English translation to be published on 1.09.2019
I don’t regularly attend real-life book clubs these days. The TBR is too big to justify time reading books I’m not really interested in. But, when I spotted that the Glasgow Goethe Institute was going to be discussing Theresia Enzensberger’s Blaupause (Blueprint), set during the heyday of the Bauhaus, it was a given that I would attend. The book is a perfect fit for my Age of The Weimar Republic reading project.
Luise Schilling has ambitions to be an architect. She is from Berlin, the daughter of a wealthy overbearing man and a subjugated mother, who reluctantly grant her permission to attend the Bauhaus University in Weimar. For Luise, this is a great opportunity to take her future in her own hands. So what does she do? let off the leash, she falls head-over-heels with the good-looking Jakob, who keeps her dangling at the end of a very long line. Time after time after time. OK, that happens to young, inexperienced girls, but it takes up almost half of the novel. All is not lost though, Jakob is part of the Mazdaznan sect, led by Johannes Itten and Luise’s aligning herself to this, for the sake of Jakob, not through any conviction of her own, shows us how it was in this most esoteric of Bauhaus environments.
As there was no architectural school in the Weimar years, Luise’s ambitions centre on joining the joinery workshop. But, as we know, despite the avowal of equal opportunities at the Bauhaus, she is assigned, like most other women, to the weaving workshop …. Bad enough, but then her father recalls her, insisting she attend a school for domestic arts. It’s time to attract a good husband.
Three years later, and the Bauhaus has moved to Dessau. The architectural school has been established, and Luise (single still) decides to return. Under her own steam. With no support from her family. Showing a determination of purpose that is to be applauded. If only this carried through into her daily life. She starts another relationship with the ghastly Hermann, spends her nights drinking into the early hours, she doesn’t seem to do much studying. Again she crashes workshops she’s not assigned to, still fighting the glass ceiling the Bauhaus imposes on her. Then when she finally gets to the architectural classes, she cannot assert herself against two patronising fellow students. At the same time I am expected to believe that she has the talent and necessary focus to design a social housing complex worthy of the interest the Bauhaus founder, Walter Gropius.
This inconsistency in Luise’s character was frustrating. I’m not sure what Enzensberger wanted to achieve with it …. unless it’s a comment about the glass ceilings that women construct in their own heads. Or that Luise, despite her ambition, was in need of some modernising herself. The last we see of Luise at the Bauhaus is her bitter leavetaking from Dessau. Thereafter, the novel becomes a series of documents from Luise’s estate, which pieced together show that Luise learns the lessons of her Bauhaus years and finally achieves the personal self-esteem and confidence she was so sadly lacking at that time.
Unfortunately there’s no way of knowing how this happened! This is somewhat dissatisfying.
What of the wider Bauhaus environment? Luise has extensive experience of the parties, but otherwise her focus is so narrow, she’s not going to come into contact with the Klees, Kandinskys and Breuers of that world. Although Hermann, rich as he is, has 4 of the famous steel chairs in his apartment. (I assume these are the Wassily chairs.) As for the Bauhaus infighting? The Gropius-Itten fallout, and later the Gropius-Meyer conflict. We hear of them, third-hand through Luise, who only hears of them second-hand. Internal politics are not her thing. External politics, perhaps? The general unrest of the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazis and the clashes with the communists. Mostly just background noise to those in the Bauhaus bubble of the Weimar and early Dessau years, although Luise’s friend, Friedrich, bursts it to move to Berlin and become fully involved in the class struggles.
Enzensberger uses a light touch referencing many Baushaus innovations (like the chairs and the non-capitalised font) in everyday conversations and comments. I was glad I had previously read The Story of the Bauhaus, otherwise I would have missed the significance of some of this. Overall though, this is not a positive picture of the Bauhaus, but it is one that exposes the hypocrisy of the institution with regard to its female players.
Blaupause (Blueprint) is Enzenberger’s debut novel. Enjoyable n the main, and like its main protagonist, ambitious, but sometimes lacking consistency.