Women of the Bauhaus: Anni Albers (1899-1994)

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are launching a series introducing influential women of the Bauhaus movement – a movement that is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Elevating Craft to Art

“Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of the materials.” – Anni Albers

Anni Albers, ca. 1929–33 © 2019 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

On its 100th anniversary, you may hear much of the Bauhaus, the iconic German art school which had its beginning in Dessau, Germany in 1919 under the leadership of Walter Gropius and which bridged the gap between fine and applied art. You might have read of the Gesamtkunstwerk concept (complete work of art) which the school embraced. You may be familiar with the international artists who taught alongside German artists: Wassily Kandinsky (Russian), Paul Klee (Swiss), Lyonel Feininger (American) and others. You might know that after its dissolution in 1933, some of the Bauhaus staff emigrated elsewhere: Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer continued their work in Chicago; Walter Gropius taught at Harvard; and Bauhaus-trained Jewish students designed apartments for the “White City” in Tel Aviv.

What you may not have heard of are the women of the Bauhaus.

Although the Bauhaus “welcomed any person of good repute, without regard to age or sex,” women were excluded from some disciplines. Disappointed that she could not enroll in the school’s stained glass class after fulfilling her core coursework, Annelise Else Frieda Fleischmann enrolled in the weaving class which was open to female students. She quickly mastered the technical aspects of weaving, pushed the traditional boundaries, and began experimenting with traditional and non-traditional methods and materials. Her innate curiosity of traditional and newly-developed materials allowed her to break free from accepted norms and pushed her creativity into new directions. Drawings and designs from those years often show randomly-placed color shapes inspired by the artist’s visits to the opera.

“There were so few chances to execute a stained glass window…So the only thing that was open to me was the weaving workshop. And I thought that was rather sissy…once I got started I got rather intrigued with the possibilities there.”    – Anni Albers in a 1968 interview with Sevim Fesci, Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art.

Anni Albers, Design for a 1926 unexecuted wallhanging, n.d.
Gouache with pencil on reprographic paper. 15 1/8 x 9 7/8 in. (38.1x 25 cm)
© 2019 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art

The young student married Josef Albers, who had risen to Junior Master at the school, in 1925 and took over the weaving department in 1931 after the departure of its head, Gunta Stölzl. In her new position, she taught weaving and design and continued to experiment with geometric designs and non-traditional materials such as horsehair, jute, paper, metallic thread, artificial silk, and cellophane.

In 1929, Anni Albers accepted a unique challenge when she was asked to correct the inadequate acoustics of the Bauhaus auditorium. She studied the properties of materials traditionally used for sound suppression such as velvet and experimented with new kinds of synthetic fibers. By attaching light-reflective cellophane to sound-absorbing cotton and chenille on the back, she won acclaim for her innovative and effective solution which could be mass-produced and which furthered innovation in theater design.

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Word of the Week: Lausbub

Some kids are sweet, some kids are annoying and others might be called a Lausbub! This German word describes little rascals who are always up to no good.

The German word Laus means “louse” and Bub means “boy” – a combination of words that seems fitting for the term’s definition. A Lausbub is usually a young boy who is brash, naughty, up to no good and loves playing pranks. The closest English translations would be “rascal”, “scamp” or “scallywag”. You can never trust a Lausbub, because you can never be quite sure what sort of mischievous activities he is planning!

© dpa

Adults often use the term to describe a little rascal in a loving way. Occasionally an adult might also be called a Lausbub – but that probably suggests he is acting childish.

The term Lausbub is most often used in southern Germany. Synonyms include Lausejunge, Bengel, Lümmel, Lauser, Rotzbub and Rotzjunge.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Do Germans have a sense of humor?

You might have heard the stereotype: Germans have no sense of humor. A 2007 survey of 30,000 people ranked Germany as the country with the worst sense of humor. We are not amused!

But perhaps German humor is simply misunderstood. Many German words – especially compound word constructions – are lost in translation, simply because there is no equivalent in other languages. Our “Word of the Week” series should help you understand words as complex as Backpfeifengesicht (“a face in need of slapping”), Honigkuchenpferd (“honey cake horse”) and Kabelsalat (“cable salad”). The more you understand Germany’s strangest and most unusual words, the more humor you will find in the language!

British comedian Stewart Lee agrees. In an op-ed he wrote for The Guardian, he said it took him a while to understand German humor – but once he did, he couldn’t stop laughing. Much of English-language humor, he said, stems from words that have double or triple meanings, thereby creating humor that thrives on confusion. Since the German language has so many compound words and specificity, “it provides fully functional clarity”.

