Reconstraction of the House of Machinery. Photo by E. Tsvetaeva, 2005

THE HOUSE OF MACHINERY: THE RECONSTRACTION AND EXPLOITATION OF THE POPULATION


Ivan Chechot / St. Petersburg, Russia


If you walk along the lake towards the Wrangel Tower, you will see a mixed and dynamic scene. It lacks the civilized features of Vasilevsky Square. There are the dusty backyard of the market, an ugly stone shed that used to be called Kunsthalle Konigsberg, some worn out roads, and the black tower Der Wrangel. The iron letters are still firmly fixed onto the wall. For many years the Wrangel Tower was used as a storehouse, but recently it acquired a good owner. The yard was cleaned up, a small restaurant and souvenir stalls opened. Deep inside the yard there is an antique shop.

Walking about Kaliningrad the aesthete or arty person constantly experiences variations of mood. For example, being a modern and a spoilt person, he willingly sits on a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee. It is so nice that there is someplace to sit, his sweet inner voice tells him. Since you fatigue walking about dumps, you become tired observing masterpieces of the ruinous-chaotic, absurd-picturesque and other big styles. But soon another voice urges him to wake up. After all, it is the rage of the elements of time and history that is really impressive in Kaliningrad. Well, soon everything will be put in order - it will be painted, cleaned, fixed, tidied up, culture and civilization will be everywhere - and nothing will be left, there will no longer be any desire to come here. The sweet smell of decay will disappear, the aesthetics will be transformed; they will no longer be the aesthetics of ruins but of neglect. How nice it is to look at what has been forgotten and, hence, has survived. To study something living quietly, not a posthumous but a real life, like nature. However, the creative side of the arty person's nature also claims its rights. Perhaps there is a way to touch and not to kill, to use and not to rape? How can all this be restored, without being recreated, without lies? How might it be fixed? Perhaps there is no way of doing this, or maybe it can be photographed But all this is vanity. It is better to simply remember.

While walking about Kaliningrad, you look into the past, grievously thinking about the future. An obsessed photographer always thinks about the future, of which he is a bit apprehensive; that is why he takes pictures. The tiles should be fixed, the facade should be cleaned ... It is most beautiful as it is: catch it, drink this air of absolute beauty, of absolute authenticity - says the most determined aesthetic voice. This is neither decay nor a decline, this is perfection. Being in this mood, do not dream either about bygone Konigsberg or about the future K ... with a civilized human face, but first go and look at the Kunsthalle Building. You can go inside, there is nothing there, but it is good, get inside.

The building was constructed by Friedrich Lars, the architect of Kant's portico, in 1913. This is the exhibition hall of the Kunstverein, an association of artists and amateurs that may be found in almost every large German city. The construction was initiated by the landscape painter Eduard Anderson (1873 - 1947), who also studied local lore. In 1921 he proposed to concentrate all the museum collections in the Castle, and in 1927 he became director of the city's Historical Museum on Kneiphof. Anderson collected quite a large amount of money for the construction of the Kunsthalle. Lars created a Neo-Classical construction in the manner of such masters as Peter Behrens and Heinrich Tessenow - a stocky and Doric one. It can be properly seen only from the other side of the moat on whose bank the building stands. This is where you should go, around the Wrangel Tower.

While walking around it, do pay attention to the granite work of the moat with a stone crosspiece. At the end of the wall one can see a white stone slab that used to have a large inscription. I cannot make out any of the text, no matter how hard I try. The end of the crosspiece was once decorated with a statue of "German Michael", i.e. an ordinary German peasant. The sculptor Johann Friederich Reusch pictured him seminude with a flail on his shoulder, looking quite belligerent. The sculpture was made in 1895 and was first situated in front of the Archaeological Museum off Prussia. It was placed here in 1924 and has since vanished. It is good that it will never be restored. From this place one can see a retaining wall-balustrade through the trees on the lakeshore. If you walk there, you will see a gutter decorated with the expressive figures of seals, a sea-lion and creatures. This is the work of Hermann Thiele (1867-c. 1930) of Berlin. He was a graphic and applied artist, and worked in stone carving only as a decorative sculptor. He made a sculpture for the Land Court. The seals were erected in 1913. A beautiful view onto the Amber Museum opens up from the terrace. The water runs straight beneath to the large moat behind the Dohna Tower. In the place of former ramparts a park was laid out in the early 20th century. It has survived, but it is strewn with debris. A walk along the moat will reward you with very beautiful views. It is only from here that you can see the entire might of the fortifications. The Dohna Tower stands on the water and is completely reflected in it; the tower looks as if it has been suspended between the sky and the ground, a huge cylinder with black gun windows. From here a long perspective directs your gaze to the House of Machinery. Coming closer, one can see an almost undamaged bridge with sculptural parts, a fragment of a metal grate. Before the War there was a heavy arbor under a low slung tiled roof at the corner of the bridge. It is no longer there, so an outlook into the distance has been opened up. The most beautiful view opens up from here, a view of the dimensions and verticals of the monumental architecture of the House of Machinery (Haus der Technik), built by the architect Hans Hopp in 1924-1925.

