“A piece of the Orient on the Elbe”

guest contribution by Benjamin Anderson

[1] The Yenidze, Dresden (2011). Photo by author.

In recent decades, the efforts of Muslim communities in central Europe to build minarets at their places of worship have frequently met with resistance. In 2009, a Swiss referendum forbidding the construction of new minarets attracted widespread coverage in the foreign press, and the measure eventually passed with 57.5% of the vote. In Germany, opposition to minarets has repeatedly emerged at the local level. Already in the early 1990s, the planned construction of a new minaret by the Muslim community of the town of Bobingen provoked a public controversy. More recently, a new mosque in Cologne led to a protracted battle between the patrons and their architects on one side, and planning boards and community groups on the other. The size and design of the minarets played a central role in this debate.

[2] The complex of Qaytbay, Cairo. 
Émile Prisse d’Avennes, L’art arabe (1869-77).
The first-time visitor to Dresden would be forgiven for thinking that the Saxon capital had overcome its minaret anxiety over a century ago. Along the banks of the Elbe, less than a kilometer from the city center in which Augustus the Strong once built a court that was the envy of Baroque Europe, a prominent four-tiered tower, executed in the alternating bands of red and white (“ablaq”) masonry typical of the medieval architecture of the Islamic Mediterranean, stands proudly beside a stained-glass art nouveau dome [Fig 1]. However, closer inspection will reveal that this is no minaret, but a (now de-commissioned) smoke-stack; and that the inscription at the base of the dome bears the name of a cigarette company.

The “Orientalische Tabak- und Cigarettenfabrik Yenidze” (Yenidze Oriental Tobacco and Cigarette Manufactory), founded in 1886, was named after the city of Yenice-i Vardar, today Giannitsa in northern Greece, where its tobacco was grown. The company’s leading brand, “Salem Aleikum” cigarettes, quickly garnered a large share of the German market, and in 1907 the firm’s owner, Carl Hugo Zietz, purchased a plot in Dresden for a new factory. For his architect, Zietz hired Martin Hammitzsch, who turned to the same publications that had been serving European designers in search of “oriental” themes since the previous century, and Émile Prisse d’Avennes’s L’art arabe (1869-77) was pilfered once more for its views of the Mamluk complexes of Cairo’s Northern Cemetery. The base of Hammitzsch’s dome, a beveled cube pierced by three portholes arranged in a triangle and a row of three narrow, arched windows, is a direct quotation from the fifteenth-century complex of Sultan Qaytbay [Fig 2]

[3] “Ein Stück Orient an der Elbe” (“A piece of the Orient on the Elbe”).
 Advertisement, Illustrirte Zeitung (Leipzig, 1916).

[4] Facade, the Yenidze, Dresden (2011).
Photo by author.
The factory was inaugurated in 1912 and immediately pressed into service as the company’s trademark. Consider a full-page advertisement from the pages of the Leipzig Illustrirte Zeitung of 1916, at the height of the First World War [Fig 3]. The factory, viewed from the prow of a ship cruising up the river, towers over the skyline of the Baroque city, whose spires are sketched in above the arches of the Marienbrücke. The text at lower right explains that this “piece of the Orient... captures the glance of every traveler, and makes him wonder if he has landed on the banks of the Elbe or those of the Bosporus.” The “proud building,” we are told, is built in the “strictly classical Oriental style.... With its richly ornamented facade, its colorful mosaic inlays, and its Moorish window arches, whose character emerges in a different form on each story [Fig 4], the building will enchant even the well-traveled gentleman.” 

[5] The Salonika Front, 1916.
Le Pays de France, 31. August 1916.
Although the mention of the Bosporus might be an oblique reference to the German-Ottoman military alliance in World War I, a different member of the Central Powers is featured in the military scene in the advertisement’s foreground. Underneath the red, white, and black of the German flag that flies from the rigging, we find the tricolor of the Kingdom of Bulgaria. To the right, a German soldier stands on the ship’s deck, his hands jauntily tucked into his pockets and a Salem Aleikum dangling from his lip beneath the signature Feldmütze. The jovial fellow seated beside him wears the red epaulettes of the Bulgarian army. In 1916, the Central Powers were pushing the Salonika front southwards, deep into the newly Greek heartlands of central Macedonia, and the advertisement may be anticipating the incorporation of Yenice-i Vardar into Greater Bulgaria [Fig 5].

[6] Fagus Werk, Alfeld, Germany.
Photo by Carsten Janssen, 2007 (Creative Commons).
In the end, of course, the Central Powers lost the war, and the town of Yenice stayed Greek. Hammitzch’s building was on the losing side of architectural history as well. His Qaytbay knockoff quickly came to seem a retardataire essay in historicism—25 years before, the complex had already inspired the “mosque” of the “Rue du Caire” constructed for the Universal Exposition in Paris. Industrial architecture was now expected to follow the functional, modernist lead of Walter Gropius’s Fagus Werk, completed in 1913 [Fig 6]. In 1929, a critic writing in the journal Der Industriebau singled out Yenidze as an exemplary failure: “this building, which can only be considered a piece of advertisement, does not have the slightest relationship to the operations that it houses.”   

[7] Section, the Yenidze, Dresden (1996).
After Richter, Industriearchitektur.
Hammitzsch became a convinced nationalist. In 1936, he married Hitler’s half-sister, and nine years later, as the Allies pounded Dresden with bombs, he committed suicide. While much of the city’s historical core was leveled, Yenidze suffered only minor damage, and the factory continued to crank out cigarettes during the first decades of the Communist German Democratic Republic. Fritz Löffler, a local art historian who led the drive to rebuild the city center, simultaneously campaigned to have the Yenidze torn down. This nearly happened in 1960, but the era of militant modernism was ending. By the beginning of 1980s, Yenidze was registered as a protected historical monument, and in 1996, six years after German reunification, a healthy sum was spent on its documentation and renovation [Fig 7]. Today, the Yenidze serves as an office building. The space under the dome, however, is rented by 1001 Märchen GmbH (The Thousand and One Fairy Tales, LLC), which uses it as a stage for such entertainments as Aladdin und die Wunderlampe (“Aladdin and the magic lamp”) and Neue, überraschende Abenteuer von Sindbad, dem Seefahrer (“The new and surprising adventures of Sindbad, the Sailor”).

[8] DITIB-Zentralmoschee, Cologne.
Photo by Pappnaas666, 2013 (Creative Commons).
At the height of the controversy over the Cologne Mosque, the architects and their clients appeased the local authorities by agreeing to build “more abstract and less traditional minarets” than originally planned. The resulting towers bear a certain resemblance to smoke-stacks [Fig 8]. In the meantime, the “strictly classical” minaret of Yenidze has become a vestigial beacon for a site of commerce and entertainment, as unabashedly Orientalist as ever. The modernists would be appalled, but the postmodern tourist will find plenty to ponder in this tale of form fighting against function.

BENJAMIN ANDERSON is Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University.

LUPFER, Gilbert, Bernhard Sterra and Martin Wörner, eds., Architekturführer Dresden. Berlin: Reimer, 1997 (For Yenidze, see: 92-93).
RICHTER, Tilo. Industriearchitektur in Dresden. Leipzig: Kiepenheuer, 1997 (For Yenidze, see: 64-65).

Citation: "'A Piece of the Orient on the Elbe," Benjamin Anderson, Stambouline (July 17, 2014). http://www.stambouline.com/2014/07/a-piece-of-orient-on-elbe.html

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