Something odd happens throughout Germany on Easter Sunday. Whether in apartments, houses or gardens, excited children run around, pushing the furniture aside, lifting the cushions and looking under trees and bushes outdoors.
Why? Easter is the time at which German children look in the most obscure corners for brightly colored Easter eggs that have been hidden the night before by the Easter Bunny.
But why is it a bunny that brings the eggs at this annual festival?
There’s a good chance you fell for at least one April Fools’ joke today. Every April 1, the Internet is flooded with hoaxes and stories meant to trick people into believing them. April Fools’ is a tradition celebrated widely in both the US and Germany. Although it is unclear exactly how and why this day of jokes originated, there is plenty of evidence that Germans (along with other Europeans) were already playing tricks on each other back in the Middle Ages!
Long before the Internet, Germans were celebrating April 1 the old fashioned way. On April 1, 1530, a meeting was allegedly scheduled for lawmakers in Augsburg, who were told that they were gathering to unify the state’s coinage. When people heard of the meeting, they began trading their currency to make a profit from the change. However, the meeting never took place, the law was not enacted, and everyone who showed up – as well as those who traded their currency – were mocked as fools.
You might have seen images of the cherry blossom trees that blanket Washington, D.C. every spring. The 3,000 trees around the Tidal Basin were a gift from Japan to the United States in 1912, symbolizing the friendship between the two countries. Once the trees begin to bloom, the city is filled with festivals, celebratory events and a parade marking the occasion.
Although the District has an abundance of cherry blossom trees, Japan has gifted its prized sakura trees to several other countries, including Brazil, China, Turkey and Germany. And in Germany, the blossoming trees have been growing in popularity.
In Germany, the trees typically bloom a few weeks later than in the US, but nevertheless come with their own celebrations. Since 1968, the city of Hamburg – which is home to about 2,000 Japanese residents and 100 Japanese companies – has hosted an annual cherry blossom festival, complete with fireworks, a Japanese Kulturtag (“day of culture”) and a bi-yearly pageant for a cherry blossom princess. In the 1960s, Hamburg received approximately 5,000 cherry blossom trees from Japan, which were planted along the city’s riverbanks.
But even hundreds of years ago, Hamburg residents would flock across the Elbe River to the so-called “Altes Land” (“old land”) in the spring to admire the countless cherry blossom trees that blanketed the region. The Altes Land, which is the largest contiguous fruit-producing region in Northern Europe, has had cherry blossom trees for centuries before they were planted along the Hamburg’s riverbanks.
Other German cities host smaller cherry blossom festivals of their own. And in Bonn, the cherry blossoms have become a major tourist attraction in recent years. In the mid-1980s, the city decided to plant cherry blossom trees all throughout Bonn’s Altstadt (“old town”) in order to make it a nicer place to live. The plan worked: Bonn’s Heerstraße is now one of the most attractive springtime destinations. Photographs depicting Bonn’s tunnel of pink have become an internet sensation, bringing tourists from around the world to visit the city during peak bloom. Japan’s gifts have brought beauty to cities across the world, including Germany!
As we conclude Women’s History Month, we will reflect on the life and work of Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, who enjoyed an unusual career of furniture and toy design at the Bauhaus. It is noteworthy to consider that the women at the Bauhaus began their artistic careers at the moment when German women earned the right to vote for the first time in January 1919.
Alma Siedhoff-Buscher (1899 –1944)
Alma Buscher could not know that her early art studies would lead to the field of furniture-making and toy design and a deep interest in child pedagogy. By the time the artist enrolled at the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1922, she had attended several art schools, including the State Arts and Crafts Museum in Berlin. At the Bauhaus, she took the preliminary course taught by Johannes Itten and attended classes by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, as was standard. She became one of only a few women who continued in an area other than weaving when her teachers Georg Muche and Josef Hartwig supported her move into the wood sculpture program.
In 1923 Ms. Buscher’s furniture designs were shown in the school’s first exhibit in the Haus am Horn – the first example of a building based on Bauhaus design principles – and included furniture designed for the children’s room, as well as toys and a puppet theater. What was unique about the artist’s furnishings – such as the cabinets she designed – was that they encouraged children to explore space on their own and rearrange the brightly painted crates that were part of the cabinets in any way they wished. She incorporated the element of movement when she added wheels to the crates, allowing children to further create and pursue their own narratives.
