The German Riveter: From BLUEPRINT by Theresia Enzensberger (Dialogue Books, 2019), translated by Lucy Jones

WEIMAR, 1921

I still don’t know where the director’s room is. According to the big clock in the foyer it’s almost five, and I stray through the corridors, hoping to spot a sign somewhere. The hallways are empty. I can only hear muffled voices and noises coming from the depths of the building. The other students are probably still in their workshops. When I climb the long spiral staircase for the second time to reach the third floor, I see a group at the end of the corridor. But unfortunately it’s only Sidonie and the other cowl-wearers, and I don’t want to look like the new girl in front of them on any account. So I walk past them, looking as purposeful as possible – they don’t even seem to notice me – and then turn a random corner. I have to stop myself from cheering when I finally see the name Walter Gropius on a sign at the end of the hall.

In response to a surly ‘Come in’, I enter a bright room. There is a huge desk in the middle, buried under stacks of papers. Holding the telephone in one hand, Gropius stands at the window with his back to me. The thick cable coils to the base. He’s taller than I thought, and even though I can’t see his expression, I sense that he’s used to being treated with the greatest respect. The conversation seems to go on for ever. Should I leave again? Pretend I never received the envelope with his invitation?

‘Well, then please call me when you find out . . . Yes . . . and a good day to you too!’ Gropius’ manner is controlled, but his voice is thick with pent-up anger. He slams down the receiver on its spindly brass arms, then turns around and looks at me, his mind elsewhere. ‘These bureaucrats!’

I nod, trying to show my solidarity with him against the ominous Bureaucrats, although he’s not talking to me, of course.

For a moment, Gropius seems confused at my being in his room; then he collects himself. ‘Come in, sit down. What can I do for you?’ Now it’s my turn to be confused. He’s the one who asked me to come, after all, so why do I have to explain myself?

Perhaps institutional mechanisms at the Bauhaus work in the usual bureaucratic way – an invisible hand consisting of protocol, regulations and appointments bringing people together who aren’t exactly sure how they ended up there. I explain that I’m new to the Bauhaus and that I was asked to introduce myself and bring my portfolio. Gropius’ face brightens.

‘Ah, that’s right, a new student. Forgive me for not being able to see you earlier. I usually look at portfolios straight away so that you can start taking classes, but the past weeks have been very busy. Let’s have a look,’ he says, reaching for the large box that I have been clutching tightly all this time. During the next few unbearably long minutes that he spends immersed in my work, I look out of the large windows that face the summery courtyard.

I steal several furtive glances at his face, his high forehead and bushy eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Perhaps it’s because of the call he just made, but his expression bears a gravity that emphasises his authority.

‘It’s unusual for students to join us mid-semester,’ he says at last, returning my portfolio. ‘How did you hear about the Bauhaus?’

He does not even mention the architectural drawings that I did at the office of a family friend, in the evenings after everyone had left. At the time I had felt so grown up, like a real architect surrounded by sharpened pencils, giant rulers and oily, translucent draughtsman’s paper.

I explain that my father makes cast-iron purlins, which brings him into regular contact with the more modern architectural offices in Berlin, including Peter Behrens’. They are closely following the developments in Weimar. But if my father hadn’t left a pamphlet lying in our living room, I would probably never have heard of the Bauhaus. He’s always been sceptical about my enthusiasm for architecture and would be damned rather than tell me about a university where you can learn something other than good housekeeping. So I sent off my application in secret. When the acceptance letter arrived, it took some persuasion and my mother’s complicity for my father to allow me to go. In the end, he gave his reluctant consent, probably because there is a weaving workshop at the Bauhaus.

Although I’d love an ally, I don’t mention any of this to Gropius. For now, I let him believe that my family is fully behind my plan to study architecture. He stands up and says, ‘Your drawings have potential, but we are very keen to offer our students a comprehensive education. In the preliminary course and other workshops, you will learn many things that will certainly help you with your architectural studies. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.’ I’m sure that these are the standard platitudes he trots out to every new student, but the idea of Gropius being my mentor fills me with pride.

By Theresia Enzensberger

Translated by Lucy Jones

Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.

Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.

Theresia Enzensberger studied Film and Film Studies at Bard College in New York and is a freelance journalist. In 2014 she founded the award-winning BLOCK Magazine. Blueprint is her first novel. She lives in Berlin.

Lucy Jones has lived in Berlin since 1998. She studied German and Film with W.G. Sebald at UEA. In 2008 she founded Transfiction, a collective of translators based in Berlin. She also hosts a reading event series called Fiction Canteen for writers and translators in Berlin.

Category: The German RiveterThe RiveterTranslationsNovember 2019 - The German Riveter


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