At the Goetheanum. At Home

And so, to start the year with the right inspiration, I went to that place that contains a lot of me, even before I knew it, even before I was me. On January 3, 2013 I went for the first time to Dornach, a small hill near Basel, in German-speaking Switzerland. There, approaching the little hill, I saw for the first time the figure of the Goetheanum, the shape of a skull, with its affirmation both secure and liberating.

Although not a “training” architect, the buildings designed by Rudolf Steiner on the Dornach hill gave an original impulse to the architectural movement of organic architecture and more generally of expressionism: three of the buildings on the hill are considered by critics to be the most important in the history of modern architecture. The second Goetheanum was one of the first buildings in the world in reinforced concrete (the first Goetheanum, entirely in wood, was burned on the orders of a National Socialist core) as well as anticipating a series of stylistic elements that would later appear in later architectures as well as interior design and furniture (many designed by Steiner).

Architects such as Behrens and his then pupils, Le Corbusier and van der Rohe, as well as artists such as Mondrian, Kandinsky and Beuys not only studied the forms of the Goetheanum, but assiduously followed the lecture series that Steiner gave around Europe. In particular, some cycles for architects were given to the Architektenkammer of Berlin. The topics covered by Steiner ranged from architecture to the visual arts, passing through no less than the evolution of the cosmos and the human being. Subsequently the site of the Goetheanum was visited and appreciated by Scharoun, Lloyd Wright, Gehry, Saarinen and Calatrava.

All this is well outside, therefore, of an exquisitely self-referential discourse in which one would be tempted to reduce this grandiose architectural experiment.

To conclude this discussion on the connections between Steiner and modern architecture, I will directly mention the democratic Wikipedia:

Mateo Kries, director of the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, on the occasion of the exhibition curated by Rudolf Steiner. The alchemy of the newspaper (15 October 2011-1 May 2012) stated: “Steiner’s aesthetics and architectural practice have marked the work of many designers. Among the admirers of Steiner two groups can be identified: the first is composed of those who, although influenced by his theories, have developed an autonomous research: for example Herzog & De Meuron, who in 2002 wrote a monograph entitled Natural History in which they declared the own references to the text Kunstformen der Natur of the German philosopher and biologist Ernst Haeckel and to the materiality of geological formations (typical trait of Steinerian structures); the same references that can be found in the Schaulager building in Basel, a few kilometers from the Goetheanum. The second group is formed by those who continue to dogmatically apply Steiner’s teachings, such as the Dutch Alberts & Van Huut ».

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Goetheanum, Dornach

As I approached, the heartbeat seemed to go on, beginning to recognize that place as unique and yet so familiar.

My direct knowledge of anthroposophy goes back to university, but already in high school I remember knowing Steiner’s name. At that age I was interested in theology thanks to one of the teachers I always remember with more affection: Roberta. He would have to give me Latin repetitions, but in fact they were more talk about the maximum systems, I went deeper into the celestial spheres than into translations of Latin.

Until that moment I was content to keep the science of nature, which I studied with a metaphysical longing, distinct, and my keen interest in the spirit.

One day I asked for “theosophy”. I had read that name in some book. She told me briefly what the theosophists thought: I still remember how surprised I was by the fact that they were looking for a direct, experimental relationship with spirituality, in an infinite chain that went from the highest sky to nature. Accustomed as I was to Catholic doctrine, I did not yet imagine there could be an alternative approach, more similar to what I felt in nature when I was still a child. She was a Catholic, though open to any spiritual discussion: thus HP Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner quoted me, without making too many distinctions and warning me, however, of the risks faced by following that experimental and individual journey: in particular losing the objectivity that tradition he seemed to confer on the matter of spirit, to lose himself in a narcissistic subjectivity.

And instead I risked: so at the university, at the time of writing the thesis for the third year, I was all ready to meet one of the luminaries of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Genoa, Prof. Michele Will to present my thesis project on the aesthetics of Ernst Haeckel, founder of monism (this, for the record, the same as Herzog & De Meuron) that no one was able to follow in the faculty. So, I started talking until I mentioned the relationship between Haeckel and Steiner in passing. He invited me to follow a study group he held in the scientific conversation room of the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, every Wednesday from 6 to 8 pm. I asked which book I should buy to follow his “Saint George Study Group”. Prof. told me “The Gospel of Luke.” At that point I had absolutely no idea what to expect, whether scientific conversations or the gospel, I was only certain that Prof., already eighty years old, had adopted me as his student.

