This year marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. We have visited the site where the wall first officially fell
; and we have been to Berlin, which had better publicity for the historic event. Over our time here we’ve also visited places with histories unknown to most but no less important. Such was the case on a day outing this week with a friend to Brno, Czech Republic, to tour Vila Tugendhat
Vila Tugendhat is a UNESCO-protected exemplar of Czech modernist construction, designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1930’s for the wealthy Tugendhat Family. Being the clever design person I am (insert laughter), I likened it to the Brady Bunch House, the comparison to which left my truly design-clever friend no doubt wondering why she invited me to join her in the first place.
Perhaps the exterior comparison isn’t fair, but on the inside of the villa, and with a little imagination, I could picture Alice and Carol packing lunches and managing the children through their dramas.
|Thank you, Internet, for the photo
These chairs are original to the house, a rarity as we would later discover. Mies van der Rohe designed them in 1927 for an exhibition in Stuttgart; hence, these “perfectly balanced” chairs are in the “Stuttgart” style. Perfectly balanced or not, I know two guys in my house who would not sit in them!
No, this isn’t a dormitory. This was the oldest daughter’s bedroom, which, I have to believe, looked considerably more welcoming in her days than how it is arranged for the tour.
A redeeming feature to the stark design of the bedrooms was the access each had to the terrace.
The bathrooms were surprisingly warm in design style. I think it was the curves of the faucets and fixtures that drew me to these rooms.
The main living area was warmed by the onyx wall, having survived history only by being covered over with bricks.
The white chairs are Tugendhat; the green chairs are Barcelona.
Each of the large window sections could be lowered to unite the living space with nature. As beautiful and serene as this setting appears, though, I still can not imagine being comfortable in this chaise. Sadly, only one of the window sections is original; the others were blown out when bombs landed in the garden toward the end of WWII.
To my dismay, because of the lack of historical images, the kitchen has not been fully restored. I was so looking forward to touring this room, too.
From the kitchen the staff could descend to the lower level, from where the cooling and heating elements of the house were managed.
From a technical standpoint I found the management of the household climate rather clever, and very modern for its time. This is the system used to control the vents throughout the house. Air circulated from a cellar of sea stones that had been misted with water could cool the living area in 30 minutes.
But there is more to this icon of modernism than its design. There is the dining space. For our family, the warmest room of our home is where we come together to dine and have conversation. Tony and I are proud of the fact that we could come together as a family over dinner while the children were young more often than not; even now, a simple supper at home is preferred to dining out. (By the way, the chairs are Brno style.)
But I digress. The Tugendhat Family, regrettably, only enjoyed 8 years of shared suppers at the table. As a Jewish merchant, Fritz Tugendhat and his family fled Czechoslovakia for Switzerland in 1938 and never lived here again. The Gestapo, including a “friend” that Fritz left in charge of the villa, seized the house a year later (pillaging and plundering along the way); and, most horrifically, the Soviets used the house as military quarters during WWII, including establishing stables in the lower level. Some of the neighbor’s recollections of the Soviet occupation of the house as shared by our guide were almost unbelievable.
Greta Tugendhat returned in the 1960s and worked to have the house inscribed as national cultural heritage, and restoration began in the 1980s. In 1993 the dining room was the setting for Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Divorce,” which established the separate Czech and Slovak Republics, and since 1994 the vila is open as a public museum, for design fans and history lovers alike.