“To-morrow.” The Hellerau ProjectConstruction of England’s Letchworth Garden City began in 1903. It was one of the first attempts to defy the oppressive housing conditions rampant throughout large European cities. A few years later, the “Hellerau” construction project followed in Saxonian Dresden. It was to become a singular undertaking.
From early on, the founder of the Deutsche Werkstätten, Karl Schmidt, spoke of combining his new factory building with that of a garden city settlement . The decision was made in 1906, construction began in 1908. The building site largely corresponded to the guidelines Ebenezer Howard had published in his 1898 theoretical paper on “ Garden Cities of To-morrow”: near a large city but in a rural environment, on inexpensive land . The “Heller” at Dresden’s northern edge was just such an area. In addition to dwellings, numerous social and service outlets were also included. In 1909, the first ten families moved in. The settlement was continually expanded through to the 1930s.

Hellerau, Garden and CityPlaces can attract or repel. No matter how one feels about the garden city or its concept, whether it’s dismissed as conservative or praised as modernity redeemed, only very few are left cold by Hellerau. This has been the case ever since ground first broke.

“A garden city is a city planned for healthy living and employment: large enough to provide a full social life; surrounded by a belt of open (agricultural) land, the land of the entire community being in the public hands or managed by an association on behalf of the community’s residents.” (Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow, 1898)
“Hellerau was not the usual suburban settlement taking overflow from the large city of Dresden. It was something completely different: an independent living and working organism which created its own cultural agenda and way of life from its intellectual and artistically crafted structure.” (Peter de Mendelssohn)

The Garden City in the PresentHellerau attracts growing numbers of tourists to the outskirts of Dresden today. And not always the experts – sometimes it’s just those who love the architecture. Many of them also want to visit Deutsche Werkstätten. A lot has since happened to that workshop ensemble of 1909.
The ensemble character of Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau and the Garden City has continued to the present-day without losing any of its original nature or vibrancy. Today, it’s a spirited and unique testimonial to German architectural and industrial history. The painstaking renovation of the Garden City buildings in line with the strict regulations governing historic monuments has since restored their original appearance. The mansion district, the small/workers’ houses as well as the market grounds largely correspond to the original architectural concept. Much is slated to happen in Hellerau, both in present and future. New buildings have been constructed in the settlement and new studio workshops have gone up on the factory grounds. The company Deutsche Werkstätten has moved as well: From the plans of the architect firm of Thomas Herzog + Partner originated an entirely new company building in 2005/2006.

Hellerau’s Cultural Spring.Heinrich Tessenow’s festival theatre and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze’s dance school – places well-known to devotees of modern dance or classical modern architecture.
Wolf Dohrn felt that Hellerau should not be just a “random clustering of people and buildings”. He hoped to “overcome intellectual anarchy” through the residents’ cultural achievements. Building a school complex, including boarding facilities and a festival hall for Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, fits well into this plan. Even Mary Wigman studied for a time at Hellerau.
Schmidt leaned toward a temporary wooden solution. Yet Wolf Dohrn commissioned architect Heinrich Tessenow to construct a formal festival theatre. For his part, Riemerschmid was against Tessenow’s radical austerity, resulting in the Hellerau Arts Commission initially rejecting the design twice. Schmidt later backed out. Reason: the financial risk was just too high.
The hall was nevertheless built, it staged spectacular productions such as Paul Claudel’s mystery play “The Annunciation”.

Natural MetamorphosisIn some respects, the festival theatre embodies Hellerau’s changing fortune. During its short heyday, it was like a beacon to the avant-garde of the time. But the outbreak of the First World War quickly squelched the stirrings of renaissance. After declaring bankruptcy, the festival theatre was converted into police barracks in 1937. The Soviet army took over the building in 1945 and remained there until reunification in 1992. A large symposium held in 1995 drew experts from all corners to discuss concepts for Hellerau’s future. Restoration of the hall should be completed within the next few years. Ultimately, it will again be a home to what it originally housed: dance. Music has long since found its way back to the “Temple of the Classical Moderns”; courtesy of the efforts of the European Centre of the Arts, dance will soon find its rightful home here again as well.
Hellerau has long been a good place for this close community intermixing economics and art. That was even Karl Schmidt’s personal guarantee. And it still applies today, after the reunification. In this vein, the exhibitions and concerts now being staged in the company’s workshop galleries are not boisterous mega-events but simply a continuation of the work being accomplished in Hellerau with other means: the Arts.