The Avant-Garde in Stuttgart
The Roaring Twenties were not limited to Berlin. Stuttgart was equally progressive, embracing greater freedom, as well as edgier art and entertainment. The city reflected all facets of the Modernist movement.
The Roaring Twenties
The 1920s were exciting times in Stuttgart. The world premiere of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet in 1922 broke barriers in the world of dance. At the same time, the city was fast developing into the Automobile Capital of the World. By 1924, Stuttgarters owned more cars per capita than Berlin. Mercedes-Benz was advertising cars for the so-called “new woman”, who was independent and spirited, with a bob hairstyle and dramatic eye makeup. In 1927, journalists came from as far as New York and Moscow to report on the daring architecture of the new Weissenhof Estate. And, in 1929, Josephine Baker, the legendary, scantily-dressed entertainer, performed at Stuttgart’s Friedrichsbau cabaret club – a venue still popular today. Cinemas, dance halls and swimming pools thrived. Working hours were reduced, employees had more free time to have fun. Better public transport gave them more mobility. Stuttgart buzzed with modernity, with art and with freedom.
“We invented Bauhaus in Stuttgart”
Of course, many major European cities were enjoying this exciting era. What was dubbed the Roaring Twenties in Britain and Les Années Folles in France was far more than just a post-war Berlin phenomenon. “At that time, Stuttgart had a very modern image,” according to Anja Krämer, who runs the Weissenhof Museum. And Stefan Egle from Stuttgart’s Staatsgalerie agrees: “Stuttgart was a hotspot for museums and art galleries. People flocked to the Staatsgalerie to see Expressionist paintings.”
As early as 1905, an impressive array of young artists studied under Adolf Hölzel at Stuttgart’s State Academy of Fine Arts. Members of the so-called “Hölzel circle” included artists like Oskar Schlemmer, Johannes Itten, Willi Baumeister and Ida Kerkovius. “You could say that we invented the Bauhaus,” says Nils Büttner, professor of Early Modern and Modern Art History at Stuttgart’s State Academy of Fine Arts. Studying with Hölzel, students attended workshops that developed ideas, which Schlemmer and Itten took with them to the Bauhaus in Weimar.
"The Triadic Ballet is the key artistic work of that era."
Steffen Egle, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
The Staatsgalerie: Artistic hotspot
So where in Stuttgart can you see the legacy of that era today? Start with the Staatsgalerie, where, in addition to Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet figurines, other important works by this artist are on show. There are also paintings by Willi Baumeister and Ida Kerkovius, alongside other major international works from the Modernist era. On Schlossplatz, Stuttgart’s modern Kunstmuseum gallery also helped establish the city’s reputation for exciting art in the 1920s. Among many paintings by Otto Dix is “Metropolis”, a triptych of three harrowing night-time city scenes.
An icon of modernity
But it’s not only works of art that remain. The Tagblatt Tower, planned in 1924 as the first reinforced concrete high-rise in Germany, has become a landmark. What once housed the tallest “paternoster-style” lift in the world (15 storeys) is now home to the Unterm Turm cultural centre, with theatres and cultural facilities.
Ride the historic funicular
The Standseilbahn is a wooden funicular railway that opened in 1929. It ran – and still runs – from the Südheimer Platz in the western suburb of Heslach up to the city cemetery on a hill. Important graves there include those of Oskar Schlemmer and Adolf Hölzel.
Order a beer!
The grandly-named Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) is actually a bar-kiosk. Now a hip spot, where Stuttgart’s younger generation likes to meet for a beer, this 1920s structure was originally a public toilet. Then there are the Waldheime, rustic cottages that were built for workers to enjoy the countryside. In Heslach, west of the city, many are now beer gardens, where you can order a beer with a plate of Maultaschen (like ravioli).
A bar from 100 years ago
The spirit of the Twenties lives on in the Jigger & Spoon, a cocktail bar in a former bank vault. To enter, ring the doorbell and then take an old lift down two floors. “We wanted to recreate an American speakeasy bar during Prohibition,” says Eric Bergmann, one of the owners. It took 10 months to convert the vault with its 3-ft / 90-cm-thick walls into what looks like a 100-year-old bar. But, alongside the massive doors and iron grills, there is Wi-Fi, a wine list and a modern cocktail menu. The past meets the present underground; the result is a party!