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Art and Culture

The Revolution and Cultural Optimism

Many artists and people involved in cultural projects place themselves in the service of the revolution and creatively transpose their vision for a better society. The Bauhaus arises during the Weimar Republic and the new-art movement of modernism. However, cultural education and activities do not only take place in bourgeois and artistic circles. The gradual reduction of weekly working hours is being fought for, concurrently, the possibilities for leisure activities are also growing rapidly for workers. In the Kaiserreich, sport activities and steadily increasing cultural opportunities for workers are still limited to Sundays and due to the Anti-Socialist Laws, these limitations serve above all forbidden political party organization under the guise of social gatherings. However, after the abolition of the Anti-Socialist Laws in 1890, and with the revolutionary awakening in 1918, Leipzig's workers' education associations and the organization of a workers' culture experience a boom in which educational opportunities, especially for workers, are increasingly extended to after work and to almost every area of culture.e, mit der sich Bildungsangebote speziell für Arbeiter*innen zusehends auf den Feierabend und auf nahezu jeden Zweig der Kultur ausdehnen.

A New Year's Concert to Celebrate the Revolution

The political upheaval is followed by a cultural one which is exemplified in Leipzig at the transition from 1918 to 1919. Despite bourgeois protests, a New Year's Eve concert is given in the Krystallpalast (Crystal Palace) on the initiative of the Leipzig "Arbeiter-Bildungs-Institut" (Workers' Education Institute) to celebrate the revolution. In front of 2,500 people, mostly workers, the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the city’s choirs play Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" and welcome the first year of peace. The final chorus begins punctually at midnight with the "Ode to Joy". This success is appreciated even by the bourgeois press and establishes the tradition of the New Year's Concerts, a tradition which is alive and well today.

Culture for All!

Thanks to the organizational talent of the Workers' Education Association, more and more workers and employees are being introduced to the so-called "fine arts". The Volksbühnen (People's Theater) Movement hosts its own performances in Leipzig's Volkshaus, the central cultural institution and the "shrine" of Leipzig’s workers. Even in the large bourgeois-municipal houses, theater and music events are performed in front of a proletarian audience. For example, between 1919 and 1923, the Workers' Education Institute, founded in 1907, organizes over 75 concerts in the Gewandhaus, which are attended by more than 85,000 workers. Until then, the city's Concert Hall had been considered the epitome of bourgeois culture and had previously been open exclusively to a bourgeois audience. Although the opening of the Gewandhaus to workers has a high symbolic value for their integration into the world of 'high' art and culture, the gap between bourgeois and proletarian milieus is far from being bridged. The Gewandhaus is only accessible to workers for their private events, separated from the bourgeoisie, while to the bourgeoisie, the Gewandhaus is open at all times. Furthermore, the opening of the existing cultural institutions to workers cannot hide the fact that the goal of creating a specifically proletarian art and counterculture has been neglected by the workers themselves. The outstanding achievement of the diverse workers' education initiatives and organizations is in fact the transmission of the "fine arts" and the integration of workers into bourgeois culture.

From the Workers' Libraries to the Adult Education Center

Social Democratic adult education is not only successful in the fields of music and theater. The teaching of political and economic knowledge has also reached a new high point in Leipzig, the trade fair city. In addition to the central workers' library in the Volkshaus and the more than 50 self-organized book and reading rooms already in existence throughout the city, more and more so-called "Bücherhallen" (Book Halls) have been built since the beginning of the war, open to members of all classes. Along with the Volksbibliotheken (people’s libraries), these are the forerunners of today's municipal libraries. Together with the Volkshochschule (People’s Community College), founded in 1922, cross-party and democratic adult education is being created, known as the "Leipzig Direction", and is unparalleled in Germany.