Hi, this is Ed Driscoll; welcome to Silicon Graffiti.
In 1945, America emerged victorious from World War II. We were the super power, with the power to simultaneously destroy the world, and—we thought at the time—remake it in our image. But little-known to us, in a sense, America had lost the war with Germany—not to the Nazis, thank God, but to the Weimar Republic, which lasted from the end of World War I to the rise of the Nazis.
America’s infatuation with all things German began, arguably, with journalist H.L. Mencken. In 1908, he published his second book, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. In the late 19th century, Nietzsche simultaneously announced that God was dead, and as such, a new set of morals were needed, since notions of good and evil and morality in general were suddenly all relative.
Mencken’s love of Nietzsche won him few favors while WWI was in force and the Wilson administration punished any pro-German thought. But by the 1930s, numerous German intellectuals fled Nazi Germany, and many landed in America. Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus in 1919, and Mies van der Rohe, its last director when the Nazis permanently shuttered its doors in 1933, both became influential architects in America.
But they were even more influential as teachers in America, instructing a generation of prominent architects in the ways of the German Bauhaus, forever transforming the American skyline. In Tom Wolfe’s blistering early 1980s look at modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House, Wolfe wrote that Gropius, Mies, and other German artists were welcomed by American intellectuals in the 1930s as…the equivalent of The White Gods! Come from the skies at last!