I delved eagerly into this book, excited to have the chance to learn more about the Bauhaus outside of my more usual art-historian context. The book tells the story of a Bauhaus student, Luise Schilling, who first does a stint in Weimar and then, after a three-year break, comes back to study at the Bauhaus in Dessau. We get a juicy story about Walter Gropius stealing his student’s ideas and submitting them for an architectural competition. We also find out about Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan, the weird sect he ran in Weimar.
We are offered snippets about the political turmoil in Germany at the time – the 1920s – but this is just white noise in the background, as if the Bauhaus students lived in a bubble, separated from the real world. Perhaps they did?
We mainly read, however, about Luise’s failed attempts at relationships – with men, but also with friends and family. It’s quite painful to watch her go from one disastrous boyfriend to another: the first being Jakob, who is a master at playing hot and cold and constantly confuses poor Luise, who doesn’t know what to think or how to handle the situation. Perhaps the pain of watching her struggle through this strange relationship/non-relationship comes from the realisation that we’ve all been there. And Blueprint is a coming-of-age story, after all.
I therefore sighed with relief when she finally came to her senses and dropped this waste-of-space Jakob altogether. But then, as soon as she returns to the Bauhaus, this time in its Dessau location, she falls for another example of the same species: Hermann, who, in contrast to Jakob, pays her attention and provides quite a comfortable life. At the same time, however, he is a full-blooded womaniser, liar and narcissist. Their relationship mainly consists of partying together, and a lot of drinking and drug-taking. With Hermann – as with Jakob – Luise is caught in a loop, struggling to find a way out, and that way out only presents itself when something drastic happens: Hermann beats her up.
Apart from the focus of the story, the most difficult element of this book for me was the cold, calculated, almost sterile tone. It simply didn’t draw me in. Perhaps it is a conscious attempt by the author to find a literary form that corresponds with the concepts behind the Bauhaus – its modernism, its streamlined design and the whole idea of Gesamtkunstwerk or ‘total work of art’, in which all elements correspond and are brought together. In which case, perhaps I am not as big a fan of the Bauhaus as I thought …
Reviewed by Anna Blasiak
Written by Theresia Enzensberger
Translated by Lucy Jones
Published by Dialogue Books (2019)
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Anna Blasiak is an art historian, poet and translator. She runs the European Literature Network with Rosie Goldsmith. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. She has worked in museums and a radio station and written on art, film and theatre. annablasiak.com.
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