What Does the New Woman Need?

Lichtbildwerkstatt Loheland / © Loheland-Stiftung Archiv

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It is, of course, no coincidence that the Bauhaus and the Loheland colony are both celebrating their centenary this year. At the beginning of the 20th century, with the war over and the collapse of the monarchy, hope for a new era was dawning. The year 1919 saw an incredible number of new schools being founded, and they all looked at how to educate people so that they would be able to play a role in shaping this new era. But while the Bauhaus asked what contemporary people in general needed, the proponents of Loheland asked specifically what the new woman needed. Louise Langgaard, one of Loheland’s founders, had enjoyed artistic training and felt greatly disadvantaged in comparison to her male colleagues. She felt she was unable to gain access anywhere – not least because she was a woman. “I have in mind a new type of female artist, namely women who are calmly and confidently at peace with themselves”, she explained in 1911, thus anticipating the motto for the later founding of Loheland. It was to be a place where women would be educated to take their life in their own hands.

 

Lichtbildwerkstatt Loheland / © Loheland-Stiftung Archiv
Women from Loheland at the entrance to Waggonia, circa 1928 Photography workshop Loheland

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At the core of the educational concept at Loheland were gymnastics. But it was not about body-shaping as we know it today. The gymnastics lessons were understood as a holistic training of the senses. This is yet another parallel with the Bauhaus. The aim of the exercises was to show the women a path to emancipation. The guiding principle was the same as at the Bauhaus: How do I shape my life in harmony with animals, plants and with the Earth as a whole? We are familiar with the photos of people doing gymnastics on the Bauhaus roof, but at Loheland these physical exercises were the school’s core element. The point of the exercises was not, for example, to bend your legs, but was far more focused on the consciously acting person. More important was the question of whether the person doing the exercises was consciously aware of the bending. Strength and grace were secondary matters. The aim of the gymnastics was to come to know how to position one’s self in life. And unlike at Bauhaus, the workshops and the artistic work at Loheland were organised only to complement the physical exercises.

 

Loheland-Stiftung Archiv
Dance "Polka", Eva Maria Deinhardt, 1919-20

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How did the colony get its start? In May 1919, Louise Langgaard and Hedwig von Rohden purchased 540,000 square metres of woodland and fields in the foothills of the Rhön mountains and named it “Loheland”. There was no electricity and no water. However, the Association for Classical Gymnastics, of which both women were board members, had for quite some time been seeking in vain for a farm estate where they could open a school, and so they took advantage of this opportunity. At that time, the association had 80 female members from all over Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The women spoke multiple languages and came from the middle class. They set up a temporary house to live in on the loamy farmland, plus a room for gymnastics exercises. The women students were given accommodation on neighbouring farmsteads, and attic rooms were rented. These rooms were then furnished with products made in the school’s own weaving mill and carpentry workshop, because it was important to the women of Loheland that their students’ accommodations fulfilled certain aesthetic standards.

 

Lichtbildwerkstatt Loheland / © Loheland-Stiftung Archiv
Members of the teacher council at the entrance to the rotunda, around 1926

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After 1934, Loheland already had more than 20 houses, all of which are now protected as historic monuments. The premises were expanded to cover 540 square metres. The women cooked, ate and washed together and did much more than just gymnastics training: at Loheland they took photographs and weaved; they did cabinetry work, woodturning and pottery; there was a basket-weaving workshop, a nursery, a leather workshop and internationally renowned dog-breeding kennels. Moreover, the women built up the entire premises, educated almost 500 students and sold their products worldwide – at the international arts & crafts fair in Monza, for example.

The Loheland dance group was also a sensation and performed all over Germany. They drew attention for more than just their phenomenal costumes, which the women of Loheland made themselves. The dresses were revealing garments crocheted using straw, raffia, twisted paper cord and Lurex. We will be showing many recreations of these costumes at the exhibition. But on stage the women also sometimes worked naked.

Loheland was, of course, a provocation. For the general rural population, the women of Loheland were like aliens. Catholic priests in the region ranted against the evil women who walked barefoot across the meadows or danced naked in the woods. But the project faced ambivalent reactions in the big cities as well. Many people were fascinated by this new, androgynous type of woman and studied their Amazon-like tendencies with great interest. Loheland did indeed prove that things went just fine without male leadership. On the other hand, they were bombarded with sentences like, “It’s time a man went out there!”

Loheland-Stiftung Archiv
Dance " Calling - voice of spring ", Eva Maria Deinhardt, Edith Sutor, Berta Müller, about 1919-20
Lichtbildwerkstatt Loheland / © Loheland-Stiftung Archiv
Room in a country house, furnished with furniture of the Loheland carpenter's workshop, around 1930
Lichtbildwerkstatt Loheland / © Loheland-Stiftung Archiv
Evahaus, around 1928

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At Loheland itself, there were no rules about how the women were supposed to live. I presume there were lesbian relationships, even if we haven’t found any clear evidence of that.  In other regards, all concepts of living were represented there. There were married women, single mothers, childless women. All that mattered was that they made their own decisions about how they wanted to live.

The kennels, where Great Danes were kept and bred, sheds light on another important factor: Hedwig von Rohden liked dogs. Louise Langgaard had given her a puppy as a present in 1925. In Loheland, one thing was important: if someone wanted to do something, then she should pursue it with a passion. This puppy was the catalyst for Loheland’s Great Dane breeding activities, which went on to win many prizes. As reported in detail in the press, one of the Great Danes was even sold to the then Mayor of New York City. The women of Loheland received so much money for this dog that, according to one contemporary, you could have bought a large mansion in the centre of Berlin with it.

The year 1937 saw an rupture in Loheland’s history. When the Nazis demanded that certain compulsory subjects be integrated into the curriculum, Hedwig von Rohden was unwilling to go along with it. She left Loheland. Louise Langgaard dared to make the tactical adjustment to keep the school alive. Gymnastics training continued at Loheland until 2009, and the workshops had remained in operation until 1996. There are still some active people who practice Loheland gymnastics in line with the old methods. Today there is a Waldorf school on the property.

Lichtbildwerkstatt Loheland / © Loheland -Stiftung Archiv
Dance "Calling - Voice of Spring", Eva Maria Deinhardt, Edith Sutor, ca. 1919-20
Lichtbildwerkstatt Loheland / © Loheland-Stiftung Archiv
Jump. Photomontage. Around 1928 – 30