The Art of Johann Dieter Wassmann
A Carpenter's Tale
At 56, Johann Dieter Wassmann should have known how to board a tram. Clumsy is not a word many would have associated with a man who, as one of Leipzig's foremost civil engineers, led a meticulous life. But in the half light of morning on January 6, 1898, late for a meeting and distracted by the gentle solitude of a new fallen snow, he raced to board a slow moving tram outside his home on the corner of Schonbach and Äuss. Hospital Strasse (now Prager Strasse). With briefcase in hand, he leapt onto the forward running board. As he did, his footing gave way-he did reach the running board, but missed the handrail and fell backwards, slipping under the carriage. Despite having the wherewithal to roll as he fell he was unable to roll far enough. The rear wheels of the tram, in their deliberate progress, crushed his left leg just below the knee, leaving a stump with a dangling calf and booted foot secured only by his few remaining calf muscles.
But Johann Dieter Wassmann wasn't clumsy, as I have said. He was in a hurry. Herein lies the none-too-subtle irony in his death from these injuries three months later: It was the very pace of modern life and man's obsession with time, at the expense of the wonder of the space around him, that had come to preoccupy Johann's personal and creative life in the closing decade of the 19th century, although it was his more celebrated professional life that had given him pause to ask: where is it all going? Renowned in the burgeoning field of sewerage management, he had experienced the toll of industrialization and urbanization first-hand. But he did more than just experience it; he spent the whole of his illustrious career battling to thwart this dual assault on the human condition.
Through the latter half of the century, medicine made enormous strides in its understanding and treatment of illnesses, but the field remained largely helpless in preventing them. That task fell to a core group of mostly German and English civil engineers, Johann Dieter Wassmann among them, who led a revolution in the development of water carriage-systems for the disposal and treatment of sewerage waste, thereby conquering the rampant spread of infectious disease that had characterized the rise of densely populated urban environments (not to mention the gamut of secondary illnesses that followed in their path). These men (sorry, no women to report on) remain the great unsung heroes in the transformation of Europe from a feudal, agrarian society, to an integrated powerhouse of industrial wealth.
Little of which would have been on Johann's mind as he looked down on the mangled stump he was left with, the shower of blood spurting out onto the pristine blanket of snow causing a slight steam to rise as it permeated the powdery surface. Whatever else he was in life, Johann was firstly a man of practical concerns. He quickly removed his scarf and tied it tightly above the knee to halt any further loss of blood. He then packed his severed stump with snow, before allowing himself to be lifted onto the culpable tram. Fortunately, as the name suggests, Outer Hospital Street ran past Johannes Hospital (no relation), less than a kilometer from his home. He remained lucid as the tram made its way toward the city, apologizing to fellow passengers for his gruesome interruption to their morning.
At the hospital, the attending nurse inspected and approved of his tourniquet, swabbed the wound with lint soaked in carbolic acid and offered a generous tincture of opium (40 drops) to ease the pain. When the surgeon arrived an hour later there was no decision to make. He greeted Johann, removed his coat, rolled his crisp white shirt sleeves above his wrists, tied on a clean apron and splashed his long sinewy fingers with carbolic. He then drew out a knife and severed Johann's remaining calf muscles in a single gliding stroke, as one would fillet a fish; with a second arching stroke he severed the remaining skin, leaving a U-shaped posterior flap to cover the wound. Johann's calf and booted foot he tossed into a bucket with a thud.
Sitting on a low stool, the surgeon cleaned the wound of debris, picking out shreds of black wool from Johann's pant leg, shattered bone fragments, blood clots and globs of indistinguishable tissue. What little he could find of the fibula and tibia was twisted and badly crushed, with severe contusions about the knee, so he prepared to disarticulate the leg at the knee joint. Standing next to his patient, he made short quick incisions on either side of the knee-cap, dissecting the skin to one inch; he then peeled back the flap for later attachment to the broader posterior flap. He returned to the stool and with a long thin knife he severed both the lateral and crucial ligaments, opening the knee joint from underneath, attempting to wrench out the truncated fibula and tibia. Unsuccessful, he reached for a saw, cutting upward through the femur at the lower tip. He discarded the joint and remaining fibula and tibia into the bucket, with Johann's booted foot and calf. He cleared away the now useless muscle about the knee, re-sized the posterior flap and sutured the arteries and main vessels with cat-gut, before easing the tourniquet. As Johann's renewed blood supply swelled the minor vessels, making them again visible, the surgeon sutured each with a single stitch of floss silk, swabbed the wound one last time with carbolic acid and sutured the long posterior flap over the shorter anterior flap, leaving small glass tubes protruding from either side to drain the inevitable fluids that would accumulate.
