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Otti Berger

  • Given name:
    Otti
  • Last name:
    Berger
  • Alternative names:

    Otilija Ester Berger

  • Date of Birth:
    04-10-1898
  • Place of Birth:
    Zmajevac-Baranja (Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Croatia))
  • Date of Death:
    1944
  • Place of Death:
    Auschwitz concentration camp (Poland)
  • Profession:
    Textile DesignerWeaver
  • Introduction:

    The textile designer and weaver Otti Berger lived in exile in London in 1937/38, where she sought to open up a new field of activity.

    Word Count: 24

  • Signature Image:
    Otti Berger, Christmas and New Year’s Card, 1937, typewriting on silk (Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, gift of Lydia Dorner in memory of Dr. Alexander Dorner, Accession Number BR58.166, © President and Fellows of Harvard College).
  • Content:

    Otti Berger’s birthplace, Zmajevac-Baranja, speaks of the historical and political upheavals of a century. In 1898, the year of Berger’s birth, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but, after the First World War, became Yugoslavia. Today, Zmajevac is in Croatia. Questions regarding Berger’s cultural and national affiliation or language of origin are therefore difficult to answer, but she  is often assigned to the Hungarian Bauhäusler because of her nationality at birth (Lucadou 1986, 301–303). Otti Berger enrolled at the Bauhaus Dessau in 1927, where she was accepted into the weaving workshop. This was the time when the transition from hand weaving to industrially producible textile design was taking place, a development that decisively shaped Berger's understanding of the textile industry (Müller/Radewaldt 2019, 99). She rapidly made her mark and in 1930, together with Anni Albers, replaced for some months the head of the department, Gunta Stölzl. In the same year, Otti Berger received her Bauhaus diploma. In 1930, the photographer Lux Feininger photographed Otti Berger sitting on window ledge of a typical modernist architecture (see signature image).

    In 1932, Berger set up her own business in Berlin-Charlottenburg where she did research on the development of fabrics and experimented with new materials and their composition. She designed fabrics for interiors in cooperation with and for Swiss and Dutch companies. Berger sought patents and legal protection for her designs from the very beginning (Lösel 2002, 217, 253–259) and perhaps this circumspection was a reaction to her experiences at the Bauhaus, where designs were not identified by the designer’s name but remained anonymously under the Bauhaus label. In 1933, Berger was involved in the interior design of Schminke House in Löbau/Görlitz, a creation of the architect Hans Scharoun.
    Berger also expressed herself as a theoretician early on, for example in her essay “Stoffe im Raum” (Fabrics in Space), published in 1930, in which she sketched out a theory of space-forming textiles: “textiles dominate a small but important area in housing culture; in order to meet the demands of living building, we must become clear about what fabric is and further: what fabric is in space.” (Berger 1930, 143; translated from German)

    In 1936, Berger’s admission to the Reich Chamber of Culture was rejected, so that she was de facto prohibited from practising her profession. In order to remain in Germany, however, she was required as a Jew to provide proof of a fixed income as a “non-Aryan foreigner” (Müller/Radewaldt 2019, 100). In February and June of 1937, at the suggestion of Walter Gropius, Otti Berger made two trips to England to seek work contacts and prepare for possible emigration (Lösel 2002, 251). She emigrated to London in September 1937 and set about trying to find a new field of activity there. Other Bauhäusler such as Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy had earlier found work in London but then moved to the United States, but these old contacts nevertheless proved helpful to her in the early days. Initially, she lived for a while with the photographer and Bauhäusler Lucia Moholy in Mecklenburgh Square and in late 1937 patented a fabric in London (Müller/Radewaldt 2019, 100). Her innovative approach to textiles, materials and techniques can be seen not only in the fabric samples she left behind and in the detailed press reports on her work from the early 1930s, but also in her innovative Christmas and New Year’s card for 1937/38, its message typewritten on silk.

    But Otti Berger had problems gaining a professional foothold. In June 1938, she was able to substitute for the Swiss textile designer Marianne Straub at the textile company Helios Ltd. in Bolton for a few weeks and carry out three commissions. In addition, she was put in touch with Crofton Gane, a furniture manufacturing company in Bristol, by Marcel Breuer (Daybelge/Englund 2019, 164). But exile remained a challenge for Otti Berger, not only because of the new language, the unfamiliar art and design scene and the need to compete with local creatives, but also because of her own physical disability – Berger was profoundly deaf and dependent on lip-reading, clearly an additional challenge in a foreign language, in both her daily and professional life.

    Although she had been offered a position at the new bauhaus in Chicago, Otti Berger decided to travel to Zmajevac/Croatia (then Yugoslavia) in the summer of 1938 to visit her sick mother. In October of the same year, shortly before her planned return to London, she wrote to Alexander Dorner a letter, in which she in which she requested his support for her planned departure for the U.S. (Berger 1938). In another letter Berger described her struggles in England: “In a few weeks I will have to return to England because of my English. What a country! I was terribly fooled there at every opportunity. I am going back there with the greatest reluctance imaginable. They are no different in business than in politics. Every foreigner is a little Czechoslovakian for them.” (Otti Berger to Alexander Dorner, 3 October 1938, in: Lösel 2002, 285, translated from German) However, Berger was unable to leave the country and never returned to London. A letter to Ise Gropius from 1941 has survived in which Berger reports on a carpet she was weaving: “Otherwise I have no prospect of work here at all. For some time I was very sad about this, but now I am comforted by the carpet.” (Berger 1941; translated from German) Otti Berger was deported and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.

