An Interview with Marcel Breuer
A transcript from the BBC archives interviews with Marcel Breuer
Early Work Experience:
I find that I am too intellectual. I was always a good student and so on, too intellectual, too soft and so on and I should have a demanding, normal metier where I make my living like any other man makes his living. This is what I miss. The other thing I like, I do and this is what I cannot do and then she told me she has, that the family has an old friend, an architect Bollack, a young architect who probably could take me as a volunteer, and he has also a cabinet making shop and I could probably try to work there and get some practical knowledge of life. And that is what I did. This Bollack was a nice man, a very nice man. He took me on. He was very impressed with my drawings. and then I asked him to let me work on the shop in the cabinet making shop and that was run by his brother. ...His brother was a perfectly nice guy, a little bit short, a little bit rough, a little bit tough. He didn't like to explain things, so the first day i went there he put a a piece of wood into the bench, you know you span it into the bench. He gave me a plane, a hand plane and said "Plane this", and went off and I tried to plane it, I had seen how the others did it, and I tried to do the same thing.
How he heard about the Bauhaus School:
MB: And at that time, another boy much older than I am, about eight years older, who lived in Germany before and was an architect and started to work with Gropius in (his) private office.
Interviewer: How did he happen to know Gropius?
MB: I don't know - Griopius was known in Germany
Interviewer: In Vienna too?
MB: No I don't think in Vienna, but in Germany. And the Bauhaus was just founded the year before. and this first prospectus of the Bauhaus (1919) - which was a sheet folded to four pages which has this (Lyonel) Feininger (wood) cut on the front and he sent me, this boy, learned from my parents that I am in Vienna and I am not very happy there and sent me this catalog which didn't say much. But it was enough for me, this woodcut, and then the slogan - 'Tzurig Zum Handwerk' 'Back to the Craft' which is just what I did.
Moving to Vienna:
Well before I left home I sold everything, and my father gave me some money, not very much. So I had altogether a think about 3000 I sold my violin and my stamp collection. I gave my violin to the Romanian girl. I had about 2000 crowns. and that was in my pocket. and that was at that time the first galloping inflation, so in Vienna in four weeks this money was practically worthless. but it was still enough to get me a fourth class ticket to Germany. and I remember on that train, which was a little better than the trains which took me to Vienna. I had a little table under the window, a folding table. and (I remember that) I slept there in the night and my hair froze to the window.
Admission to the Bauhaus School:
As a student. This was my only approach to academia. I was 18 and I didn't know anything and I went up to this class and asked for written, I had to wait for a man and then he came out and I didn't tell him anything, it was obvious what I want and he took this folder and also this book which I still have, you know these little drawings, and he went through them this way, (murmurs as if assessing something - to imitate the Bauhaus teacher) he was a very arrogant man, in the first moment I had antipathy for him, for who a kind of importance tactic, and he looked over just like, it wasn't that I was no good, and (the tactic didn't work) ..., but just the same that was the reaction, and he said "Alright", and that was that, I was a Bauhausler.
Life at the Bauhaus School:
The third one, when I left this room, I see on the door a piece of paper with three names on it, My name was on it, and I didn't know what that means, who can I aks now? how can I find out? So I ask the next guy, who was next to me, "what does that mean?", (and I said) somthing stuttered, but he understood what I meant. He said something like... there's a name for it, (you are the monitor) "you are the man who on that week has to keep order in the classroom". I said I don't understand, and he has seen that I don't understand much, so he said, "take a brush and sweep the floor". and I said, "What is a broom?"I din't know... He said "here, that's a broom". there was a broom there. That was (Alfred) Arndt.
I made immediate preparation to leave in the afternoon. It was the morning, and I was to leave in the afternoon for Weimar. Then it took me one week to get to Weimar because I had serbish identification paper with which I came to Vienna. and that was Serbish, I didn't understand Serbish. and it said, that paper said - 'This paper is just an identifiacation, just good for Vienna, and for nowhere else, and is valid I think four weeks or something - maybe for three months. and I went with this paper to the Austrian authorities.. to get me a paper to get to Germany. and he said well your paper is only good for Austria, go to the Serbs, maybe they will give you a paper. The Serbs said alright we have to send that paper to Belgrade. I know enough about after war conditions, that if I send something to Belgrade then, you either never see it again or you see it in a year, so I was stuck there. Then I went to the Hungarian authorities and I said I am a hungarian ocupied by the Serbs I would like to go to Germany, help me. they said we can not help you because you are occupied by the Serbs. Either the Serbs or the Austrians can do something about it. Then I went to the Austrian authorities, "I am here in Vienna, I would like to go to Weimar. how do I do that?". and I showed them this catalog, (artist portfolio) and the austrians are so Gemutlich (kind), and they said "Ah look at this, what is this, it is a futuristic painting here", and they joked with me, and I said and so I went from one office to another office, back and forth, and again, back and forth to another office, standing in line for one week, it was a full time job. I went also to the hotel Hapsburg, because they told me that at the Hotel Hapsburg you can buy a password which is good for Germany, and I went to Hotel Hapsburg, and asked a head waiter, not hotel, cafe Hapsburg, and he said Mr so and so, I don't know what his name was, then then this man came, and he said he could do it, now he needs my Serb papers and so and so much money.
Then one day I got news from the Hungarian authories that they gave me a passport and from the Austrian authorities that they gave me a passport, on the same day. So Before I had nothing, suddenly I had two passports. so I was thinking which one shall I use, for Germany I thought probably the Austrian is more understandable in Germany.