Fifteen minutes after his arrival, the surgeon wiped the blood from his fingers and tissue from his nails, shook hands with Johann and wished him well. Johann weakly thanked him for his efforts, before falling unconscious for the next 18 hours.
That we know any of this, let alone all of it, is an indication of Johann's attention to detail. He wrote it down several days later, just as he had written down most of the details of his life from the time of his youth. According to these notes, his condition improved steadily until the first week of February, when he awoke on the morning of the fifth with a severe fever and excruciating pain in his damaged leg. The physician was called and the muslin bandages-which the nurse had changed just three days earlier-were removed from his wound. A sulphur stench quickly filled the room like no other Johann had suffered before-a stench even a sewerage engineer found intolerable. Windows were thrown open and a cold blast of fresh air blew through the room. The limb was badly swollen. The sutured flap was black and crackling. Whole chunks of rotting blackened flesh had stuck to the muslin.
Brown fluid oozed from the tubes. The skin at the edge of the wound was green, while the skin above the knee was riddled with broad red patches. Johann writes that the doctor looked grave as he entered the room. From the smell in the hallway he had already made his prognosis. He described the condition as gangrène foudroyante, which could prove fatal within hours. It would require an immediate high amputation of the leg, if Johann was to stand any chance of survival. (First described by Masionneuve in 1853, we now understand the condition to be a gangrene caused by the death of tissue from a disruption of arterial blood supply, which has then been infected by virulent streptococci, a frequent occurrence in hospitals through the 19th century.) The sawbones was again summoned and a second amputation was performed at the hip later that morning. Weakened and severely depressed, Johann survived a further six weeks, but never regained strength. His last diary entry was on March 14th, where he describes his struggle with pain, exhaustion and fits of delirium. His wife later wrote that his temperature dropped precipitously on the 15th as he passed into profound collapse with coma. He died on March 18th, 1898, from what we now believe to have been a second virulent streptococci infection.
Johann's entry into the world was somewhat less fraught. Born in Leipzig on April 2, 1841, he was the youngest of five children. His father, August, was a carpenter, as was his father before him. His mother, Marie, a former teacher, was kind and gregarious. At the age of six, Johann suffered a bout with rheumatic fever, delaying his entry into primary school, which by mid-century was not only widely available, but mandatory in most German States. The following year August was forced to flee Leipzig for Weimar to escape the repression of the counter-revolution after the March 1848 uprising, an event he played an active part in. Not until the next spring was the family able to join him with their belongings and the contents of his workshop.
Only then, at the age of eight, did Johann begin his schooling. He did well, catching up quickly, allowing him to later enter gymnasium where he excelled in languages and the arts. He won a scholarship to the University of Leipzig, the first of his family to enter university and the only family member to return to Leipzig. He studied philosophy but floundered, causing him to switch studies to engineering.
During these years his father's cabinet-making business prospered. Among August's first commissions was a suite of furniture for Richard Wagner, who had himself been forced to flee Dresden empty-handed after the uprisings. In typical fashion, Wagner moved on to Zurich without paying a mark, leaving Franz Liszt to settle his debts. But Liszt was sufficiently impressed by August's craftsmanship that he purchased several of the pieces for himself, introducing August's fledgling workshop to Weimar society.
Despite the political oppression of the era, the times were plentiful. The emergence of a broad middle class produced a steady demand for quality furniture. With his eldest son, Wolfgang, August moved quickly to abandon all remnants of the guild system, employing new manufacturing techniques as readily as they became available. Their small workshop on Rosmariengasse in the Alt-Stadt was soon replaced by a factory to the north of town, a short distance from the railway station, allowing for ready shipment of furniture across northern Germany and to the port of Hamburg.
Johann's career similarly prospered. His first posting took him to Hannover to assist on design work for one of Europe's earliest and most extensive sewerage management systems. His involvement in the field from its inception assured early success. At the age of 34 he was offered a teaching position at the University of Leipzig, becoming a Privatdozent (lecturer), although he was encouraged to retain his private practice to stay abreast of the field. He travelled extensively and on a trip to Goteborg, Sweden met Anna Peterson, a schoolteacher. Two years later, they were married and soon raising a family.
