Werner Hegemann

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Werner Hegemann
Werner Hegemann.png
BornJune 15, 1881
DiedApril 12, 1936
OccupationCity planner, architecture critic

Werner Hegemann (June 15, 1881, Mannheim – April 12, 1936, New York City) was an internationally known city planner, architecture critic, and author. A leading German intellectual during the Weimar Republic, his criticism of Hitler and the Nazi party forced him to leave Germany with his family in 1933. He died prematurely in New York City in 1936.


Hegemann was the son of Ottmar Hegemann (1839-1900), a manufacturer in Mannheim, and Elise Caroline Friedrich Vorster (1846-1911), daughter of Julius Vorster, a founder of Chemische Fabrik Kalk in Cologne. He graduated from Gymnasium Schloss Plön in 1901. Hegemann began college studies in Berlin, studied art history and economics in Paris, economics at the University of Pennsylvania and in Strasbourg, and completed his doctorate in economics at Munich in 1908.[1] In the United States in 1909, he worked for the "Boston 1915" Exposition, a five-year plan to develop and improve the Boston area.

Back in Berlin the following year Hegemann was General Secretary of the 1910 Universal City Planning Exhibition held in Berlin in May and June.[2] The exhibition aroused great interest and was reprised in refocused form in Düsseldorf; Hegemann wrote an article about it for a general audience and a two-volume official book.[3] These city planning exhibitions were the first of their kind: Hegemann was in the right place at the right time to play a formative role in the early development of city planning as a profession.

In 1912 Hegemann accepted an invitation from Frederic C. Howe, Director of the People's Institute in New York, to give lectures on city planning in over 20 American cities.[4][5] He impressed his American hosts by attaching more importance to city infrastructure and organization than to appearance. In his lectures he debated the opportunities and dangers of urban development and advised against imitating European models. When his tour ended in California, he bought a motorcar and toured the west coast up to Seattle. The municipalities of Oakland and Berkeley then engaged him to do a comprehensive planning report, published in 1915 as the "Report on a City Plan for the Municipalities of Oakland & Berkeley." Hegemann's report developed a hierarchy of planning areas and called for the cooperation of urban groups to steer urban development, encouraging the turn from inner-city embellishment to optimizing urban functions. In early 1914 Hegemann embarked by ship on a return voyage to Germany via the Pacific, in order to visit the Far East and Australia. That July he boarded a German flagged ship in Australia for the final leg of the journey home. World War I broke out as the ship reached the coast of Africa, and it dodged English warships for several weeks before being sequestered for months off the coast of Mozambique. In April, 1915, Hegemann stowed-away on a Norwegian vessel bound for the United States, where he spent the duration of the war.

Hegemann remained in the United States until early 1921. He established "Hegemann & Peets," a firm specializing in city and suburban planning based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with landscape architect Elbert Peets.[6] The firm designed the Washington Highlands Historic District, and Wyomissing Park, a "Modern Garden Suburb" in Reading, Pennsylvania. Hegemann and Peets together published "The American Vitruvius: An Architects' Handbook of Civic Art," a "thesaurus" of civic art for architects, commenting on about 1200 examples of the discipline.

In 1918, visiting his friend Fiske Kimball at the University of Michigan, Hegemann met Ida Belle Guthe, daughter of Karl Eugen Guthe. In 1920 the couple married at her home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1921 Hegemann returned to Europe with his new bride. After a sojourn in Naples, Italy, in 1922 he designed and built a home in Nikolassee, outside of Berlin. He became editor of Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst, published by Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, known for its international coverage of architecture and Hegemann's incisive critiques. With a literary-polemical style of criticism that stood out sharply from the manifesto style of the moderns, Hegemann opposed formal modernism and academic traditions and favored a moderate modernity. He encouraged people with different views to write to the journal, and facilitated debates among schools of architectural thought. Hegemann also wrote several historical books debunking German heroes and, in 1930, the work for which he is best remembered, Das steinerne Berlin: Geschichte der Grössten Mietkasernenstadt der Welt (Stony Berlin: History of the Largest Tenement City in the World), which combines historical and architectural criticism. In the introduction he wrote, "It is a German illusion to believe in the possibility of creating an intellectual capital as long as the so-called educated people are almost proud of their inadequate understanding of urban planning."[7] After a lecture tour in South America, where he again spoke out against following European aesthetics and planning, he devoted himself increasingly to warnings against the National Socialists in a series of political articles, culminating in the book "Entlarvte Geschichte" ("History Unmasked").

