In 1960, the first “Bauhaus” home improvement store opened near Mannheim, Germany. With nearly 190 stores in countries around Europe, for many people, this is the first encounter they have with “Bauhaus.” Unfortunately, it has little in common with Gropius’ movement in design, the arts and architecture.
Spiegel: “Architect Walter Gropius and his group of communal craftsmen put a radical stamp on architecture, design and art education during Germany’s Weimar Period between the two world wars. He even claims he coined the term “Bauhaus” as the name for his atypical art school.
Along the way, though, he forgot an important thing: to protect the name.
As a result, up to 40 companies in Germany and myriad others abroad have taken the word “Bauhaus” as a brand or title. The imitators include a furniture label in the United States, a rumored bordello in Japan, a chocolate variety that touts its form and function, a real estate company and the early British gothic band led by Peter Murphy.
“Bauhaus sells,” says Dr. Annemarie Jaeggi, director of the Bauhaus Archive Museum in Berlin. “That’s the point.” When someone is copying you or your name in a corporate context, she says, “then you see that you really have a brand.”
But the greatest squatter of the moniker is a do-it-yourself retailer based in Mannheim, which trademarked the Bauhaus during postwar divided Germany. It happened before Gropius and others moved to established archives and museums — in Dessau and Weimar (in the former east) and Berlin — to explain and protect the historical Bauhaus and its legacy. Now, it’s causing confusion to the general public and frustration to Bauhaus design aficionados.
The Bauhaus Archive vs. Bauhaus AG
Heinz G. Baus started with a 600-square-meter lumber and home improvement store in Mannheim, calling it “Bauhaus” in 1960. Sources at the company say he picked up the retailing idea in the US and brought it back to Germany. A reclusive owner, Mr. Baus avoids public attention and declines most interview requests, including one from SPIEGEL ONLINE.
His Bauhaus stores are becoming more and more ubiquitous around Europe. The Swiss-registered Bauhaus AG now has 190 stores in 15 countries around Europe, expanding as far north as Scandinavia and as far south as Spain and Turkey. It’s planning new stores in Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
Bauhaus AG has expanded from selling lumber and other building materials, like America’s Home Depot, and into the territory of Walmart with some home goods. Its brand logo uses the color red and block letters to spell Bauhaus, echoing the black and red graphics ubiquitous in the historical design movement. The store brand’s slogan: “Wenn’s gut werden muss,” or “When it has to be good,” is repeated over loud speakers in the company’s large, concrete store spaces.
On a recent day at a Bauhaus franchise in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood, dozens of shoppers file through the massive store space with 30-foot high ceilings and massive, floor-to-ceiling metal shelves holding everything from saws to screws to light bulbs. “I don’t think this has something to do with Gropius,” says Harmut Niemke, 59, who was buying coal for his home stove. “I hadn’t thought about it.”
Robert Köhler, a spokesman with Bauhaus AG, says Gropius’ Bauhaus school has some things in common with the store franchises. “We offer products that are very helpful for your house and garden,” he says. “The story of Bauhaus in Dessau and Weimar is very similar to that. It’s very functional and for the people.”
But Bauhaus Archive’s Jaeggi offers an altogether different take. “If you look at their products,” she says, “you can see it has absolutely nothing to do with what (the original) Bauhaus wanted to do.”
Read on at Spiegel.