Distant Dream into Breath-Taking Reality

Posted December 17, 2012

Milan Daler, Administrator of the Center for Anthroposophy, captures in word and image his first impressions of the Goetheanum.

2nd Goetheanum Building

Whoever encounters the work of Rudolf Steiner will soon become aware of the Goetheanum –– world-wide center and earthly home of anthroposophy in Dornach, Switzerland.  The original building, a mostly wooden structure designed by Rudolf Steiner, arose between 1913 and 1920 at the hand of workers who flocked to Dornach from countries on both sides of World War I. This miracle of a building was completely destroyed by arsonist’s fire during the New Year’s night 1922/23. 

Deeply wounded but undeterred, Rudolf Steiner set about envisioning and designing a second Goetheanum made of the radically new medium of reinforced concrete. Apart from the issue of fire prevention, he saw the opportunities it offered for unrestricted design. The new building was built between 1925-1928 entirely on the basis of his model, but Rudolf Steiner himself did not live to see it completed, succumbing to illness on March 30, 1925 in his study, which was housed the carpentry shop, or “Schreinerei”, directly adjacent to the construction site of the Goetheanum.

Right from my first encounter with anthroposophy (facilitated 14 years ago by my future wife, Jennifer) and subsequent study of Rudolf Steiner’s work, I have nurtured the dream that one day I would visit the Goetheanum, to explore this magnificent building inside and out, to walk the grounds, to breath the surrounding air. 

Earlier this fall, with support of my colleagues at the Center for Anthroposophy, this dream came true, and I was able to attend the annual Michaelmas conference organized by the Collegium of the School of Spiritual Science. As I walked up the Dornach hill for the first time, the magnificent building¬¬––to say nothing of the steepness of the hill––literally took my breath away. I paused for a moment to take my first picture of this imposing edifice before approaching the giant metal and glass doors facing the rolling hills to the west. To my surprise, these massive doors swung open easily and I could see the hustle and a bustle of pre-conference registrations and, at the center of it all, a beautiful white sculpture of Michael blessing humanity.

The walls of the ground floor reception area are covered by a photo exhibition dedicated to a hundred years of eurythmy and featuring the life stories of the founding eurythmists. Two wide and gently curved stairways––one on each side of the foyer––lead the visitor to a second floor and the offices of the Vorstand (the Presidium of the Anthroposophical Society) members and the beautifully lazured back hallway with an exhibition of paintings by anthroposophical painter Ninetta Sombart.  From there more stairways lead up to a monumental entryway to the Great Hall where the largest conferences are held, eurythmy is performed, and Rudolf Steiner’s mystery plays and unabridged productions of Goethe’s Faust are regularly staged. 

The hall itself has an almost overwhelming effect on a receptive visitor. The imposing pillars, the beauty of the ceiling painting, the warm colors gently flooding the space through colorful etched-glass windows, the organ loft, the stage. And not to forget the acoustics! How is it possible that, in a concrete structure, the human voice and sounds of music carry so majestically and without echo? There is a “golden” spot up in the organ loft, from which a speaker’s voice resounds like voice of heaven itself.

At the top of another staircase in the south wing of this building can be found another high-ceilinged room close to the sweeping roof of the building. Here is housed Rudolf Steiner’s 30-foot high sculpture The Representative of Humanity. The statue, made of slats of wood glued together, depicts the Christ Being holding the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman, the two forms of evil, in balance and at bay. There are benches in the room where one can just sit and meditate.

Meals for the conference I was attending were served in the “Schreinerei”, the famous carpentry shop which survived the fire of 1922 and where the “Christmas Conference”–– the re-founding of the Anthroposophical Society––was held in 1923. When I first entered the Schreinerei and noticed how worn the floorboards were, it dawned on me that these must be the very same boards on which Rudolf Steiner himself had walked so many times –– and with him the founding personalities of the worldwide anthroposophical movement.

In this very same building is a small and sparsely decorated room, usually locked and not available for public viewing, but now, on the occasion of the Michaelmas conference, opened for one afternoon. This is Rudolf Steiner’s studio, a simple rough-hewn room in which he spent the last months of his life mostly bedridden, and where on March 30, 1925 he passed away. Here too were a couple of benches where one could sit and contemplate the magnitude of Rudolf Steiner’s legacy for humanity.

The landscape surrounding the Goetheanum is also stunningly beautiful, with its rolling hills and numerous anthroposophically inspired buildings, playfully called “The Colony”. The elaborate, many-angled roofs would make an average roofer’s hair stand on end. Just imagining how they figured out the correct angles made my head spin.

There is also life “behind the Goetheanum” in the form of a working bio-dynamic farm with a herd of goats peacefully grazing in their hold. Streets of Dornach and Arlesheim seemed quiet by comparison to the US, since almost everybody––from children to well-dressed businessmen and elders––was riding a bicycle. Bicycle shelters were everywhere!

Since it is impossible to do justice to this hub of anthroposophy in so few words, I can only hope that every reader of our newsletter Center & Periphery has the opportunity to experience the heart center of anthroposophy and the architectural wonder of the Goetheanum.



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