The House of Machinery (renamed Schlageterhaus after a hero-martyr of National Socialism in 1933) was bombed at the end of the War, and its ceiling collapsed. After the war the ruins of the ceiling were removed, transforming the structure from a hall into an open courtyard. The walls and four pavilions at the corners of the complex were in perfect state and were used as shops and storehouses. Until recently the House of Machinery dominated all the surrounding everyday fuss like the frame of a huge ship. The moon looked into its empty window openings, or the blue sky shone. Many details survived. The whole of the main facade's symmetrical concrete structure was intact, including show windows and doors. On the side facades there were ornamental stairs, badly damaged and overgrown with grass. Two sculptures also survived. One was familiar to everybody: it marked the entrance to the residential part of the building. Sculpted by the Hermann Brachert, it depicted a nude worker with a gear in one hand and a stone plate in the other. A balcony at the corner testifies to the fact that this part of the complex was designed for apartments. Another sculpture was discovered recently, behind some boxes near the collection point for glass containers. This is a relief with rather conventional pictures of laborers. The author was Brachert's student Ernst Filitz (1891-1945). He was killed in the underground shelter together with his wife when a Soviet soldier fired a flame-thrower. Filitz was very close to Expressionism, he loved the grotesque and deformations. The Nazis considered his work "degenerate art" and removed all of his works, except for this relief.


H. Brachert. Worker with a pinion. Photo by E. Tsvetaeva, 2005

The House of Machinery was built as an exhibition hall for agricultural machinery at the East Prussian Fair. It was a multi-purpose building. Its hall could turn into an assembly hall (Hitler gave speeches there) and included a cinema (to the left of the entrance) and administrative buildings (to the right), as well as a residential building and a restaurant overlooking the canal. This building is of paramount importance in the history of the German architecture of the 1920s. And the matter is not only that it is an example of the strict but artistically convincing functionalism. In it the architect, possibly for the first time, used a combination of bricks and coarse-grained concrete on the facade as a means of rhythmical and textural expressiveness. Before that such concrete had been used by Rudolf Steiner in his second Goetheanum in Dornach and by Hans Hopp's teacher Theodor Fischers in the Garrison Church in Ulm (1911). Hopp's building could no doubt have been restored observing all the scientific and style norms, and it deserved this. It is hard to imagine a more elegant and powerfully expressive building in which the pathos of the technology progress, of the contemporaneity would find such a convincing realization. At the same time, it is a building where symmetry and asymmetry, the autonomy of the form and connection with the space and the nature have been brought into keen synthesis. Hopp's building looked wonderful as a ruin. Viewed from the canal when the trees were bare, it was especially beautiful. It was graphically striking: black vertical lines of the facade, branches, snow and water.

On the eve of the city's jubilee, the House of Machinery received some attention. They decided to hastily turn it into a shopping mall. The damage was done immediately: the stairs on the side facades were removed. The entrance structures have been lost. But most important is the transformation of the proportions. Above the non-existent covering a huge roof is being raised, an entire floor. In fact, the ruin is being incorporated into the new architecture, but nobody knows what quality it will be. The inner space has also been lost. The designers do realize that they are dealing with a monument. Tomorrow the House of Machinery will become an ordinary European-style building. Seeing it for the last time, I mentally said good bye to the noble ruin. Once final time, I pronounced to myself the expression that was written on the back facade of the building: "Man, be master of the machines." Humanistic in its meaning, this phrase placed man above the economy and machinery, it placed style above function. With this pathos burned the vertical lines of the House of Machinery, this pathos was reinterpreted in different ways after 1933, when the building was transformed into a political center. Now it is to become simply a store, where everyone will be able to sacrifice their pennies to the machine, to the big machine of consumption under the motto "take everything from life."


Translation by N.Andreeva