Cultural Experiments in the Weimar Republic
Mr Gavin Plumley
Summary by Derek Latham:-
Gavin Plumley, music, literary and theatrical agent turned art and culture commentator and lecturer, made a welcome return to Scarborough following his talk here some time ago on cultural life in Vienna. His subject on April 17th was the re-emergence of painting, literature, photography and architecture in Germany immediately after World War One in what became known as the Weimar Republic, the constitution of which was formulated in the town of Weimar in 1919, and which lasted until the beginning of the Third Reich in 1933.
Gavin painted a vivid but bleak picture of post-World War One Germany through the medium of paintings and photographs of the desolation of the country and the despair of the defeated inhabitants. A photograph of a limbless veteran stationed forlornly at the foot of a flight of steps he was unable to climb was particularly telling. There was widespread resentment in Germany at the severity of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which was designed to control so many aspects of German life. The German view was that the cause of World War 1 lay in the Austro-Hungarian empire, not in Germany; Germany did not in fact actually declare war.
Nevertheless from the ashes of war a new cultural development began to emerge. In pre-war Germany the dominant influence in art had been expressionism. The new school was Neue Sachlichkeit, or the “New Objectivity”. From its many practitioners Gavin selected the names of August Sander, Otto Dix and Christian Schad as having particular influence, stressing the growing importance in this movement of photography and cinema as serious forms of art. The essence of New Objectivity lay in realism, both in subject matter and interpretation, compared with the romantic aspect of expressionism. This led on to the Bauhaus movement, which as Gavin pointed out, influenced painting and photography as well as the architecture for which it later became best known. He compared the new more simplistic approach with that in later years of IKEA and Habitat.
In the field of literature and theatre Gavin drew attention to the work of Erich Maria Remarque’s anti-war novel All Quiet On The Western Front and to the collaboration of Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht in the music sphere, all of which had an influence far beyond Weimar Germany. The liberal attitude of Weimar Germany in the late 1920s towards homosexuality attracted writers such as Christopher Isherwood and W H Auden.
Gavin kindly donated to the Society two tickets for the Philharmonia Orchestra’s concert in the Royal Festival Hall on September 29th of “Weimar Berlin – The Party’s Over” for the Society to dispose of as it wishes.
A talk which held the attention throughout, and so clearly delivered by an expert lecturer.