As a result, Lee writes, the German “sense of humor is built on blunt, seemingly serious statements, which became funny simply because of their context.”

He writes:

“I looked back over the time I had spent in Hannover and suddenly found situations that had seemed inexplicable, even offensive at the time, hilarious in retrospect. On my first night in Hannover I had gone out drinking with some young German actors. ‘You will notice there are no old buildings in Hannover,’ one of them said. ‘That is because you bombed them all.’ At the time I found this shocking and embarrassing. Now it seems like the funniest thing you could possibly say to a nervous English visitor.”

But despite the differences between English and German humor, there are plenty of German stand-up comedians, some of which perform their acts in English! Notable German comedians include classics Loriot and Karl Valentin and modern comedians Dieter Nuhr, Anke Engelke, Eckart von Hirschhausen, Oliver Welke and Tom Gerhardt.

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Word of the Week: Backpfeifengesicht

Do you ever look at someone and feel like punching them in the face? Well, Germans have a unique word for that face: a Backpfeifengesicht — a face that’s badly in need of a fist.

This is one of those strange words that’s uniquely German with no English equivalent. The word Backpfeife means “punch/slap” (on the cheek/face) and Gesicht means “face”. The word Backpfeifengesicht therefore means something along the lines of “a face that’s begging to be slapped” – or punched. Or hurt. You get the picture.

We’re sure you know someone with a Backpfeifengesicht – someone you just can’t get through to without a good punch or a slap. Maybe it’s your mortal enemy. Maybe it’s someone with a stupid grin that you’d like to wipe off that face. Maybe it’s a person who tells insulting jokes that make others cry. Or maybe it’s someone whose face you just can’t stand, for whatever reason. To you, that face is is need of a fist – and you’re thinking about giving it one.

A well-known German punk band, Die Ärzte, titled one of their songs “Backpfeifengesicht”. The lyrics revolve around a person who has a stupid look on his face – a look that nauseates the songwriter.

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Word of the Week: Liebeskummer

Does your heart feel like it’s going to jump out of your chest? Maybe it’s a health-related heart palpitation – or maybe it’s just Liebeskummer.

The German word Liebeskummer means “love sickness”. It consists of Liebe (“love”) and Kummer (“grief”), and it’s more difficult to cure than the common cold! Although you might not be sick with a fever, Liebeskummer can keep you in bed just the same. Liebeskummer is a state of mind that strikes people whose love life is troubling: maybe they’re going through a breakup, fighting with their partner or unsuccessfully pursuing someone. Whatever the case, now they’re grieving over their love life – and only time can cure their ailment.

The word Liebeskummer – as well as variations such as Liebeskrankheit (“love illness”) – have existed in German literature and art for centuries. In the works of Goethe and Werther, Liebeskummer often ends in tragedy. But it doesn’t have to: if you’re currently plagued with the symptoms of Liebeskummer, know that time will always cure it – if you allow yourself to take it.

And in the meantime, make sure to avoid falling victim to Kummerspeck (“weight gain from grief”), since that may add even more to your plate.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

 

The 69th Berlinale showcases a record number of female directors

The 69th Berlin International Film Festival (known as the „Berlinale“) kicked off this past weekend, beginning an 11-day program that will include hundreds of films and film screenings. As one of the largest public film festivals in the world, the Berlinale attracts tens of thousands of visitors from all around the world, including many celebrities.

This year, there are 17 films competing for the famous Golden and Silver Bear awards, 16 of which are world premieres. This year’s spotlight is on female directors; in fact, 40 percent of all its competing films were directed by women, setting an unprecedented record for such a major film festival.

And this year’s Berlinale jury president is also a woman: Oscar-winning French actress Juliette Binoche will head the 69th Berlin International Jury, which will decide who receives the Golden and Silver Bears. This weekend, Dieter Kosslick, the festival’s director, will sign a pledge that “calls festivals to commit to gender parity in its management and requires data transparency surrounding film submissions and programming committees,” Deutsche Welle reports. At a time when Germany is celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage, this festival is a welcome showcase of female accomplishments in the creative arts.

The Berlinale was founded in West Berlin in 1951 – at the beginning of the Cold War – as a “showcase of the free world”, according to the event organizers. The very first festival was opened with Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rebecca, which was a romantic psychological thriller that has won two Academy Awards. While the Berlinale often showcases highly anticipated films and A-list celebrities, it also brings new talent to the stage, sometimes kickstarting the careers of young filmmakers.

This year’s festival runs from February 7 to 17.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

 

Word of the Week: Farbenfroh

Are you wearing red pants, a blue shirt and green socks? If so, we’re sure you stand out – and you’re definitely farbenfroh today!