He will be able to tell and range from poriferology, or sponge biology, to ancient to modern art, passing through classical music, and for his and his brother’s stories as refugees under the rubble during World War II, or even raids into his grandfather’s library, crammed full of esoteric books, and then back to the reading of this or that other cycle of Steiner’s lectures. He knew how to tie all together, both young people like me and my friend, that the peers, passing through the fifty-year-olds who only then awakened a spirituality that had been dormant for too long. Although so different, we were all eager to learn about anthroposophy and Steiner, from his words so vivid and alive.

They were therefore both highly scientific and spiritual conferences. That marriage was possible.

And so I followed the study group for several years, I knew Steiner’s anthroposophy, continuing the study both alone and with Davide, one of my dearest friends. But even more I knew a different way of thinking, a real method, which forced me to leave many of the preconceived beliefs and ideas accumulated up to that point. With anthroposophy or the science of the spirit I could study spiritual reality in the same way I knew how to study natural reality. The method of natural science therefore combined that of the science of the spirit, the same passage that Steiner made passing from Haeckel’s monism to Blavatsky’s theosophy, to finally overcome even the latter when in 1909 Krishnamurti, then a young boy, was identified as the next physical incarnation of Christ, a role that Krishnamurti himself rejected as nonsense when adult.

Listening to Steiner’s words through Prof. was as if ancient memories were awakened within me, as images, sounds and sensations long forgotten resurfaced from the depths of the soul. To my great relief. Steiner’s profound knowledge in both scientific and spiritual matters was able to bring me back to the dawn of the history of evolution without sacrificing my individual conscience: I could extend Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation to matter and spirit and let it unfold by itself in imaginations about the past and the future of human beings and nature. Finally, after having put aside so many preconceptions, I could now combine my knowledge and love for nature with the impetus towards the infinite and the sublime, which from childhood had distinguished me. I could rejoin the human being with nature and through evolution, reach God. At that point I was free to experiment with both, the science of nature and the spirit, remaining faithful to an objective method of investigation: the risk of getting lost in subjectivity which I had been advised by my Latin teacher, had been fully overcome.

But another risk was lurking, far greater because unknown to me: when I left Genoa for Milan, my beloved Prof. died at the age of eighty-five, making me his last student, at least in this life. Immediately I did not understand how much pain he gave me, then, after having written and read his eulogy at the last meeting of the San Giorgio Study Group, I felt completely emptied. Anthroposophy reminded me of his death more than anything else in the world: it was he who had presented it to me in his aspect of living knowledge, and now that there was no longer even that knowledge seemed to die in me.

I left for London where I stayed for a year: there I lived with a girl Anna, who became one of the people who most resonated with me. So, day by day, with great simplicity. Her presence filled the absence that the disappearance of Sara and anthroposophy in me, but at the end of the year, she returned to Italy. I remained so alone for the three summer months. At that time I developed a strong melancholy that had inexplicable roots for me, which I usually was in a serene mood. This process of falling, deep and harsh, lasted several months, culminating in February of the following year. At that point I had neither the comfort of the science of nature nor of the spirit. I even stopped writing.

But at the most sad and dark hour of death, there follows the resurrection at the dawn of the new day.

It was there that Steiner’s words spontaneously returned, the voice that pronounced them was that of Prof. And it was there that I understood how Prof. had waited in the shadows and then helped me in a perceptible yet supersensible way. Before I felt like a stone, hard and dark, bordered by its own roughness, then I became a goblet, ready to receive or a sponge, to use an analogy dear to Prof. I was now permeable to the knowledge I had set aside, which I thought definitively buried. Anthroposophy was instead reborn in me as new living knowledge.

At that point he was no longer tied to the physical life of Prof. but rather, his death and his subsequent reappearance in my interiority, were the proof that anthroposophy disregarded the last physical incarnation of Prof. he was for me only a through, as wise as it is humble. This showed itself to my imagination in the most powerful way, even stupendous: it revealed to my observation conscious knowledge, about myself and the world, that I had never had before. After the voracious caterpillar stage, in which I devoured Steiner’s books, anthroposophy had grown up in the chrysalis inside me, waiting to be metamorphosed into a perfect butterfly, thus reaching its most adult stage. Something very ancient and at the same time totally new now resided inside me. I then started writing again.

And with this disposition of soul that finally went to visit the Goetheanum. That’s why when I got there I felt at home. Because I already had that place in it, having conquered it with extreme difficulty, despite the errors and losses, anthroposophy was there to give meaning and meaning to what I felt since I remembered.

This is why the Goetheanum is my home. The house of my spirit.

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The ceiling of the Great Hall of the second Goetheanum.
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