Claudia Perren: Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) is researching in its long-term programme 100 Years of Now (2015-2018) historical and contemporary radical changes. With your studies, do you propose taking a moment to position yourself in the historic context and to develop new models of understanding from there?

Bernd Scherer: Let me explain it with a specific example. Our four-year programme 100 Years of Now began with an exhibition called Wohnungsfrage, which focuses on the housing question and which also has a lot to do with the Bauhaus. In major cities like Berlin, London and New York, but also in the non-European world, house prices are rising dramatically because the housing market is increasingly business-orientated and because of property speculation. This changes the social configuration of cities.

There are for instance investors in South Europe who invest their money in Berlin because of the crisis in the Mediterranean region. This in turn leads to a crisis in Berlin, because the growing shortage of affordable housing means people are being marginalized. Then there’s the current migration situation, which is reinforcing the housing problem.

Looking at the housing question now shows how, on the one hand, the local and the global connect. But it also leads to questions that take us back in time and show how historic ideas like those of the Bauhaus remain relevant today. Housing is no longer thought of in social terms. This is why we looked back at the last 100 years to see where there was a focus on the social aspects of housing, on the construction of social housing. It makes absolute sense from a contemporary perspective to address Hannes Meyer and his co-op idea or Martin Wagner’s Wachsendes Haus (Growing House), on which Bauhauslers like Walter Gropius also worked. It’s about an architecture that changes dynamically according to the demands and financial resources of the users.

For our exhibition we developed a contemporary adaptation of this 1930s concept as a one-to-one model together with the London-based architecture studio Assemble and a group of senior citizens from Berlin-Pankow. This resulted in a house that can grow, but can also be made smaller. While the users’ way of living was mapped out in a more complex way than in the Growing House, the fundamental idea of architecture in flux was faithfully transposed.

Franziska Eidner: This form of discourse is not what one would expect given the folkloric tone of the name Haus der Kulturen der Welt, meaning House of World Cultures. The identity of your institution has changed significantly over the last 25 years. To what extent is the name still appropriate, given what you do?

Bernd Scherer: We have actually thought about changing the name. Unfortunately, the name Bauhaus is already spoken for (laughs). We then decided that it is far more interesting to change the institution’s activities and show what it could in fact be, rather than invent a new name. When HKW started its work in the 1990s, the non-European world was hardly present in Germany. At that time HKW, as a kind of trend scout, was tasked with presenting interesting projects and artists from Asia, Africa and Latin America. What was problematic about this was that our own position remained unchallenged. The institution defined what was important
or unimportant in the non-European world.

But now, the world has changed. Cultural production is no longer conceivable in a purely national context. For example, in politics and economics we are dependent on China. China in turn is investing in Africa on a scale that was unimaginable a few decades ago. You can’t understand your own culture and your own society without deciphering these international relations. We see ourselves today as a German cultural institution of the 21stcentury that interprets our society in the context of global developments. As important as it was to present new, international positions in the 1990s, today the challenge is to develop innovative concepts that offer new ways of accessing the world.

Claudia Perren: A purely national cultural understanding is not the way forward, but on the other hand there is a clear need for a local cultural identity. It’s not that we want everything to be the same everywhere, we do want to hang on to a certain sense of regionality.

Bernd Scherer: Absolutely. It’s not about providing an answer to everything that happens in the world from Berlin; it’s about opening up access to the world from a Berlin’s perspective. It’s what I call the perspective of a ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’. These perspectives differ worldwide. If I come from Lagos, in order to explain a series of phenomena I have to be open to the world, but my perspective on it will be different. To my mind, this means that the debate between universalism and multiculturalism is not a question of either/or; instead, a locally specific universalism is generated from each position. You have to keep the global in view from your local setting, but my take on what global means differs depending on whether I’m looking at it from Asia or Africa. In the light of how we see the world today, we also see the last 100 years in a different way.

Take the Bauhaus for instance, whose global impact is nowadays interpreted far more in terms of exchange processes. We no longer say, ‘Here is a Western modernism and it now has access to the diverse cultures of the world.’ Instead, we look more at metabolic processes that work in both directions. It’s only now that we’re really getting to grips with this perspective.

Claudia Perren: Indeed. This is why the finale of the international exhibition tour that we, the Bauhaus Cooperation Berlin Dessau Weimar together with the Goethe-Institut, Haus der Kulturen der Welt and numerous contemporary artists and cultural institutions, will initiate in 2017 will be shown here in the HKW in 2019, the Bauhaus Centenary year. We see the Bauhaus not only as a transmitter, but also as a receiver. We hope that this is made equally apparent and brought to life here at Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

Bernd Scherer: Yes, this is the right location, not least because the place itself, the Congress Hall, is part of the migration history of the Bauhaus. Its architect, Hugh Stubbins, was a student of Gropius’s in Harvard. We began 100 Years of Now with the question of housing in 2015 and will finish in 2019 with the migration history and contemporary international reception history of the Bauhaus. To my mind, that’s perfect. For me, the global success story of the Bauhaus is also connected with its response to the search for new societal systems of meaning, which was praxis – new architecture, design and life praxes. This is now more relevant than ever. Berlin is of course the ideal lab for precisely this.

There are people in the cultural sector as well as in the social sector, the political sector, who constantly develop new life praxes, from food to housing and mobility. I change as an individual, as a group, and in doing so I change society. At its core this is one of the Bauhaus ideas. We know of course that there was no one Bauhaus that there were diverse movements, but one of the central ideas of the Bauhaus was of course: by changing myself, my life praxis, I change society. At HKW our focus also lies on connecting theories or theoretic reception with concrete practices. This is essential right now precisely because the old theorems and the traditional scientific disciplines no longer function in this form, in our present day shaped by change.