“Children should, if at all possible, have a room in which they can be what they want to be…everything in it belongs to them and their imagination designs it …”
– Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, 1926
Only a year later, the Zeiss kindergarten was outfitted with children’s furniture designed by Ms. Buscher. Her furniture and toys were exhibited at a conference for kindergarten teachers and youth leaders, as well as the “Youth Welfare in Thuringia” exhibit in Weimar. In 1926, her designs were shown at “The Toy” exhibit in Nurnberg.
Her most popular toy designs were the Kleine Schiffbauspiel (“Little Shipbuilding Game”) and the Groβe Schiffbauspiel (“Big Shipbuilding Game”), small brightly painted wooden blocks that could be constructed and re-arranged freely. Other popular toys were her simple colorful building blocks and her Wurfpuppen (or “Throw Dolls,” dolls made of straw and with bead heads) and coloring books. In 1927, she designed crane and sailboat cut-out kits, published by Otto Maier-Verlag in Ravensburg. The shipbuilding games and cut-out kits were reintroduced into production in 1977.
Ms. Buscher married her fellow Bauhaus student, actor and dancer Werner Siedhoff who worked closely with Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus stage. The couple moved to Dessau when the school relocated there in 1925. Two years later she graduated from the school and worked there for a year. Because of her husband’s line of work, the family – which by then included a son, Joost, and a daughter, Lore – moved frequently. She performed freelance work after leaving the Bauhaus and died in an air-raid in 1944.
In 2004, the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar opened a solo exhibition, “Alma Siehoff-Buscher: A New World for Children” which traveled to the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin in 2006. The Haus am Horn as part of the Bauhaus and its Sites in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau/Berlin is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is scheduled to reopen in May 2019 after extensive renovations to return it to its original appearance.
By Eva Santorini, German Embassy
Comprehensive information on the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus can be viewed at bauhaus100.com.
“Bauhaus Women: Art, Handicraft, Design” by Ulrike Müller.
Not a lot of people in his native country are familiar with Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730 – 1794), but in the US the German-born military officer is a household name: he is considered one of the heroes of the American Revolutionary War of 1775 – 1783. Von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian general staff, was recruited into the Continental Army by Benjamin Franklin. He used his extensive military experience to drill and discipline the badly organized and ill-equipped troops, transforming them into an effective army. Under the leadership of George Washington, the Continental Army eventually defeated the British. Today, Baron von Steuben is honored every year on Von Steuben Day, when parades are held in several US cities. A statue of von Steuben stands in Lafayette Square just north of the White House.
Thomas Nast (1840 – 1902) was one of the most famous caricaturists and cartoonists in the United States in the 19th century. He was born in the southern German town of Landau and immigrated to the US with his family during his childhood. Working for the illustrated political magazine Harper’s Weekly, Nast established the elephant and the donkey as symbols of the Republican and Democratic parties, which are still in use today. Nast has also been credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus – a round friendly grandfather figure wearing a red suit.
Are you searching for some book recommendations? The Leipzig Book Fair may give you some ideas!
The Leipzig Book Fair is the oldest and second-largest book fair in Germany, and it’s taking place right now! The four-day event, which will be held until March 24, attracted around 197,000 visitors last year and is sure to attract just as many this year. Throughout the event, there are author readings, writing workshops, award ceremonies and sales presentations. New publications are often presented at the Leipzig Book Fair, making it a great place for new authors to gain exposure.
This year’s guest of honor is the Czech Republic, and 70 Czech books from 60 different authors – all translated into German – are showcased at the fair, exposing their work to new markets.
Germany has around 50 literature festivals every year, but its two book fairs (the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Leipzig Book Fair) are the most popular. In the year 1632, the Leipzig Book Fair became Germany’s largest, but it was overtaken by Frankfurt’s in 1945. The Leipzig Book Fair suffered under the Cold War’s communist rule, but reemerged after a hiatus in 1991. Since then, it has steadily grown, and this year, more than 2,500 exhibitors from 50 different countries will demonstrate the importance of literature, both in Germany and the world. While the Frankfurt Book Fair is by far the largest, the Leipzig Book Fair is sometimes considered the “readers’ fair”. With a Manga-Comic-Con – one of Europe’s largest comic events – as part of this fair, you’re also likely to see young book-reading superheroes walking through the halls!
