Numerous companies have christened themselves Bauhaus over the years
From The International Herald Tribune:
Deconstructing a prestigious name
BY ALICE RAWSTHORN
LONDON — When a friend from Manchester landed in Berlin with time to spare before a meeting, he asked a taxi driver to take him to the Bauhaus museum. Instead of being deposited outside the Bauhaus Archive, which is dedicated to the early 20th-century German art and design school, my friend was astonished when the taxi stopped at an enormous D.I.Y. superstore.
Perhaps his request was lost in translation, but the driver had mistaken the name of the archive for that of the Bauhaus retail group. The error was understandable, because hundreds of organizations have chosen the name Bauhaus: from a Hong Kong furniture store and a solar energy conference in Frankfurt, to a Madrid investment bank and a hostel in the Belgian city of Bruges. There is also the Bauhaus University in Weimar, the city where the school originated, and one of the first gothic rock groups was dubbed Bauhaus.
Every so often, there have been legal ructions over the name. The biggest battle was in 1972 when the Bauhaus Archive tried to force the retail giant to drop the name, but failed. A new argument has erupted over the latter's recent efforts to compel ''My Bauhaus is better than yours,'' a small Berlin company selling conceptual work by young designers, to change its name. Its legal assault succeeded, but has triggered a feisty debate over the ownership of one of the most important names in design history.
To any design enthusiast, the word Bauhaus means one thing: the art and design school founded by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919. The Bauhaus moved to a bespoke building in the city of Dessau in 1925, and then to Berlin, where the Nazis forced it to close in 1933. By then, it was famed as a bastion of the modern movement, whose approach to arts education had been imitated all over the world.
Many of the most important figures in 20th-century art and design taught or studied there: Gropius and Mies van der Rohe in architecture; Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee in painting; Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer in communications; Anni Albers and Gunta Stölzl in textiles; and Marianne Brandt, Marcel Breuer and Wilhelm Wagenfeld in product design. No wonder so many people have wished to be associated with it.
The name Bauhaus was chosen by Gropius in 1919. The previous year, he had written to a friend, the museum director Karl Ernst Osthaus, explaining that he was thinking of starting a new school, which he described as a ''Bauhütte,'' or a medieval Masonic workshop. Soon afterward, Gropius was invited to become director of the Academy of Fine Art in Weimar, and insisted on merging it with the nearby School of Arts and Crafts and adding an architecture department. On March 20, 1919, he made a formal request for the new school to be named the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar.
''Staatliches,'' or ''state,'' was only ever used for official purposes, and Gropius is thought to have invented Bauhaus, which combines the German words for 'build'' and ''house'' as a more modern version of Bauhütte, stripped of its Masonic origins. His choice of a short, distinctive name, easily pronounceable by foreigners, helped to raise awareness of the Bauhaus worldwide. By 1924, it was so well known that Gropius registered Bauhaus as a company to generate income for the school by selling the students' work.
Gropius left the Bauhaus in 1928, and its last director, Mies Van Der Rohe, took the painful decision to close the school in 1933 under intense political pressure. No one could have anticipated how famous the Bauhaus would become as its alumni fled Nazi Germany to seek refuge in different countries, where many of them assumed important academic posts, including Gropius, who perpetuated the school's memory from his new power base at Harvard University, helped by Philip Johnson, an influential curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
As the Bauhaus's posthumous reputation rose, so did the value of its name, especially to anyone likely to benefit from being linked to design, modernity or creativity. Legally, the name was up for grabs, because of the haste with which the school had closed and the political confusion in post-war Germany, where the Bauhaus buildings in the eastern cities of Weimar and Dessau were on the opposite side of the Iron Curtain to the Bauhaus Archive, which opened in Darmstadt in 1960, and moved to a building designed by Gropius in West Berlin in 1971.
Numerous companies have christened themselves Bauhaus over the years, the most prominent being the retail group, which began with one store in 1960 and now owns 190 stores across Europe selling furniture and garden products as well as hardware. It trademarked the name during the 1960s and has taken legal action to protect it. Even so, it is puzzling as to why it targeted the tiny My Bauhaus, which has three employees and whose choice of name was clearly ironic, when there are so many bigger businesses called Bauhaus.
Set up by a bunch of design students from Bauhaus University in 2009, My Bauhaus, now called New Tendency, holds exhibitions of conceptual design and sells small editions of furniture and objects. ''When we received the first legal letter last spring, we believed it was a joke,'' said Manuel Goller, one of its co-founder. ''But a second letter arrived in the autumn. We couldn't afford a lawsuit, so we have changed our name. How is it possible that a hardware store controls the name of the most important art and design movement of the 20th century?''
Similar questions are being posed by the German media and by design historians concerned that young Europeans will grow up associating Bauhaus with D.I.Y. superstores, not with a visionary design school. Judging by the number of calls to the Bauhaus Foundation in Dessau requesting advice on home repair, some people already do.