Ahrends, Peter (1 of 16). National Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives
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2014-03-29, 2014-04-05, 2014-05-17, 2014-05-31, 2014-06-07, 2014-06-29, 2014-07-05
Interviewee's home, London
Ahrends, Peter, 1933- (speaker, male)
Franklin, Geraint (speaker, male)
Part 1: [Session one: 29 March 2014] Introduction to recording. Born in Berlin. Mother’s family originally Italian; surname Visino. Paternal grandmother Johanna Ahrends nee Johanna Springer; her family owned publishing firm and lived in affluent suburb of west Berlin. PA left Germany at age three; never met maternal grandparents, who lived at Aulendorf, near Lake Constance in the south of Germany. Refers to estrangement between PA’s mother [Margarete Maria Ahrends, nee Margarete Maria Visino] [MMSA] and her parents. PA’s maternal grandfather a doctor; his father a chemist. [00:06:30] MMSA a weaver and instructor of weaving at one of the architecture schools at Weimar. PA unfamiliar with his mother’s weaving. PA’s father left Berlin for Johannesburg, South Africa in early 1937; MMSA and PA followed some months later. MMSA ceased weaving; different culture of Johannesburg. PA mentions lack of contact with parents in later life. Description of MMSA and relationship with PA. Mentions MMSA moved to London late in life. [00:17:16] Refers to marriage to Liz [Elizabeth Robertson] at age of 21. At this time MMSA worked in interior design business in Johannesburg. Mentions MMSA’s trip to London, and joint trip by PA and MMSA to see her parents and sister Liesel [in 1953], the first contact since the [Second World] War. Details of the youngest of MMSA’s sisters. Her Jewish husband killed by Nazis; her move to Australia after the war. MMSA eldest of three sisters. Details of Liesel’s life in Aulendorf. [00:21:58] Mentions paternal grandmother’s family, who lived in one of the wealthier suburbs of Berlin; their survival of the war. Paternal great-grandfather a merchant banker, who lived close to Wannsee. Decision of paternal grandfather Bruno Ahrends [BA] to pursue career in architecture. PA’s family lived in flat in central Berlin. [00:26:12] Mentions return visit to Germany after National Gallery episode and contact with student undertaking dissertation on BA’s architectural work. The Ahrends family were ethnically Jewish but practicing Christians. Mentions paternal aunt, who fled Germany before the war to London, later Sri Lanka [then Ceylon]. PA’s reluctance to return to German heritage. Mentions meeting in mid-1980s with Julius Springer, brother of paternal grandmother, who ran an art gallery in Berlin]. Remarks on visit to BA’s family residence. PA’s feelings about Germany; mentions research trip to Germany in late 1960s, and late trip after fall of Berlin Wall. [Brief interruption at 00:36:43] Mentions parents’ reluctance to discuss their previous lives in Germany, and PA’s lack of knowledge of paternal grandmother. [00:40:31] Remarks on father [Steffen Bruno Ahrends] [SBA]; his architectural training in Weimar, in building vacated after move of Bauhaus to Dessau. PA’s thoughts on SBA’s political beliefs. SBA and MMSA joined group of architects led by Ernst May who worked on Moscow housing settlements in early 1930s. Mentions lack of contact with SBA, who separated from MMSA in South Africa and later moved to Spain. [00:45:04] Description of SBA’s appearance and personality. Refers to own decision to become architect and move in London. Remarks on SBA’s career in South Africa and architectural affiliations; his development of a palette of local materials. [00:51:52] SBA joined BA’s practice on return to Berlin in 1933; BA’s practice closed by Nazis c.1937. Refers to SBA’s attitude to cultural changes associated with Stalinism and Nazism. SBA’s later phase of work in Andalucia, Spain in partnership with English-speaking architect. Description of holiday villas designed by SBA. [00:58:36] Mentions period working in SBA’s office in Johannesburg on graduating from the Architectural Association [AA]. [01:01:12] Story of Arthur Korn, PA’s tutor at AA; his friendship with BA in pre-war Berlin and mutual membership of the architectural group Der Ring. PA conceived in Moscow; mentions trip to Moscow in late 1980s in connection with British Embassy project; and Russian picture books bought for PA as child. [01:09:24] Occasional contact of PA’s family with German Jewish emigrants in Johannesburg, including the architect Erich Mauthner [EM]. Mentions visit of EM to London after the Festival of Britain and PA’s later discovery that EM worked in Soviet Union as member of Ernst May group. [01:11:42] On return from Moscow, family lived in Uncle Tom’s Cabin estate [Onkel Toms Hütte] in Berlin, designed by Bruno Taut. Early recollections of playing with brightly coloured, nested plywood cubes; and being pulled around on ice skates on frozen lake by paternal uncle. Move of paternal aunt Mariana to London and work with YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association]. Memory of journey to South Africa via England: meeting aunt at Southampton Docks, and story of PA’s birthday onboard. Story of train journey to Johannesburg and SBA’s sudden appearance on train. [01:20:46] Remarks on Johannesburg; family initially shared apartment in central Johannesburg. Recollection of being sent to kindergarten on trolley bus. First language German, parents only spoke English to PA. [01:27:26] Move of family to house on outskirts of city; remarks on countryside journey from house to school. Encounter with snake within fractured boulder, and relation to themes in PA’s architectural career. Comments on children’s perspective of life. [01:38:45] PA sent to distant boarding school at age 11, when parents divorced. Dislike of boarding school and distance from home. Awareness of being German and Jewish. Parents’ decision to christen PA as Catholic on leaving Berlin. [01:42:57] Story of escape from boarding school on train. Experience of racist treatment of black boy of similar age to PA. Comparison between racism in Nazi Germany and South Africa. [01:54:10] Mentions black servants working in family home; perception of racial differences as child.
Life story interview with Peter Ahrends (1933-), architect.