Through these years, he repeatedly expressed concerns to colleagues about his students' ability to demonstrate original and creative thought; his fear was that the ongoing academic push to extract science from the arts was adversely affecting their ability to reason freely. He reports his entreaties only fell on deaf ears. His use of the medium of the wooden box, in the tradition of the Wunderkammern-a medium in which he would find his voice so profoundly in later years-began in 1881 when he undertook construction of a number of demonstration pieces to rouse his first year engineering students from their slumber.
The works he devised addressed medical and scientific themes, but rather than describing topics in literal terms, he presented them enigmatically, challenging students to formulate independent conclusions about the veracity and sanctity of observation itself. Adding further to the ambiguity was his use of English-language medical books as source material, compelling his German-speaking students to look beyond text as a basis for the imposition of meaning.
Typical of this period is his work Sechzehn Kerzen (Sixteen Candles) 1882, a piece that raises doubts about the sophomoric confidence of medical practice-then as now. In a more instructional vein, the scourge of syphilis prompted him to construct Schützen Euere Klempnerarbeit (Protect Your Plumbing), 1883, a work that is no less relevant to young men today confronted by the lethal threat of AIDs.
It is this very relevance, a relevance permeating his entire oeuvre, that imbues these works with the ability to not only leap through time, entering into our 21st century lives, but more importantly to side-step the rat race of time, a trait unique to the arts in general and great art in particular. I can imagine no sweeter compliment befalling a man whose life's ambition was to re-unite the wonder of space with the splendor of time, all the more so given how thoroughly disenfranchised the two have since become. The works from these early years were christened the "Dresden Boxes" after their extended display in a Dresden clinic.
Despite his considerable achievements, Johann felt increasingly troubled as the century hastened toward its close. In a sense, he had seen that Äuss. Hospital Strasse tram coming for some while. His suspicion that the deliberate progress of modernity was fast bearing down overwhelmed him with regular fits of fear and uncertainty. When he first caught sight of this brooding monolith his response was to back-pedal his way out of the 19th century and into his romanticized view of an earlier, less pressured era. As he came to feel more at ease with the medium of the wooden box he staged his retreat by venturing into works that he hoped might help him to combat this anguish. Here his creative impulse was most Germanic: a return to the ancient wood, with Goethe looming large, although his influences were equally eclectic. His great love of the American Transcendentalist authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau is apparent in several works. He had grown fond of their writings while living in Washington, D.C., where he consulted on a long overdue sewerage system for the nation's capitol during Restoration-the first in the world to be built of concrete, a pioneering design solution born of necessity amid the poorly-drained swamplands of the Potomac.
Whether conscious or not, his impulse to celebrate the ancient wood twenty years later can be read as an unsurprising response to the soulless concrete, brick and mortar that dominated his professional life. Johann had long found solace in the wood, a passion so deeply imbedded in the German psyche it was the subject of the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus' classic Germania; or, On the Origin and situation of the Germans, recorded in the year 98. For Roman readers, Germania served to explain why these primitive arcadians were such barbarians. For the Germans themselves, Tacitus' portrayal of them as little more than arboreal hunters, gatherers and warriors was taken as a compliment. Germania eventually became a raw staple in their literary diet, all the more so after the first native translation was published in Leipzig in 1496.
For Johann, delving into the ancient wood was an essential catharsis, just as it would be a hundred years later for his compatriot Anselm Kiefer. In a letter to his brother Wolfgang, dated November 10, 1885, Johann writes that from the moment his saw broke the grain of his rough planks of birch, oak, pine, beech, ash, walnut, elm or whatever else might be at hand, he was magically propelled through the looking glass, moving into the wood, first physically-as he cut, planed, joined and finished the timbers-and then mentally-as he deliberated what world might inhabit the inner space of these exquisite boxes.
His experience of the wood spared none of the senses, however. The sweet freshness of pine, the acrid harshness of elm that burned the eyes and throat, the gentle pleasantries of oak: he genuinely believed as his father had that the souls of men inhabited these timbers and only by cutting into them and experiencing them fully could these souls find release. He reminded Wolfgang of the stories their father would tell them as children, the stories they would insist on hearing again and again of the family workshop in the years that followed the Battle of Leipzig, a time when their father himself was just a child. The terrible destruction of the city and surrounding villages had left such an abundance of floorboards, panelling and structural timbers, that Leipzig's woodcutters found no cause to fell a single tree for three years, instead harvesting their bounty from the rubble. But unlike fresh cut timbers, which house only old souls, August commanded to his sons that recycled timbers uniquely house the souls of those more recently departed.