Marianne Brandt was born Marianne Liebe in 1893 in the German city of Chemnitz. Although she pursued painting early in life and attended a private art school and the Grand Ducal College of Art in Weimar from 1912-1917, where she produced many works in the Expressionists style and also studied sculpture, the artist is best known for her sleek and elegant industrial designs.
In 1919 she married the Norwegian painter Erik Brandt and traveled with him to Norway and France. The couple returned to Weimar in 1921 and would divorce 14 years later. In 1923, Ms. Brandt enrolled at the Bauhaus and studied primarily with the Hungarian modernist theorist and designer László Moholy-Nagy in the metal workshop which had accepted only men until that point. She earned a position as his assistant and it was there that she excelled at industrial design: her teapots, (including her iconic “MT 49” teapot of 1924, shown below), lighting and lamps, coffee sets and ashtrays are closely identified with her and were mass produced. Her interest in photography flourished during these years and she produced playful self-portraits and images that incorporated intriguing reflections on spherical objects.
Lucia Schulz was born in 1894 in Prague. As a young woman, she studied philosophy and art history at the University of Prague, but then turned her focus on publishing, working as an editor in German publishing houses. In 1920 she met a Hungarian artist, László Moholy-Nagy in Berlin whom she married a year later.
While her husband took over the preliminary course from Josef Albers at the Bauhaus in 1923, Ms. Moholy became her husband’s darkroom technician and collaborator, exploring new techniques such as photogram, the process of exposing light-sensitive paper with objects laid upon it. She used a new focus, referred to as the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which employed a straightforward frontality. She took many photographs of the school exterior and interior and social events which were extensively used to advertise the school in brochures, posters and magazine articles.
Even as a young girl, Adelgunde Stölzl carried her sketchbook everywhere. On long hikes in the mountains around her hometown of Munich, she sketched landscapes and farmers with their livestock. The young artist would continue that discipline throughout her life, and her accompanying writings served as a valuable insight into her creative mind. She continued her love of the arts as a young woman at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts), where she studied decorative and glass painting, ceramics, and art history. Even as a nurse during World War I, she filled the pages of her journals while serving on the Italian and French fronts.
Upon her return from the war, Gunta Stölzl, as she was then known, decided to apply to the Bauhaus, whose non-traditional ideals of openness and exploration she found intriguing. However, she soon realized that women were not welcome in all classes and often relegated to what was considered “women’s art:” weaving. There, she had soon mastered the fundamentals of weaving and began teaching other students, enjoying intense collaboration with others. Students sometimes supplemented learning weaving and dyeing techniques outside the school but were motivated by the open and fruitful dialogue of the Bauhaus setting.
Germany is celebrating its so-called Fünfte Jahreszeit (“Fifth Season”), which is a reference to Carnival! The Fifth Season officially began on November 11 at 11:11 a.m., but in actuality, Carnival’s events take place during one week in February with highlights including Fat Thursday and Rose Monday.
On February 28, Germans celebrated Weiberfastnacht (Fat Thursday), which marks the last Thursday before Lent. In the Rhineland – which is where Carnival is celebrated most intensely – work often ends before noon and people wear costumes out on the streets and in local bars.
But men who wear ties on Weiberfastnacht need to be prepared: one of Germany’s unique Carnival traditions is that women cut off men’s ties with scissors on Fat Thursday, leaving them with nothing but a stump. After all, Weiberfastnacht means “women’s carnival night”, and this ritual allows them to symbolically strip men of their statuses. Even at the German Embassy in Washington, some of our colleagues had to say goodbye to their ties on Thursday.
But the biggest celebration of Carnival takes place on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) – a day marked with large parades and street parties. An estimated 1.5 million people watch the Rosenmontag parade in Cologne each year.
Although Rose Monday celebrations take place in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium, the region with the heaviest celebrations is the Rhineland, particularly in the major cities along the Rhine. The southern part of the Rhineland, however, has its own unique tradition called “Fastnacht”, which comes with its own unique customs. Wherever you may be in the Rhineland, we’re sure you’ll have fun during Carnival season!