    Berger left behind a rich body of innovative work, which, however, due to her life story, is scattered and has yet to be processed. Her estate, which is kept at various museums and archives, contains many fabric samples and specimens whose dating and assignment to concrete projects and commissions is still pending. Berlin-based artist Judith Raum has been intensively exploring Berger’s work, for example in her Day by Idle Day / In den Tag hinein installation in the The Futureless Memory exhibition at Kunsthaus Hamburg (2020). Raum’s installation intertwines various moments from Berger’s life and work and adapts her progressive designs and techniques for the present. Raum works with rewoven Berger designs as backgrounds to her paintings, screening passages from letters Berger wrote to her former Bauhaus colleagues. Judith Raum’s work and research enquire into the possibility of artistically reappraising a body of work which is dispersed over worldwide archives and in a state of disorder. Her research is an attempt to give Berger the recognition she deserves. Unlike artists such as Anni Albers and Gunta Stölzl, who were still alive when the first accounts of the Bauhaus weaving workshop were published in the 1980s, Berger, whose exact date of death only became known a few years ago, for decades had no one to remember her and her astonishing work (Raum 2019).  Judith Raum’s artistic research helps rectify this and shows what a remarkable pioneer Otti Berger was within her discipline, discovering techniques and materials.

    Word Count: 1153

  • Media:
    T. Lux Feininger, Otti Berger, sitting, in window, c. 1930 (Dessau © The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, repro: www.kunst-archive.net).
    Otti Berger, Translucent dividing curtain, Haus Schminke, Löbau, 1933, photo: Ernst Nipkow (Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Mrs. Walter Gropius, Accession Number BR52.331, © President and Fellows of Harvard College).
    Otti Berger, Burdale, textile design for Helios Ltd., Bolton, 1938 (Courtesy of the Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Image © Michael Pollard).
    Judith Raum, Day by Idle Day / In den Tag hinein, 2020, installation, Kunsthaus Hamburg (photo: Hayo Heye).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Anonymous. “Bauhaus in Britain: The work of Otti Berger for Helios.” 27 January 2020, Warner Textile Archive, https://www.warnertextilearchive.co.uk/blog/bauhaus-in-britain-the-work-of-otti-berger-for-helios/. Accessed 3 January 2021.

    Berger, Otti. “Stoffe im Raum.” ReD (Prag), vol. 3, no. 5, 1930, pp. 143–145.

    Berger, Otti. Letter to Alexander Dorner (Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin, 29 October 1938), Inv.-Nr. 1999/2.1.–2.

    Berger, Otti. Letter to Ise Gropius (Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin, 22 February 1941), Inv.-Nr. 2108.

    Das Bauhaus webt. Die Textilwerkstatt am Bauhaus, edited by Magdalena Droste et al., exh. cat. Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Dessau, 1998.

    Daybelge, Leyla, and Magnus Englund. Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. Pavilion Books, 2019.

    Die Ungarn am Bauhaus. Von Kunst zu Leben, edited by Éva R. Bajkay, exh. cat. Janus Pannonius Múzeum, Pécs, 2010.

    Hansen-Schaberg, Inge, et al., editors. Entfernt. Frauen des Bauhauses während der NS-Zeit – Verfolgung und Exil (Frauen und Exil, 5). edition text + kritik, 2012.

    Hudson-Wiedenmann, Ursula, and Beate Schmeichel-Falkenberg, editors. Grenzen überschreiten. Frauen, Kunst und Exil. Königshausen & Neumann, 2005.

    Kunst im Exil in Großbritannien 1933–1945, exh. cat. Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, Berlin, Frölich & Kaufmann, 1986, p. 117.

    Lösel, Regina. “Die Textildesignerin Otti Berger (1898–1944). Vom Bauhaus zur Industrie.” Textildesign. Voysey, Endell, Berger (Textil, Körper, Mode, 3), edited by Gabriele Mentges and Heide Nixdorff, Ebersbach, 2002, pp. 214–294.

    Lucadou, Barbara von. “Otti Berger – Stoffe für die Zukunft.” Wechselwirkungen. Ungarische Avantgarde in der Weimarer Republik, edited by Hubertus Gassner, exh. cat. Neue Galerie Kassel, Kassel, Jonas, 1986, pp. 301–303.

    Müller, Ulrike, and Ingrid Radewaldt. “Otti Berger.” Frauen am Bauhaus. Wegweisende Künstlerinnen der Moderne, edited by Patrick Rössler and Elizabeth Otto, translated by Birgit van der Avoort, Knesebeck, 2019, pp. 96–101.

