I stayed in northern Germany, just outside of Bremen city with a friend and his host family for a week. The family was kind enough to show me the most important artistic works in the area.
The movement that most contributed to the culture of this part of Germany is apparently expressionism. Expressionism was inspired by works done by German artists like Heinrich Vogeler and Edvard Munch at the end of the 19th century.
To my untrained eyes, much of the work was similar to impressionism. However, after a bit of study, it became clear that this is far from the case.
Expressionism, is dark and abstract compared to impressionism. Impressionism is what the world looks like when your eyesight starts to go. Expressionism is what the world looks like when your mind and emotions start to go.
Impressionism is positive and French. Expressionism is dark and German.
The works of Vogeler may have inspired the expressionists, or they might have only been a precursor to them.
Let’s look at Heinrich Vogeler and his home in the Worpswede to see how this might have unfolded. Also, you might begin to understand the entanglements that all these European artists had with one another during the time period in question.
Heinrich Vogeler and Barkenhoff
Heinrich Vogeler is the best known artist from Bremen that I’ve been able to find. His works and ideas seem more realistic and more idealistic than the movement that would emerge after his prime.
Vogeler was born in Bremen in 1872 and studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1890 to 1895. His early work was considered Art Nouveau which I am especially attracted to. There is a fantastical precision in the style that draws the eye and captures the imagination. It requires little effort to appreciate excellent Art Nouveau works like this incredible mural found in Vogeler’s Barkenhoff:
This mural at Barkenhoff is a tremendous example of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau)
What is the Barkenhoff?
The Barkenhoff is Vogeler’s residence at the Worpswede. It was designed by Vogeler. He also designed all of the furniture inside while his brother constructed the pieces. The house is featured prominently in some of Vogeler’s most impressive works. The most famous view of the Barkenhoff can be see here:
What is the Worpswede?
The Worpswede is an artist colony just outside Bremen City. It’s basically a small town created by and for artists. There are a number of interesting museums and galleries presently in the Worpswede. Two of which I’ve visited and will describe in this post: the Barkenhoff and the Museum at Kaffee Worpswede, which is a terrific café and museum designed by Bernhard Hoetger who I will discuss later.
Vogeler’s Product Design
I was especially struck by Vogelers quaint application of Jugendstil to product design. You can see his imagination at work in these household items he designed for the Barkenhoff:
For additional reading on Heinrich Vogeler, see the following:
ODD MAN OUT: HEINRICH VOGELER AND FIN-DE-SIÈCLE WORPSWEDE, Lionel Grossman, 2016, Princeton University
A Biography of Heinrich Vogeler found in the Barkenhoff Museum:
Bernhard Hoetger, Kaffee Worpswede, and Böttcherstraße
Hoetger is possibly the most interesting artistic figure from Northern Germany. His ideas about civilization were so warped and fantastic that even the Nazis laughed him out of the party. Simply put, he thought the Germans were a super race descended from — wait for it — Atlantis.
I guess his ideas were put to the test in WWII.
Anyway, his architecture was a stunning example of expressionism in three-dimensional space. His sculpture work was artfully done and heavily inspired by classical work from all over the world: Egypt, Greece, and the Orient. You can one of my favorite pieces below:
And here you can see the café/museum he architected in the Worpwede:
He pioneered expressionist brickwork and was influenced even by native american culture. You can see evidence in the Café above and also in the Niedersachsenstein pictured below:
Hoetger also architected a famous street in Bremen called Böttcherstraße. Böttcherstraße is a small alley with art shops and impressive architecture. It’s most interesting feature is a golden sculpture embedded above the entrance. This piece is called Lichtbringer and is meant to “glorify the fuhrer” and his victory over darkness.
Note the intricate brickwork. This is a rare example of expressionist architecture that Hoetger pioneered.
Hoetger was kind of a nut. He believed some insane ideas about Germans being descended from Atlantis. He developed a unified theory that involved German superhumans and a common birth point of all world belief systems. Today, we’d call him a conspiracy theorist. You can see the symbolism of his unified theory below:
There are some additional interesting artists that I learned about while in Bremen.
Paula Modersohn-Becker is a famous painter from the region. She is known as one of the first female artists to convey the female figure nude. While I did not survey her entire ouvré, I was not particularly attracted to what I saw.
Rainer Maria Rilke is a famous German poet who lived in the Worpswede for sometime. He was friends with Modersohn-Becker and Vogeler. His story is crazy. He traveled all over Europe and was a lover to Lou Andreas Salomé who apparently hooked up with half the Germanic intelligentsia of the time (see Nietzsche and Freud). Rainer was born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef but changed his name to Rainier because Salomé convinced him that it was more masculine.
Eventually he married Clara Westhoff. Westhoff was a tremendous sculptor (see her bronze cast of Heinrich Vogeler above.)
Clara Westhoff was an incredible beauty as well. Although you might not be able to tell by this portrait done by her friend Paula Modersohn-Becker:
Other Tips for Visiting Bremen
To get around, use a bike. There is a tram system too, but I never really understood it. My host family let me borrow a bike, and that was all I needed. Make sure you use a light when it’s dark.
Cafés in Bremen don’t have Wi-Fi. I heard it’s because establishments are responsible for what guests do on their internet network. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes working out of cafés quite inconvenient. The only place with internet was Starbucks, which is fortunately quite centrally located.
Eat with locals. The older generation eats a huge lunch. They’re quite good at cooking and know where to find local, responsibly sourced ingredients. This was my habit in Bremen.
There is a pretty restaurant downtown called Alex. It’s tempting because of the location, but don’t go there. The food is shit. I got the fish special for lunch my last day in Bremen. It was cold. Just take my word for it.
Instead, go to the nearby Cafe and Bar Celona on the river. It’s a chain but very nice. Get a small plate of Datteln im Speckmantel (literally: Dates in a Bacon Coat). It’s divine.
Just ask locals about The Bermuda Triangle. It’s a small square with several freaky bars. There is even one dressed to look like a cave. There is also a bar called Heartbreak Hotel where you should go after every other place closes down because that’s where the last desperate singles go to hook up.
At least, that’s what my friends told me. You’d never find me at such a place XD.
There is a nearby movie theater that does sneak peeks every Monday night. It gets quite busy. We went there but the movie wasn’t in English or even German, so we decided not to see it.