Walter Riezler’s “The Fight for German Culture” (1932)
Translated from the German by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, et al.
From Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology
of Original Articles. (Whitney Library of Design. New York, NY: 1975).
• • •
It seems odd, today, to look back to 1908, when Theodor Fischer made that fine selfless remark, that the true aim of the Deutscher Werkbund was to make itself superfluous. The ten years’ limit he gave it has long since passed and no one nowadays — apart from our enemies of course, who pursue us as vindictively as ever — would dream of calling the Werkbund superfluous, unless he were so fainthearted as to believe that all our work had been in vain and that our fight to put across our ideas had been doomed to failure. We have certainly no intention of taking such a cowardly view of things, even if at the outset none of us imagined that the way would be so long and the achievements so few.
As far as ‘raising the level of work’ is concerned, many of the claims the Werkbund stood for and repeatedly insisted on have unquestionably been realized in the meantime. And there is no need to go into detail to prove it. But on the other hand we have only to think of the industrial fairs to see how common rubbish still is. No doubt the economic upheavals brought about by the war hindered the progress of ‘quality work,’ but this circumstance alone was not wholly responsible. Quite a wide sector of the public is evidently still disinclined to take a serious interest in real quality and reliability. And against the weight of this opinion the Werkbund can visibly do nothing, or lamentably little.
But nothing would be farther from the truth or more dangerous then to suppose that the Werkbund intends to abdicate on account of these difficulties and simply entrust things to time. It began as a militant movement and is well aware that it will always be called upon to fight. Its personal struggle has always had a very special nature, however, not so much against a foe as for a cause. And the Werkbund has turned on the enemy only in self-defense, when it knew that its ideas were being directly threatened, and has shrewdly limited its target, well aware that it lacks the strength to destroy so much that seems different and ‘inferior’ in its eyes. Whenever it dared to engage in single combat it was invariably defeated, but when it enlisted such means as exhibitions, advertising and personal persuasion to support its ideas, it gained considerable ground because it was able to play upon forces which were already working in its favor. And no one can say that the potentialities for this type of warfare have been exhausted.
On the contrary, a fight is needed more urgently nowadays than ever and will have to be conducted more vigorously than for some time. The immediacy of the danger has become only too clear with the annihilation of the Dessau Bauhaus (though fortunately it has just been resuscitated in Berlin as a private undertaking) and if more blows are to be dealt then much of what we have already achieved may have to be given up, and the most worthwhile creative talent Germany possesses in arts and crafts could be permanently crippled. The Werkbund must marshal all its forces to prevent such a thing from happening.