Tuesday 20 February 2018

The Leipzig Opera House is the swansong of Socialist Classicism as an architectural style. The 1954 plans of the architect Kunz Nierade had to be toned down mid-construction, with some of the sculptural adornment simplified, as the official aesthetics of the German Democratic Republic shifted towards a more aggressive modernism.

While the Soviet Union provided the more well-known examples of Socialist Classicism, the Germans rather typically (but sparsely) excelled their Russian overlords. Admittedly, the quality was inconsistent: the Karl-Marx-Allee has some fine details but the overall plan leaves me cold, though postmodernists Philip Johnson and Aldo Rossi have praised it.

I enjoy the restrained classicism of this building, though the flatness of the façade leans a little towards the dull, with only the projecting portico providing a bit of comforting depth. Critics have pointed out the lack of light-and-shadow contrast during the daytime, and have tended to prefer the building’s nighttime appearance. It’s worth mentioning that the snowflake-like hanging lamps in the building’s foyer have a significant place in the design history of East German lighting fixtures (a subject about which I know now more than I ever expected).

The finality of Socialist Classicism’s end cannot more clearly be emphasised when comparing the Leipzig Opera House with the assaulting brutality of the Neues Gewandhaus concert hall (1977) across the Augustusplatz in a style we associate more closely with the DDR period. That the similarly styled Palast der Republik in Berlin — possibly the building most readily associated with East Germany’s socialist regime — has been completely demolished to be replaced by a reconstruction of the old city palace is a reminder of the hopeful possibilities we have at hand.

1 February 2016 9:10 am | Permanent Link | 1 Comment »

1 Feb 2016 8:33 pm

I knew the minute I saw this (and I like it too) that the architect had been a Nazi. Indeed he had – and from 1931; that is, before the Machtergreifung and therefore out of conviction. He even spent the war as an official in POLAND. What might he have been doing there I wonder?
He was wise to stay in the East – had he tried for a career in the West his past would have haunted him.
Still he was clearly an opportunist without scruples; his Berlin Komische Oper is almost as bad as the Neues Gewandhaus in Leipzig. Let us hope that both will soon go the way of the Palast der Republik, the thought of whose disappearance never fails to bring a smile to my lips.

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