A trip to the beautiful little town of Neuruppin gives Zalina Mohd Som an insight into its most famous resident, among other highlights
“WHO is John Maynard? ” asks Hans in a commanding voice as we gather around him in the middle of the living room located at the back of a small restaurant in the old town of Neuruppin.
Everyone in our small group of journalists from all four corners of the globe for the German Travel Mart 2019 event, looks at each other for answers.
“Who is John Maynard?” he asks again. “John Maynard was our helmsman true. To solid land he carried us through.
He saved our lives, our noble king. He died for us; his praise we sing,” he continues without waiting for our answers.
His big voice echoes in the small living room that looks more like a display set.
In one corner there’sacomplete reading room, while the other corners display artefacts.
This small museum is dedicated to famous German poet Theodor Fontane.
The reading room is a replica of the poet’s reading room and that question on John Maynard is actually an English translation of one of his famous poems.
WHO IS THEODOR FONTANE
The museum is not the only thing dedicated to Fontane. In fact the whole town of Neuruppin, which is located about 80km from Berlin, is dedicated to the poet.
This is because Fontane was born there 200 years ago. The home-cum-apothecary he was born in is still standing in the heart of the town. It is still an apothecary, though it no longer belongs to his family as his father sold it due to gambling debts.
It has now been classified as a historical building. But it was more than just a home for Fontane.
It was where he started his profession as a pharmacist as his father’s apprentice before finally moving to Berlin to pursue his passion for writing while working in a pharmacy in the capital. The pharmacy in Berlin is now a little museum at the grand Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in the city’s Kreuzberg borough.
Besides the pharmacy, we discover other Fontane-linked attractions in our three-hour walk — his old school, a memorial, his favourite footpaths in the gardens around the Neuruppin Lake and even his favourite food served in many restaurants and bistros in the town.
To be honest, this is the first time I’m hearing his name but the ongoing fontane.200/Author exhibition held at Neuruppin Museum gives a good introduction to him and his works.
What captures my attention is the dedicated room given to interpret his realist novel, Effi Briest, and presentitina unique art installation that uses words, alphabets and colours.
But Fontane aside, the little town that sits on the edge of the longest Brandenburg lake, Ruppiner See, is itself a beautiful place to escape to foraday or two from hectic Berlin.
BAUHAUS IN BERLIN
Back in Berlin, something totally different awaits us. In our tour bus, after introducing himself, our guide Klaus asks, “Do you like chocolate? We’re going to make our first stop at a chocolate shop. This is no ordinary chocolate shop though it’s been said its chocolate is one of the best in the city,” he continues.
The bus finally pulls over at a plain looking shop that only has two huge window displays and a simple signage. I try looking for that something extraordinary from the shop.
“Maybe it’s in its chocolate,” I say to myself.
Once we have gathered around Klaus in front of the shop, he explains: “This shop has a typical Bauhaus design interior — lines, boxes and even the distinctive blue lines are rhythmically arranged.”
The 1928 interior furnishings of the Erich Hamann chocolate factory shop designed by Bauhaus artist Johannes Itten have been preserved in its original condition. The chocolate? “Yes, that too is still made according to the old recipe and still comes in the same packaging,” says Klaus.
Ok, who is Bauhaus then? Bauhaus is not a person, not like Fontane. It is actually one of the world’s most influential schools of architecture, art, photography, theatre and design — not just during the period of classical modernism but throughout the 20th century.
The school, officially known as Staatliches Bauhaus, was founded by Berlin architect Walter Gropius in Weimar 100 years ago. Its aesthetics are said to still have a lasting impact on the perception of style until now.
From the chocolate shop, our tour heads to the district of Zehlendorf to see another Bauhaus masterpiece by renowned architect Bruno Taut.
Taut substantially designed a massive housing estate, the Waldsiedlung Zehlendorf (Zehlendorf Forest Estate) or fondly known as Onkel Toms Hutte (Uncle Tom’s Cabin Forest Estate), named after a cafe. Built between 1926 and 1932 in a peaceful woodland setting, the 12-hectare estate houses apartment buildings that vary in both appearance and scale.
There are almost-identical terraced homes that are embellished with Taut’s signature use of colour, from zinging primaries on windows to earthier tones on facades.
“These dwellings in the carefully coordinated hues are easily constituted as one of Berlin’s most impressive ensembles of classic, Bauhaus-influenced design,” Klaus says passionately.
He says some of the buildings seen in our three-hour tour are featured in the Grand Tour of Modernism, a tour specially designed to mark the Bauhaus 100-year anniversary celebration.
“Design and architecture lovers, not specifically Bauhaus fans, should join this tour as it highlights Germany’s important modernist buildings,” he adds.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BAUHAUS, FONTANE!
BERLIN is celebrating the Bauhaus centenary and Theodor Fontane’s 200th anniversary celebrations with a host of events.
• Now until Sept 28— Theodor Fontane Guided Tours in Paretz located 40km west of Berlin. The guided tour retraces the poet’s Wanderings Through The March Of Brandenburg, his book that describes the landscapes, places and the people he met on the way. The tour is available on the last Saturday of every month.
• Now until Dec 30 — fontane.200/Author is an exhibition at the centre of the Fontane anniversary year. The exhibition is held at Neuruppin Museum in the beautiful city of Neuruppin, the author’s birthplace.
• Now until Dec 31 — Fontane the Pharmacist exhibition. The exhibition lets visitors gain an insight into Fontane¥s training and employment as a pharmacist before he left the profession in 1849 to begin work as a freelance writer. It’s held at the Brandenburg Pharmacy Museum.
• Aug 31-Sept 8 — Bauhaus Week Berlin, a weeklong cultural projects that will enable visitors to experience the ideas of the Bauhaus movement in public spaces. There will be numerous activities such as shop-window exhibitions and longer opening hours for the museums.
• Aug 31-Sept 15— The Kunstbibliothek (Art Library) at the Kulturforum in Berlin will reconstruct an exhibition that L·szlÛ Moholy Nagy put on in Berlin in 1929 in which he summarised his teaching activities at the Bauhaus.
• Sept 6-Jan 27 — The Original Bauhaus Exhibition, a collaboration between the Bauhaus Archive and the Berlinische Galerie. It will showcase 14 case histories based on 14 original objects and their reception.