Hellerau, now a district of Dresden, was started in 1909 as the first garden city in Germany. It was founded by the businessman, Karl Schmidt-Hellerau, who was influenced both by the Lebensreform movement and by the English Garden City movement of Ebenezer Howard. The idea was to have a planned community which combined living and working with culture and education. Schmidt also set up a furniture factory there, which as well as producing furniture on an industrial scale also produced artisan made “Reform” furniture.
Schmidt employed a number of well-known architects (Riemerschmid, Tessenow, Muthesius, Frick and Metzendorf) to design the garden city and its buildings. As well as the workshops, a settlement of small houses for the workers was designed and built. In addition, there were land-houses, a market, schools and boarding houses for the schoolchildren, shops and public baths, doctors practices and boarding houses for single people. During the building of the garden city, the normal building regulations were suspended. People from around Europe who were influenced by the “Lebensreform” movement came to visit the community, and some of them stayed.
One of the reformers who came at the invitation of Karl Schmidt was the swiss composer and music-pedagogue, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. The architect, Heinrich Tessenow, designed a building for him where Dalcroze’s “rythmic gymnastics” could be taught and performed, the Hellerau Festspielhaus. This became an important centre for modern expressionist dance. In the following years up to the first world war, the annual festival became an important cultural event, attended by people such as George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Franz Kafka, Oscar Kokoschka and Djagilew.
End of an age:
The start of the first world war, combined with the death of Schmidt’s top assistant, Wolf Dohrn, meant an end to the cultural “golden age” at Hellerau. It also meant an end to the visits by european reformers and a slow drift of the settlement into being part of the mainstream society.
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