The Battle for Bauhaus: How A Movement Failed to Protect Its Name

By Paul Glader in Berlin

Part 2: 'Bauhaus' Goes to Court

Photo Gallery: A Tale of Two Bauhauses Photos
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One of the first actions by the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin was to sue the Bauhaus company at the District Court of Mannheim over the naming rights in 1972. It asked the court to ban the company from using the moniker, to delete it from the commercial register in Mannheim and to give up the trademark at the German patent office.

Some argue DIY chain owner Baus opportunistically grabbed the "Bauhaus" name at a politically chaotic time, when Gropius and others were dispersed abroad and no one thought to protect the name. Others say the word "Bauhaus" was similar to Mr. Baus' own name or that combination of Bau and Haus, German words meaning building and house respectively, was just too common an expression to warrant any protection. They argued anyone should be allowed to use it.

Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of the company, dismissing the Bauhaus Archive's claim and ordering it to bear the costs of litigation. The term Bauhaus can "no longer be attributed to a specific person, but has become a style concept that is part of the public domain," the judge determined. He wrote that the Bauhaus school had closed, its name had never been protected and the idea of granting the exclusive naming right to museums years after the fact "contradicts principles of commercial law."

It's nose bloody from the defeat, the Bauhaus Archive has largely avoided entanglement with the home goods company and other apparent brand infringers ever since. "We are looking ahead rather than back into these past experiences," says Jaeggi. "We just have to accept reality and continue with what we're doing."

Long-Term Consequences

At the moment, Germany's three Bauhaus museums are busy enough. They are working together more frequently, with a joint Internet portal and with exhibitions, such as one scheduled to coincide with the 2012 London Summer Olympics called "Bauhaus: Art As Life" at the Barbican Art Gallery. The Weimar organization plans to open a new €22 million ($28 million) museum in 2015. The Bauhaus Archive in Berlin also has plans to expand its exhibition space because only 30 percent of its collection is currently on display.

Arthur Cohen, a founder of New York-based brand consultant LaPlaca Cohen, says the failure to protect the name means less revenue from license fees for the museums, which receive federal and private support as nonprofit entities. "Had there been agreements early on that are strong and enforceable, not only would there be an ability to protect and enforce what the Bauhaus legacy is, but there also would be revenue streams," he says.

"It's particularly challenging for members of the public who didn't grow up knowing about the Bauhaus tradition and ideals to identify or understand what it is now," Cohen says. "It has been diluted to a different category and an everyday aesthetic."

The Bauhaus Archive in Berlin has rouhgly 20 employees and another 30 contractors at the small museum and library, which has more than 100,000 visitors each year. By contrast, Bauhaus AG has 18,000 employees now and is focusing on opening massive, 20,000 square-foot stores in cities, such as Leipzig, Bremen and Cologne.

"It's a source of much confusion, even for us," says Andreas Kühnlein, a spokesman for the Bauhaus Foundation in Dessau. He took a trip to Sweden and Finland, recently, which have Bauhaus do-it-yourself stores. When he told people he worked for Bauhaus, "they all thought I was standing by the saws or something." He says his office regularly receives call from people asking where to buy wood or other building materials.

"In 50 or 100 years, no one will know there is a difference," between the historic school of Gropius and the home goods company, says Bauhaus AG spokesman Köhler. "Perhaps in Germany (people will know the difference). But not in other countries."

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