The German word farbenfroh means “color happy”. It is an adjective used to describe someone or something with many colors. Someone’s outfit is farbenfroh if they are wearing many different colors – or even just one bright color that catches people’s attention. An apartment can be described as farbenfroh if its decorations are colorful or if the walls are painted in different colors. Even a program of events can be described as farbenfroh if it includes a diverse program (in English, we would call this a “colorful event”).

Most of the time, farbenfroh is used in a positive context (because after all, who doesn’t like colors?). But if you notice your coworker proudly wearing a bright orange dress that makes her look a little ridiculous, you can simply call her farbenfroh (which is more of a fact and in this context and neither an insult nor a compliment).

Although you can be farbenfroh at any time of the year, it might brighten up a rainy, cloudy or cold day if you add a little bit of Farbe to your life!

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Never Look Away [Werk ohne Autor]: A Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Film

On January 30th, almost 100 people joined a German Embassy-organized exclusive screening and discussion of the Oscar® nominated film “Never Look Away” [Werk ohne Autor] by German director and screenwriter Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood. In addition to being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the movie’s American cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, received a nomination in the Cinematography category. A perfect example of Wunderbar Together!

German Ambassador Emily Haber with Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck

German Ambassador Emily Haber, who has now seen the film twice already despite its length of a little over three hours, welcomed the guests. And even with his busy schedule—being invited to film festivals spanning multiple continents—director Henckel von Donnersmarck himself was there to introduce the movie. After the screening, he wrapped up the event with a conversation with Bilal Qureshi, an award-winning NPR journalist and culture writer.

We don’t want to spoil the content of the movie as you really should watch it yourself, but Henckel von Donnersmarck has called the film “a love story, a family drama, a biography of Germany in the 20th century, and a stroll through modern art.” Quite impressive!

For anyone interested in watching a wide selection of top-rated German films in the comfort of your home, you’re in luck: As part of Wunderbar Together you can log on to www.kanopy.com/goethe and find “Wunderbar: A Celebration of German Film”—a great selection of classics and cutting-edge films for your viewing pleasure.

But now, we are all waiting with anticipation for the envelopes to be opened on February 24thin Los Angeles. Viel Erfolg!

By Alina Burkholder & Jacob Comenetz, German Embassy

The Leo House: a refuge for German immigrants

© Leo House

When German immigrants came to the United States in the late 19th century, many of them entered through New York, seeking a new life in a world that promised endless opportunities. But the transition to a new life was not always easy. A New York based guesthouse called The Leo House took many of these immigrants in, guiding them on their journey in an unfamiliar land.

The Leo House is a Catholic guesthouse on West 23rd Street in New York. Today it serves as a nonprofit budget hotel for travelers, but it played a significant role in lives of German immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. Between 1865 and 1900, 35 percent of all immigrants who arrived in the US came from Germany. But after a difficult 4,000 mile journey, many of them found new hardships in the US.

German immigrants arrive in New York in 1850. © dpa

“They didn’t speak English. The gangs of New York were ruthless – they saw Germans who just got off the boat as ‘easy prey,’” says David J. Smith, executive director of Leo House. “And many Germans lost their faith.”
German businessman Peter Cahensly became concerned about the plight of German immigrants and founded the St. Raphael Verein in 1883, an organization dedicated to ensuring the safety of German travelers. In 1887, immigrants connected to the society started a fundraiser to further help incoming immigrants. Pope Leo XIII had recently received money in honor of the 50th anniversary of ordination, and the pope took that money and in turn donated $50,000 to the St. Raphael Verein. This money was then used to purchase a building in New York that became known as the Leo House, named in the honor of Pope Leo.

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How German settlers created the traditions behind Groundhog Day

© dpa / picture alliance

This weekend we find out if we’ll have six more weeks of winter or if spring is around the corner! When the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, wakes up each year on February 2, tens of thousands of people gather around the furry creature in Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania. Will the groundhog see his shadow or not? The answer to this question will determine the future of our weather patterns. Or so they say.

© dpa / picture alliance

Groundhog Day brings forth a unique wintertime tradition, but the roots of this strange celebration can actually be traced back to German settlers. As many of you know, many of the early settlers from Germany built their communities in Pennsylvania, bringing their own traditions with them to the New World. Many centuries ago, Christian Europeans commonly celebrated Candlemas Day, which is a religious celebration marking the midpoint of winter (and also involves blessing and distributing candles). Germans added their own touch to this celebration; in Germany, it was believed that if the sun came out on Candlemas Day and an animal (usually a hedgehog) would cast a shadow, there would be six more weeks of cold weather. Germans called this the “Second Winter.”

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