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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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9 “und sonst gar nichts.” The End of the New Frankfurt Initiative 521


9“und sonst gar nichts” The End of the New Frankfurt Initiative The combined specter of hunger and collapse haunts the city. In the past, the proletariat was recruited en masse from ruined small farmers. Today, the same ruined proletarian is supposed to go back and become a helpless small farmer or gardener, degraded back into a sharecropping laborer. This is nothing but a new version of indentured labor under the guise of voluntarism. For the time being, these barrack colonies with their small gardens are very much like the old Russian Potemkin Villages; there is no money for comprehensive develop- ment, and besides, the conditions in the current labor market do not support such grand colonization. Yet the cottage ideology of architects—an expanding house, sun, air, in short, a home for all!—has nevertheless found a pretext to push its message in the most reactionary and barbaric ways: authors such as L. Migge, M. Wagner, Poelzig, Gropius, Häring, Mendelsohn, Scharoun, and Mebes keep on advancing designs for small wooden cottages (with luxury furniture!) for the unemployed, where a large family is supposed to be able to live in a floor area of 25 square meters. To add insult to injury these colonies are to be built by the unemployed themselves. They may call this proletarian self-help, but it is really nothing less than an invitation to suicide.1 —Karel Teige, 1932 Teige’s outrage brings us to the distressing resurgence of back-to-the-land settle- ment policies in the final days...

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