Our views on Chemnitz are well known. Travel south of Chemnitz however and you’ll come to an area of Germany that time didn’t so much forget – it never even knew it existed.
A bit like Bhutan, the Erzgebirge is an autonomous, inaccessible mountain region where the dearth of contact with the outside world means that popular knowledge about the area is largely dominated by myth, legend and the yellowing, travel logbooks of gentleman explorers of centuries gone.
It is therefore all the more surprising that a design object from the Erzgebirge has made it into the permanent collection of the Museum for Modern Art in New York. And the V&A Museum London.
Schaukelwagen by Hans Brockhage and Erwin Andrä is that fabled piece.
Although to be fair it was technically designed in Dresden.
Born in Schwarzenberg in 1925, Hans Brockhage began a carpentry apprenticeship in 1945 and in 1947 enrolled in the Hochschule für Werkkunst Dresden under the tutorship of, amongst others, Mart Stam and Marianne Brandt.
Following its enforced closure during the Second World War the Hochschule für Werkkunst Dresden re-opened in 1947 and represented a short lived attempt to continue the Bauhaus tradition in the DDR. However, the movement’s more elitist associations didn’t sit easily with the egalitarian socialism of the East German leadership and following a fusion with the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1950, in 1952 the Industrial Design department closed and so to, effectively, did the Hochschule für Werkkunst.
In the wake of the schools closure Hans Brockhage initially worked as a freelance artist and sculptor, principally working with wood but later also in concrete and bronze, before in 1967 he took up an Industrial Design teaching post at Burg Giebichenstein Halle. In 1977 he was made a Professor at the Fachhochschule für angewandte Kunst Schneeberg.
During his time in Dresden Hans Brockhage got to know Erwin Andrä who was working there as an academic assistant. Following the closure of the Hochschule für Werkkunst Erwin Andrä joined the ruling SED party and served what one could call a civil service career, working in numerous ministries and institutions including the serving as head of the East German Toy Institute from 1961. Hans Brockhage and Erwin Andrä’s paths crossed again in 1964 when the later was made Director of the Institute for Industrial Design at Burg Giebichenstein.
The most successful and long-lasting link between the two is however without question the 1950 Schaukelwagen .
According to Hans Brockhage’s website1 – and we have no real way of proving or disproving this – the process leading to the Schaukelwagen started with a normal rocking horse. On seeing the work Mart Stam is reported to have said, in his best Dutch-German, “When horse fall over, horse is dead. You must make horse that isn’t dead when it fall over”
The result is a rocking “horse” that when it falls over becomes a “car”. An object that addresses a child’s natural inquisitive nature and fondness for reinventing objects by giving kids a form that they can interpret and use as they wish.
If you like it is an empty cardboard box with more possibilities.
Quite aside from the obvious visual parallels to the traditional candle bearing Schwibbogen that is the mainstay of the Erzgebirge economy, and the unmistakable hint of Rietveld, the real genius of Schaukelwagen by Hans Brockhage and Erwin Andrä is the seat. A moulded plywood construction that can be used from both sides.
A very simple device, but one which gives the object its function and so allows it to meet the challenge set by Mart Stam.
As a DDR product that fell outwith the strict confines of DDR production practices, Schaukelwagen by Hans Brockhage and Erwin Andrä was never mass produced, was however available firstly through VEB Holzspielwarenwerke Ohrdruf and later through the carpentry firm Siegfried Lenz in Berggießhübel. Then it more or less vanished from the radar. In 2011 the toy and play-park manufacturer Werkform from Langenau, Erzgebirge acquired the licence and so breathed new life into one of the most truly endearing pieces of DDR design.
And one of the few links between the Erzgebirge and civilisation.
1.http://www.hans-brockhage.de/ Accessed 31.07.2012