Incessant Visions: words from the life of Erich Mendelsohn







Incessant Visions is a moving documentary by Israeli filmmaker Duki Dror about the enigmatic life and the extraordinary career of German architect Erich Mendelsohn.

From the trenches of the First World War, the soldier Mendelsohn, sends love letters to a cellist living in Berlin, Louise Mass. In the envelopes, the young Louise finds, together with the words, drawings and projects: visions for an Architecture of The Future. Erich will survive the war and will marry Louise: it’s the beginning of a story told in the film through extracts from the 1200 letters that the couple wrote to each other during their lifetime.

Almost overnight, Mendelsohn became a celebrity thanks to his Einsteinturm, the Einstein Tower in Potsdam, a tower-telescope built to prove the theory of relativity of the German scientist. With its expressionistic lines and innovative materials, the Tower impressed so much its contemporaries that Mendelsohn and his Visions became famous all over the world. So it was that he got important commissions: the Shocken department stores in Stuttgart, the Mosshaus in Berlin, the Red Flag textile factory in Leningrad and the Universum Film Kino Cinema again in Berlin.

The Nazis’ rise to power interrupts this successful career. Mendelsohn, together with his wife and daughter, leaves everything behind and escapes first to Holland and, later, to England. Every departure is a new beginning and the architect continues to create his visionary works that recall scenes from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. In England he designs the De La Warr Pavillion, on the seafront of Bexhill on Sea and Cohen House in Chelsea, London.

When Chaim Weizmann asks him to design his new home in Rehovot, Mendelsohn moves to Palestine. Immediately, he recognizes that this corner of the Middle East is the place where a future for Jews persecuted in Europe is possible and he dreams of creating the architecture of the Zionist enterprise. His designs include the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, the Shocken Library in Jerusalem and buildings on the campus of the Hebrew University. His influence on the work of other architects working in British Mandate Palestine is still visible today. Duki Dror’s camera roams through the street of Tel Aviv, the white city Bauhaus capital, capturing and lingering on those architectural elements of clear mendelsohnian influence: the round balconies, the modernist lines.

Unfortunately this architecture was deemed too modern and too German by many if his critics. After encountering much resistance, a disappointed Mendelsohn decides to leave Palestine for the States. Here, he worked for the American Army and Standard Oil.

In Utah, a hundred kilometers away from Salt Lake City, Meldelsohn helped build German Village, a series of residential buildings repeating typical Berlin constructions of the time. This American copy served to improve the effectiveness of the Allies bombings of the German capital.

If in Europe he created an architecture that could define the frantic years between the Wars, in the Land of Israel, he managed to capture the tension between a new contemporary architecture and the Biblical spaces resonating with the Past of the Jewish People. In America, Mendelsohn helped the destruction of the old world, his Berlin with the project of the German Village.

After the war, Mendelsohn settled in San Francisco: he designed a few synagogues (the famous Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, Ohio) and the Ramban Hospital in San Francisco. He died in 1953: his ashes under the Golden Bridge.

Duki Dror’s film is a monument to a great artist. Bringing the letters alive on the screen, revealing the deep bond between the Mendelsohns, the director presents the story of the last century: the carnage of the First World War, the creative years of the post-war chaos and the end of Europe, the persecutions, the exile and America, the new world. Mendelsohn lived this story with the passion and visionary genius of a true artist: wherever he went, he shaped the space.

Only few of his works survive, together with his drawings and letters: powerful witnesses to a life to remember.

About the Author
Olé Hadash, cinephile, avid reader.