Hegemann fled Germany in February, 1933 (the month after Hitler took power), upon publication of "Entlarvte Geschichte," dedicated sarcastically to Adolf Hitler. In May, 1933, he was denounced by the Nazis as an "Historical Forger," and his books were burned in the Nazi book burnings.[8] After several months in Geneva and France, Hegemann was invited by Alvin Johnson to teach urban planning at The New School for Social Research in New York beginning in November 1933.[9] That October Hegemann left Europe for the United States with his wife and four young children. He was one of many intellectuals essentially exiled by Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Upon arriving in New York City on November 4, 1933, Hegemann opined that the German people would not tolerate Hitler for more than two more years. He began lecturing at the New School and organizing assistance for intellectuals and scholars detained by the Nazis in Germany. In 1935 he was also retained as a lecturer at Columbia University.[10] The Nazis seized Hegemann's house in Nikolassee in 1935, and in 1938 revoked his doctorate. Meanwhile, he made efforts to stir public opinion in the case of Carl von Ossietzky, another German critic of Hitler, who was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazi's in the same month that Hegemann left Germany. He also wrote in support of Roosevelt's New Deal.

Hegemann saw the rise of Hitler in Germany as emerging from a historical context of Germans celebrating and idealizing strong men. Characteristically overstating the point, he criticized a century or more of "craving for submission" by German professors, bureaucrats and professionals, and observed that if Hitler ever decided to stop enslaving the nation, he would be "overwhelmed by an irresistible rush into ever deeper submission" by those with "collusive attitudes toward war-hungry German nationalism." Similarly, in 1934 Hegemann viewed the persecution of Jews in Germany as "in conformity with Old Prussian tradition" of antisemitism, and as consistent with the German aristocracy's lack of interest in "intellect and higher culture." Writing from the perspective of 1934, Hegemann could not have foreseen that five years later Hitler would begin a world war resulting in the deaths of 60 million people.

Hegemann's early years in the United States, along with his strong education and broad interests, made him an intermediary between architects and city planners throughout Europe and on both sides of the Atlantic. In particular, his The American Vitruvius refers extensively to European design, taking many examples from his book on the Berlin 1910 exhibition, while in Amerikanische Architektur und Stadtbaukunst he informs German architects of American solutions.[11] However, his emphasis on urban planning rather than purely formal considerations and possibly his having not been present during the development of the Modern Movement in architecture in Europe put him at odds with modernists. For example, in 1929 he was forced to retract an accusation that Martin Wagner's primary activity as chief of city planning for Berlin was funnelling architectural commissions to extremist friends,[12] and he labeled Le Corbusier's Ville Contemporaine project for transforming Paris "only vieux jeu" (old hat) and sarcastically predicted that it was likely to be realized,

[not] because [the skyscrapers] are desirable, healthy, beautiful, and reasonable from the perspective of urban planning but because they are theatrical, romantic, unreasonable, and generally harmful, and because it is part of the money-making activities of a metropolis, in what is literally the world's most international city, Paris, to serve the need for sensation and the vices of native and imported fools.[13]

Der Gerettete Christus[edit]

Hegemann authored the book Der Gerettete Christus (Translated as Christ Rescued) in 1933.[14] The book discusses a variant of the swoon hypothesis that Jesus did not die on the cross but only fainted.[15]


In New York in early 1936, Hegemann became ill, first diagnosed with Sciatica and then hospitalized with apparent pneumonia.[16] While bed-ridden in New York City he worked on his last book, the three-volume "City Planning, Housing," intended to supplement and update The American Vitruvius. Eventually completed by two co-editors, the last volume appeared in 1938.[17][18] Hegemann died on April 12, 1936, at age 55 in New York City. The treating doctor opined that the cause of death was Tuberculous meningitis.

