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Building Culture

Ernst May and the New Frankfurt am Main Initiative, 1926–1931


Susan R. Henderson

This book is a history of the initiative, its projects and actors, notably the architect and planner Ernst May, and its achievements, set within the turbulent context of the Weimar decade. It chronicles its many accomplishments: the construction of housing settlements, innovations in construction and materials, the parks and garden colonies program, innovations in school, medical facility and church design, reforms in woman’s sphere, and a crafting of New Life culture. It examines the New Frankfurt am Main in light of the social and political debates that shaped it and the works it produced, and describes the relationship of work and theory to contemporary reform movements. Finally, the narrative underscores the gulf between the idyll of modernity and the political and social realities of life in a Germany on the brink of collapse.


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3 The New Woman’s Home. Kitchens, Laundries, Furnishings 143


3The New Woman’s Home Kitchens, Laundries, Furnishings These days many teachers, doctors, lawyers, merchants and others find it nec- essary to go without household help, and do their housekeeping and child- rearing themselves. . . . [I]n a large house, the housewife becomes a slave to her work and is mortally crushed under a load of repetitive tasks. Who is unaware of the housewife’s lament that she hasn’t time to read a book, make music or in other ways be mentally active? To keep our people from becoming increas- ingly shallow, we must change. . . . Every bit of formalism and superficiality, social propriety and the like, which flowed along with the slow tempo of life in our grandmothers’ time, we now only endure; it is not of our time. We must work with haste to achieve a sound solution, to fulfill the imperatives of our spiritual lives.1 —Ernst May, 1924 Established and active in the world and in the family, she can make her husband completely at home. From her own rich sphere of influence, there grows in her a clear understanding of his aspirations, his strug- gles and his work. She stands by his side no longer as a faithful and so- licitous handmaid, but rather as the warmly committed guardian of his ideals, as a companion in his struggles, as a comrade in his efforts and his exertions, giving and receiving intellectual and moral support.2 —Clara Zetkin In the standardized and flat-roofed houses of Praunheim and Römerstadt, women discovered that...

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