    Raum, Judith. “Diagonal. Pointé. Carré – Bauhaus Ade? Otti Bergers Entwürfe für die Wohnbedarf AG Zürich.” 12 February 2019, bauhaus imaginista, ed. 2: Learning From, http://www.bauhaus-imaginista.org/articles/6223/diagonal-pointe-carre/de?0bbf55ceffc3073699d40c945ada9faf=4fcd4cfc330976ebe70d08adbccef37b. Accessed 19 November 2020.

    Wortmann-Weltge, Sigrid. Bauhaus-Textilien. Kunst und Künstlerinnen der Webwerkstatt. Edition Stemmle, 1993.

    Word Count: 312

  • Archives and Sources:

    Bauhaus-Archiv / Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin.

    Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum.

    Museum für Gestaltung Zürich.

    Warner Textile Archive, Braintree, Essex.

    Word Count: 22

  • Acknowledgements:

    This entry is grateful for the important insights provided by Judith Raum’s research. My deepest thanks go to Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum and to Whitworth, The University of Manchester for giving permission to reproduce Berger’s work and to Bauhaus-Archiv / Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin, which gave me access to letters from/to Otti Berger.

    Word Count: 57

  • Author:
    Burcu Dogramaci
  • Exile:

    London, UK (1937/1938).

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    c/o Lucia Moholy, 39 Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1 (residence); 8 Gordon Street, Excelsior house, Bloomsbury, London WC1 (residence); c/o D. I. Brodie, 79 Woodberry Grove, Woodberry Down, London N4 (residence).

  • Metropolis:
    London
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Otti Berger." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/1470/object/5138-10526619, last modified: 19-11-2022.
  • Margaret Leischner
    Textile Designer

    The designer Margaret Leischner lived in England from 1938, worked for textile and furniture companies, taught at the Royal College of Art and was honoured as Royal Designer for Industry.

    Word Count: 29

    Tintawn Carpets brochure featuring designs by Margaret Leischner (Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Margaret Leischner Papers, Folder 6, Inv. No. 7568).
    Margaret Leischner, Advertisement for BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), seat fabrics, 1955 (Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Margaret Leischner Papers, Folder 12, Inv. No. 75693).Brochure: “Choose comfort with Guy Rogers for 1963” featuring Leischner’s fabric for the ‘New Yorker’ upholstered furniture series (Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Margaret Leischner Papers, Folder 6, Inv. No. 10523).Company brochure: “Design in Yarn”, R. Greg & Co. Ltd. South Reddish, Stockport (Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Margaret Leischner Papers, Folder 6, Inv. No. 10522).Tintawn Carpets brochure (Eileen Ellis, Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2011).Margaret Leischner, Sisal sample Tintawn Carpets, 1960s (Eileen Ellis, Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2011).Margaret Leischner obituary, by Donald Tomlinson, Design Journal, vol. 5, no. 259, 1970, p. 83 (Photo: Private Archive).
    London
    A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939
    Book

    Six years after her arrival in London, the photographer Lucia Moholy published her book A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939, on the occasion of the centenary of photography.

    Word Count: 27

    Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, cover (METROMOD Archive).
    Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, bastard title with Daumier’s quote “Je suis de mon temps” (METROMOD Archive).Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, title page (METROMOD Archive).Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, page with daguerreotypes (METROMOD Archive).Lucia Moholy. A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939. Penguin Books, 1939, page with a multiple flash photograph of the golfer Bobby Jones with a driver (METROMOD Archive).
    London
    László Moholy-Nagy
    PhotographerGraphic DesignerPainterSculptor

    László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.

    Word Count: 30

    László Moholy-Nagy, Cover of sales leaflet for Marcel Breuer’s Isokon Long Chair, 1937 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).
    László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937, front page (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: The Spectacle Man” and “Petticoat Lane: In a side street. Some Arabian visitors at a second-hand clothes stall” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, their triplets and Hattula Moholy-Nagy at 7 Farm Walk, the London home of László and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, June 1936 (provided by The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    London
    T. Lux Feininger
    PhotographerPainter

    Lux T. Feininger was a German-American émigré photographer and painter and the brother of the photographer Andreas Feininger, arriving in 1936 in New York. Although he started taking photographs during the 1920s in Germany, Feininger is better known for his career as a painter and his photographic work is largely unacknowledged.

    Word Count: 50

    T. Lux Feininger, Selfportrait in 511 East 85 Street, 1937, New York (© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, Repro: www.Kunst-Archive.net).Announcement of an exhibition at the MINT Museum of Art showing works by Lyonel, Andreas as well as T. Lux Feininger. The Charlotte News, 24 December 1955, p. 17 (Photo: Helene Roth).Announcement of an exhibition of T. Lux Feininger’s photographs at the Prakapas Gallery. The New York Times, 17 June 1983, p. c12 (Photo: Helene Roth).Article on the 1930s Bauhaus Photography exhibition, where also works by T. Lux Feininger were shown. The Boston Globe, 14 June 1984, p. 52 (Photo: Helene Roth).
    New York