The next day, I decided to go for a further walk. But first I did some shopping at the local supermarket and the baker’s. I have been reading Marshall Berman’s All That is Solid Melts into Air. The opening chapter which deals with Goethe’s Faust is densely packed with ideas and hints and suggestions. I was thinking about it in the local REWE and in the process didn’t really concentrate on the shopping. It was only when I got back that I realized what an odd collection of things I’d bought.
London is too well known to get properly lost in it and one misses the sense of walking into the unexpected. And German cities have a different history and trajectory from English ones and particular forms of architecture. There are still scars in the streets from the aerial bombardment. One wonders what the scars are in the people. Local histories have been written, and WG Sebald’s extraordinary The Natural History of Destruction. Jörg Friedrich’s book Der Brand, Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940–1945 has not yet been translated into English (as far as I’m aware) and generated a certain amount of controversy.
I am militantly anti-war and acutely aware of how the after-wash of the Second World War continues to impact on the lives of those who lived through it, and for many of the second generation. When one lifts the official shroud which lies upon the dead a very dirty war is revealed indeed. Many seek to continue to make political capital from it without seeming to understand what it was actually about. I have yet to read anything which provides a critique similar to Rosa Luxemburg’s analysis of the First World War outlined in The Junius Pamphlet.
But my walk today is not explore war, but to try to understand a little of Offenbach and its surrounds.
This is what I describe as the missing link in an understanding of the architectural history of Germany. The Middle Ages can be pieced together with castles and palaces. The Enlightenment and the Absolutism of the eighteenth century with more palaces and baroque churches. But what of the vernacular domestic architecture? Is this it?
The balcony is a little Renaissance. What were the local builders thinking of? There is nothing obvious to compare the urban and industrial development of Offenbach in the latter years of the nineteenth century with the Italian cities of the fifteenth. And Adolf Loos would be getting rather cross with all those griffins.
Another balcony, this one with even more ornamentation. But some rather rococo adornments to the windows. It would be interesting to know what books were in the architecture section of the local libraries, in say 1880. This was an important time in German history. The country was recently united and there was a sense of military, and increasing economic strength following the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. Any new state needs to try and find a style which is representative of something; but of what?
It was also the period of the development of a mass socialist party, many of whose members considered themselves to be Marxists.
But all states within class societies are full of conflicts, contradictions and tensions. Therefore the ambition of the ruling class to find a style. But they are ever aware of the opposition of the working class and how that class is disenfranchised not only in ‘democracy’ but also in urban planning (and, dare it be said, in production).
This is the main railway station, Offenbach Hauptbanhof. Someone has been bold enough to make it appear as a railway station. Railways were a qualitatively different means of transport to what had come before and a key determinant in the growth of cities, migration and the development of suburbs. One puzzle was, ‘what should they look like’? How could this new innovation be expressed in terms of design? I guess someone working in the railway office came up with this original idea of gothic-art-deco (although it’s too early – it was built in 1872-73). I think it’s great. But what a shame that it seems to be so under-used and steel shutters cover the windows. This could be a community centre, art gallery, or just a pleasant space, to let people make of it as they will. Perhaps it is being deliberately run-down because it stands in the way of ‘development’.
The railway line to Sachenhausen and then to Frankfurt am Main Hauptbanhof must have transferred the area when it was built in the 1870s. Now however, it is surprisingly green and is hidden, or appears to be part of the natural history of the town-scape. It is motorism which now dominates, in the volume of traffic and the clutter of traffic lights and signs and markings. The railway line is masked by trees. The road is everywhere.
I am not generally a great fan of contemporary art (although I must admit to sneakily admiring some of it). But I thought this chair exhibit promoting the art market works well.
When I walked back to take another look, the local school children were trashing it thus turning it into a piece of auto-destructive art. Metzger would have been delighted.
Revolutions in the means of transport. The train was sudden and unexpected. Neat and sleek, surrounded by rules and regulations. The space around the line line is cut off by fences, within which nature grows with a certain freedom and wildness.
Motorism requires huge amounts of urban (and rural) space, energy and materials and yet is not a particular cost-effective, or efficient means of transport.
Art Deco feature on the entrance to the offices of a factory?
This was in Weiner Strasse. I walked the length of it as it’s a hill and one gets views along the side streets.
The modern world is greatly influenced by Bauhaus. In general it is not the ‘style’ which determines whether it ‘works’ or not, but the quality of the materials, the measure of floor space, the ratio of building to green space, location, provision of services and so on. And also the social relations surrounding it. This looks a reasonable place to live. But what is the ownership and ‘management’? It might be a housing cooperative where people pay a rent which is in a ratio to what they earn. For example, 30 percent. I think most people would consider that reasonable. Or people may be paying excessive rents, fees, surcharges and service charges to third party companies which are based in tax havens. It is not the buildings which create this stuff but the owners of land.
The relations of production, the social necessity of housing, the constant pressure on the mass of people, creates oppositional political voices. Ruling classes spend large sums of money trying to discredit opposition and in suggesting scapegoats to take attention away from their own failures.
The opposition has to fight the immense organized power of capital. This capital, the product of human labour, is also an expression of alienated human labour. It creates its own dynamic of ever expanding accumulation, but it does so in conditions of competition and constant pressures of profitability.
Capital is a weird power which threatens even the capitalists. They are for ever in conflict as to whether to liquidate capital to turn it into money-power, or to use it to generate more capital. But that is no longer their choice. The requirements of capital decide. That’s how alien it is to human life.
A note of thanks to Marshall Berman. He was an excellent walking companion for the day. Even if he did muddle up my shopping. There is a tale of modernity, even in that.