Those who have assimilated an image of our country and its buildings carefully and with their eyes open for its physiognomy will not have difficulty recognizing the following categories:
There is first of all a stock of buildings that can probably best be summarized as stemming from earlier times, even if they were constructed over many centuries, extending roughly to the Wars of Independence or the Congress [of Vienna] Period.
Then there has been an ever more rapid growth of buildings of all sorts that, as such, are obvious products of the modern period. In blunt contrast to the earlier stock, which displays clear, extremely memorable forms—so that together the buildings make the impression of a collection of splendidly hewn busts of knotty peasants, manly artisans, delicate scholars, and gallant aristocrats—we are suddenly confronted with a chaos of forms, more precisely of formlessness, such as if we were to find ourselves at a market square filled only with the dregs of a people. Everything here bears the marks of artificiality; the materials are artificial, so is the historical style—like a threadbare evening dress thrown on over shabby, soiled undergarments; artificial is the attitude that is constantly trying to appear as something other, if possible something “finer” than that which it actually signifies. This modern stock is utterly helpless even to offer a reasonable fulfillment of purely objective requirements—not to mention lending them an artistic and clearly defined form; it is dreary and sullen in its expression.
Then, at the end of the 1890s, a new movement suddenly began to halt the disaster spreading across the landscape like a gigantic malignancy. Initially it attempted to clear the table, to identify the actual needs of the time and to formulate them into a clear program on which building can be based. In form it did not want artificially to conserve bygone developmental stages that have disappeared from our purview, but it did seek to preserve our vital treasure of capacities and knowledge, which no single individual can ever conjure out of nothing since they are the fruits of long cultural epochs. Thus should new buildings acknowledge their origins in our northern culture and continue the tradition to precisely the point where it can be developed consistently and healthily until—for reasons that cannot be examined here—it arrives at a dead end. This new movement sought to contain the interregnum of the great style masquerade and allow it to decay.
The movement soon gained ground, gradually grew stronger and stronger and was accepted in various shadings by all serious and well-trained representatives of the architectural profession, even if it was not possible for us to emerge overnight from a period of utter confusion into a new epoch secure in its tradition.
Alongside this development, interrupted to be sure by the war, there have recently appeared attempts to break radically with our entire past. Buildings are being recommended to us that have nothing in common with our German spirit and German landscape.
At issue here is quite obviously a clear separation of spirits: on the one side, those who consciously gather together in the northern culture they cannot do without; and on the other those who intentionally eschew what is dear to the German heart, contending that they are drawn to it neither intellectually nor emotionally. We have no choice but to believe them.
Since all of this is not the product of a single school but represents the appearance of quite various, often conflicting forces, it is necessary to attempt to separate out what has been thrown together and look at each one individually.