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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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5 Parks and Gardens 245


5Parks and Gardens The naked body evolves into the symbol of the individual liberated from pre- vailing social conditions, to water is ascribed the myth’s power to wash away the dirt of the workplace. It is the hydraulic pressure of the economic system that overcrowds our swimming baths.1 —Sigfried Kracauer As the country crept out of the post-war depression, an abundance of programs encouraged a healthy, outdoor life, and the sleek body became the symbol of rebirth. (Figure 5.01) Leisure was a politicized ter- rain, but sport and gardening were activities all could rally around. Reformers promoted them as healthy, productive, and morally uplifting; industrialists saw a vaccine against discontent. For the workers, sports clubs were both political and social centers, while gardening promised them a modicum of security, a hedge against an uncertain economy. Among them all there was a general alarm at the erosion of tradi- tional culture: even trade union leaders were shocked by a Weimar generation with little of the steadfast sobriety of the older gen- eration, a casualty, it seemed, of urban life and its dissipations. Thus, the cre- ation of parks and allotment gardens evolved as the setting for a heroic post- war culture, a vigorous population, and even the democratization of leisure. And, as rationalization had its impact even here, experts spoke in a “scientific” language that quantified the area—three square meters—of parkland required per citizen, and the 250 square meters required to feed a family of four.2 Only one division...

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