Politics and Culture in Wilhelmine Germany: The Case of Industrial Architecture

By Matthew Jefferies | Go to book overview

4
Friedrich Naumann and the 'Heilbronn Connection': The Politics of the Werkbund

In the late summer of 1906 the young journalist and political activist Theodor Heuss ( 1884-1963) was a busy man. By day he was writing perceptive articles on politics, economics and architecture for the Berlin journal Die Hilfe, and fighting to arrest the long-term decline of organised liberalism in Wilhelmine Germany, whilst by night he composed self- conscious but affectionate letters to his future wife Elly Knapp in far-distant Strasbourg. At the same time, however, his mind was wrestling with two weighty problems posed by his publisher and mentor Friedrich Naumann. The first concerned the formation of an association of progressive artists and manufacturers, which Naumann had proposed in conjunction with the third National Exhibition of the Applied Arts, on display in Dresden from May to October 1906.

Naumann's initial inclination, expressed casually in conversation at Berlin's Café Unterberg one August evening, was to entrust the organisation of such an undertaking to Heuss himself. To the considerable relief of the 22 year old, Naumann had then reconsidered, asking him instead for suggestions of more suitable candidates. Heuss's response was to recommend a fellow former student of Lujo Brentano's economics seminar in Munich, Wolf Dohrn, who had campaigned for Naumann's short-lived Nationalsoziale Verein (NSV) in the 1903 General Election. Naumann must have been impressed by Heuss's choice, for, as we have seen, Dohrn indeed became the first Executive Secretary of the Werkbund, when it was finally constituted a year later.

The second problem exercising Heuss's young mind in the summer of 1906 appeared more intractable. Reichstag elections were due in 1908, and Friedrich Naumann -- a national political figure for a decade, but yet to taste electoral success -- was looking for a seat. The Freisinnige Vereinigung, the small left liberal party Naumann and most of his followers had joined on the demise of the NSV in 1903, had no 'safe' seats and no regional strongholds. For all Heuss's powers of imagination and coercion,

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