Thursday, May 17, 2012

Little escap(ad)e: Fagus Factory in Alfeld

Between last weekend, which I spent teaching a workshop at the “Nadelwelt” (World of Needles) in Karlsruhe, and the beginning of the four-day-event by the German Patchwork-Guild in Einbeck, where I will be selling my hand-dyed fabrics, I had two days off. My husband had suggested that I should rather save several hundred miles of driving and go north directly instead of going home Sunday night only to leave again early Wednesday morning. So I took a room in a modest guest house in Alfeld, north of Einbeck, in an area that every German child has heard about if it has been listening to Grimms’ fairy tales: it is the area of the “Seven mountains” where the Grimms located the story of Snow White and the seven dwarfs, and which is mentioned in the story when the stepmother asks the mirror about how beautiful she is.
I went there on purpose, because I knew that I would have a wonderful opportunity to educate myself: Alfeld is the city where Walter Gropius, architect and founder of the Bauhaus school, got his first chance at realizing a major building. 

Sketch for Fagus factory in Alfeld

The industrial site of the Fagus factory, begun in 1911, has been beautifully restored and was awarded the title of Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site last year, which I learned from Mary during our Bauhaus-workshop in November

Fagus building today

Originally Fagus works was a production plant for shoe lasts, over the years other areas of business have been added. 

Shoe last from about 1915

The site is still a working production site, but the very first original buildings have now been turned into a permanent exhibit on Walter Gropius and Carl Benscheidt, the founder of the Fagus factory 
who accepted Gropius’ letter of application and was an essential part in the beginning and building of Gropius’ career. Further parts of the exhibit are a documentation of the renovation process, the development and history of shoe making and shoe lasts, a section on forests and their importance for the world climate, current-day tehcnical use of massive wood in building and industry, derived timber products, the people who work at Fagus, and the history of the firm and its position in the overall network of Unesco World Heritage sites. They also have changing special exhibits in the basement:

Special exhibit in the basement

The entire exhibit is very informative and well worth spending the larger part of the morning on. Each section is located on a separate floor of the building, which used to be the storage and drying location for the beech wood needed as raw material for the lasts.

Between the various floors you pass through the restored stairway, and the overall architecture already gives an impression of what was later to be called the “Bauhaus style”.

In the section on forests you get to see one complete cubic metre of wood – and you learn that it takes between two and five seconds for this amount of wood to grow back (measured over the entire size of Germany), and you need between five and ten cubic metres of wood for the construction of the wooden beams that carry a large roof.

On the premises is also a little café where you can get a warm meal if you happen to finish your visit around twelve o’clock – which is when the Fagus workers come to fetch their lunch. I happened to be sitting next to two nice researchers from New Zealand and had a nice chat with them while waiting for the rain to stop that had started while I was in the exhibit. Which didn’t happen, though, so I now have a new umbrella.

There is also one little building facing the railroad tracks that hasn’t been restored yet. I think they should restore this one as well and put the bookstore or souvenir shop in there:

If you’re planning on coming to Germany for a visit any time soon, and happen to be more in the northern part of the country, and are interested in Bauhaus history, this place is definitely a “must see”!

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