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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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8 The City. Aspirations and Politics 447


8The City Aspirations and Politics a new spirit, a spirit of a great culture…1 —Ludwig Landmann What was it? Those fresh gusts of vital spiritual winds and the experience of working together. Its origin—“the Werkbund approach”—lived on in the circle of friends at Otto Ernst Sutter’s, the generation that gave the city of Frankfurt its culture and then, in the twenties, its unforgettable character. . . Hygiene, social, and economic claims were no longer enough in this new era. The development of the city, its daily life, and finally, its culture, all urged the work towards comprehensivity and humane institutions.2 —Ella Bergmann-Michel, 1966 In October 1927, in a speech on the opening of the Grossmarkthalle, Ludwig Land- mann celebrated the city’s recent achievements: the opening of the new stadium, the renovation of the venerated Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) and the festival, the Summer of Music.3 Each was a milestone in his “Kulturstadt” campaign to restore Frank- furt’s reputation as a “city of culture” harkening back to the Frankfurt of Goethe— a city of music, literature and the arts. Goethe’s was a city of intellectual and scien- tific achievement, and education was, and would remain, of primary significance. In 1763, Johann Christian Senckenberg founded the Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft (Senckenberg Natural Science Research Society) with a hospital and related research facilities, including a laboratory, an anatomi- cal school, and botanical gardens. It was the first such bequest given by an indi- vidual, and provided the model for Johann Friederich St...

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