K Architect Konrad Wachsmann
In the historical centre of the city of Frankfurt, on the market place, is the Town Hall (Rathaus), built from 1253 in north-German gothic brick style. The south gable was built during a first heyday of the city in the 14th century. As a symbol of the significance of the herring trade for Frankfurt in the middle ages, the façade boasts a gold-plated herring.
Vis-à-vis, on the corner of Große Scharrnstraße and Marktplatz we see the cinema Cinestar-Frankfurt (Oder).
The oldest chemist's in Frankfurt used to exist on the cinema grounds - the Adler Apotheke. This prestigious building was originally the townhouse of the Bishops of Lebus. On 16 May 1901, Konrad Wachsmann is born, son of an old established family of pharmacists. He is the third of four children. A memorial plaque honours his life and work as an important engineer and architect.
After training as a carpenter and cabinetmaker at the Münnich Company in Frankfurt, Konrad Wachsmann leaves the city in 1920. He goes to the School of Applied Arts in Berlin and later to the Academy of Arts in Dresden, where he dedicates himself to New Objectivity and expressionist architecture as a student of Hans Poelzig's master class. Wachsmann's architectonic creations are defined by the search for a universal hub, which connects everything. He is interested in industrial prefabrication and the development of family houses in a wood construction system.
From 1926, when he is only 25, Konrad Wachsmann is the head architect at the then largest wood-construction and engineering works in Europe, Christoph & Unmack AG in Niesky, in Upper Lusatia. Three years later in Juterbog the house for Dr Georg Estrich is constructed - Wachsmann's only solid construction and an emblem of classical modernism. It is now a protected building. Wachsmann hears of the city of Berlin's plans to present a house to the great Albert Einstein on his fiftieth birthday. He immediately decides to offer Einstein one of his plans, and then builds Einstein's summerhouse in Caputh, in the Potsdam-Mitelmark area. From then on the two men are bound by a close friendship.
In 1932 Wachsmann leaves Germany and goes to Italy. Through the Prussian Academy Prize, he gets a grant for the Villa Massimo in Rome. But just a year later he leaves the Academy in protest at the National Socialist regime and forms his own architect's office in Rome. In 1935 he visits his home city one last time before the war breaks out. To escape a so-called preventive arrest in Italy in 1938, he flees to France. He is interned there in 1939 and subsequently joins the French army voluntarily. With Albert Einstein's help, he is able to immigrate to the USA in 1941.
Wachsmann's family, who have remained in Frankfurt, cannot save themselves. His mother, his brother Heinz and sister Charlotte, with her son, are deported to Riga in 1942 and murdered.
In spite of these terrible memories, Konrad Wachsmann remains attached to Germany and Frankfurt in particular. He personally was never confronted with anti-Semitism here.
When Wachsmann visits Germany after the war and sees the extent of the destruction, he is "so shocked that all hate in [him dies out]." He remembers:
… when I think of home, strangely, I always see a city in winter before me. Frankfurt in the snow. I remember long rides in the horse-drawn sleigh, the wide, white landscape, the ice on the Oder, and snowball fights. Frankfurt as a transfigured Breughel picture. ...
But even if his Frankfurt memories stay alive, Konrad Wachsmann creates a new life for himself in the USA. He works together intensively with Walter Gropius and develops the general Panel System, a prefabricated house construction system, with which Wachsmann achieves international renown. The system allows five workers to build a complete house of wooden panels in nine hours. Through its simplicity, this system becomes a milestone in the history of industrial construction. In Frankfurt (Oder) you can see successors to this building style that Wachsmann and others founded in the controversial "Plattenbauten" (prefabricated apartment blocks).
(Grüning, Michael: Der Wachsmann-Report. Auskünfte eines Architekten, Verlag der Nation Berlin 1986, p. 97f.)
Home, I suppose, is always the place where you were born. Home is the first trees and houses you saw. Home is also the place where you first had a bloody knee and ran to your mother seeking help." (ibid p.131)
Wachsmann does research and teaches at various American universities, such as the Institute of Design in Chicago, the University of Illinois and later the University of Los Angeles. He also continues to come back often to Europe and Germany for guest lectures and visits.
When the Caputh summerhouse is to be reconstructed in 1979, as part of the celebrations of Einstein's 100th birthday, Wachsmann visits his hometown for the last time. During the visit he decrees in his testament that not only his estate should be managed in Germany, but also his mortal remains:
If something happens to me, I want to be buried here in Frankfurt. One must have a place where one belongs. Or one must do it like Einstein, and have the ashes scattered to the wind!" (ibid p.135)
Only a year after this visit, Konrad Wachsmann dies on 26 November 1980 in his house in Los Angeles. According to his wish, he is buried in the Frankfurt cemetery next to his sister Marge and her husband. So he returns to the place where his life began and which is for him home and love. Frankfurt (Oder) was and remained Wachsmann's universal hub, where everything began and everything ended.
Anna Łuszczakiewicz, student at the European University Viadrina