Selected works[edit]

  • Der Städtebau nach den Ergebnissen der Allgemeinen Städtebau-Ausstellung in Berlin, nebst einem anhang: Die Internationale Städtebau-Ausstellung in Düsseldorf; 600 wiedergaben des Bilder- und Planmaterials der beiden Ausstellungen, mit Förderung durch die königlichen preussischen Ministerien des Inneren, des Handels und der öffentlichen Arbeiten, sowie durch die Städte Berlin, Charlottenburg, Rixdorf, Schöneberg, Wilmersdorf, Potsdam, Spandau, Lichtenberg und Düsseldorf. Herausgegeben im Auftrage der Arbeitsausschüsse von Dr. Werner Hegemann, Generalsekretär der Städtebau-Ausstellungen in Berlin und Düsseldorf. 2 vols. Berlin: Wasmuth, 1911, 1913. (in German)
  • (with Elbert Peets) The American Vitruvius: An Architects' Handbook of Civic Art. New York: Architectural Book Publishing, 1922.
  • Amerikanische Architektur und Stadtbaukunst: ein Überblick über den heutigen Stand der amerikanischen Baukunst in ihrer Beziehung zum Städtebau. Berlin: Wasmuth, 1925. (in German)
  • Das Steinerne Berlin: Geschichte der grössten Mietkasernenstadt der Welt. Berlin: Kiepenhauer, 1930. (in German)
  • Der Gerettete Christus, 1928 (Translated from the German by Gerald Griffin as Christ Rescued, 1933).
  • Entlarvte Geschichte. Aus Nacht zum Licht. Von Arminius bis Hitler. Leipzig: Hegner, 1933. (in German)
  • City planning, Housing. 3 vols. Vols. 2 and 3 with William W. Forster and Robert C. Weinberg. New York: Architectural Book Publishing, 1936–38. OCLC 837328


  1. ^ Werner Oechslin, "Between America and Germany: Werner Hegemann's Approach to Urban Planning," in Berlin/New York: Like and Unlike: Essays on Architecture and Art from 1870 to the Present, ed. Josef Paul Kleihues and Christina Rathgeber, New York: Rizzoli, 1993, ISBN 0-8478-1657-5, pp. 281–95, p. 287.
  2. ^ Christiane Crasemann Collins, Werner Hegemann and the Search for Universal Urbanism, New York: Norton, 2005, ISBN 0-393-73156-1, p. 35.
  3. ^ "Die Städtebau-Ausstellung und ihre Lehren," Die Woche; Der Städtebau nach den Ergebnissen der allgemeinen Städtebau-Ausstellung in Berlin, 1911, 1913. Collins, p. 51, p. 373, note 45; p. 375, note 72.
  4. ^ Edward Marshall, "VASTER SKYSCRAPERS INEVITABLE, SAYS GERMAN EXPERT; Dr. Werner Hegemann, One Of the World's Greatest Authorities on City Planning, Says Our Present High Buildings Mean Intolerable Congestion and Will Be Succeeded by Structures Ten Times as Great but More Widely Separated – Faults of Subways Pointed Out," New York Times magazine, April 6, 1913 (pdf) retrieved December 18, 2010.
  5. ^ Collins, p. 20.
  6. ^ "Biographical résumé of Elbert Peets," On the Art of Designing Cities: Selected Essays of Elbert Peets, Ed. Paul David Spreiregen, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT, 1966, OCLC 604141820, p. 226.
  7. ^ Oechslin, p. 292 (translation there).
  8. ^ Collins, pp. 306, 316.
  9. ^ Collins, p. 321.
  10. ^ Collins, p. 335.
  11. ^ Oechsler, p. 290.
  12. ^ Oechslin, p. 292; p. 295, note 119.
  13. ^ Oechslin, p. 291, quoting in translation from "Kritik des Grosstadt-Sanierungs-Planes Le Corbusiers," Der Städtebau (1927) p. 70.
  14. ^ Wehrbein, W. L. (1930). "Reviewed Work: Der gerettete Christus by Werner Hegemann". Books Abroad. 4 (1): 79. doi:10.2307/40046712. JSTOR 40046712.
  15. ^ Jocz, Jakób. (1981). The Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz: A Study in the Controversy Between Church and Synagogue. Baker Book House. p. 234
  16. ^ Collins, pp. 362, 363.
  17. ^ Collins, p. p. 352.
  18. ^ Oechslin, p. 291, referring to it as City/Planning/Housing.


  • Caroline Flick, Werner Hegemann (1881–1936): Stadtplanung, Architektur, Politik: ein Arbeitsleben in Europa und den USA. Munich: Saur, 2005 (in German)
  • Christiane Crasemann Collins, "Werner Hegemann and the Search for Universal Urbanism," New York: Norton, 2005.

External links[edit]