für Medien und Kommunikation der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg im Auftrag des BDA Landesverbandes Sachsen-Anhalt für den Hannes-Meyer-Preis 2015.