The oak parquetry of Madame Troufold's salon, gracefully planed and mitered by their grandfather to make a small corner cupboard, had overwhelmed the workshop for a week with the perfumed elegance of a life cultured beyond their dreams. The softly worn pine floorboards of Herr Zächer's bäckerie, despite being scrubbed with bucket and brush each morning, had brought such hunger to the journeymen when they cut into them to frame the carcass of a veneered chest of drawers, that they finished their daily bread before noon, venturing out to find more before returning to their work. The walnut panelling recovered from Kapitän Brunheld's library, the walnut that their grandfather fashioned into several fine wardrobes, had surrendered thick smoky tobacco, aged whiskey and a thousand tales of Saxon glory before the wardrobes left the shop. And the narrow ash planks from the stairway of Fräulein Nau's bordell, the planks their grandfather had hoped to shape into dough bins, brought work to such a halt and lowered the integrity of the conversation to such a degree, that he gave up in disgust, burning them as firewood, although the smoke from the fire provoked one of the men to partake in a debaucherous drinking binge lasting three days, ending with his arrest for committing unnatural acts in the public square.
Wolfgang's reply to his letter was that old men tell tall tales, so leave it at that. But Johann was undeterred, at least for the moment. While this period was both cathartic and crucial in defining the roots of Johann's dissatisfaction, and while his output might seem to us today to be quite charming, within the decade he, too, would come to question the romantic overtones in his response.
Through the long snowy winter of 1889, he grew increasingly concerned that his works bordered on the outright reactionary. It was at this point that he dismissively labelled them "Biedermeier." We now think of the term as describing the art and architecture of Miele Europa from the period 1800-1848, but it was then associated more broadly with the comfort and security of a rising middle class. The word "Biedermeier" came to popular use by means of the serialized poems of one Gottlieb Biedermaier, poems that began appearing in the Munich journal Fliegende Blätter in 1855. Johann remembered all too well having to read and discuss Biedermaier's twaddle in gymnasium. At that time, the lawyer Ludwig Eichrodt and the physician Adolf Kussmaul had claimed the poems were bequested to them by the Biedermaier estate. Supposedly written in the early years of the century, they were published as the work of a country schoolmaster who extolled the dull virtues of order, thrift and obedience. Each week, Biedermaier's poems cleverly portrayed him as a hardworking but small-minded Swabian, who ultimately epitomized the failings of the self-satisfied middle class. Gottlieb (God-loving) Biedermaier (common, everyday man) was, of course, a wholly fictitious literary character, the creation of Eichrodt and Kussmaul, young liberal intellectuals who found the bourgeoisie to be dim-witted and overly accepting of authority.
With three adoring children, a beautiful wife, a substantial home, an abundance of friends and a successful practice, Johann woke up one winter's day in 1889, looked into his dressing-mirror and saw Gottlieb Biedermaier staring him in the face. He was devastated. He stopped all work on his boxes and immersed himself in his reading through the spring and summer, but even here he found little solace.
The winds of change would arrive late in September of that year. On the 18th of the month, he had chance to travel north to Potsdam for a joint conference with colleagues from the University of Berlin. There he met the newly appointed 31-year-old physics lecturer Max Planck, who would go on to originate quantum theory, winning him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918. (Leipzig's ultra-modern home for The Max Planck Institute was opened in 1999 just two blocks from the former site of the Johannes Hospital.) Planck was presenting a paper at the conference on the second law of thermodynamics, which had been the subject of his doctorial thesis. Planck's appointment had raised many an eyebrow, as he was reputed to shun all laboratory, clinical or field research in favor of something he was calling theoretical physics.
According to Johann's diaries, Planck opened the lecture by addressing this very issue. Planck expressed that his "original decision to devote myself to science was a direct result of the discovery... that the laws of human reasoning coincide with the laws governing the sequences of the impressions we receive from the world about us; that, therefore, pure reasoning can enable man to gain an insight into the mechanism of the world."
This was sounding more like philosophy than science, which appealed to Johann, given the penchant of most of his colleagues for wholly distancing themselves from the arts. In explaining why he had chosen to pursue the theoretical, Planck argued that the very existence of physical laws allows us to presuppose that the "outside world is something independent from man, something absolute, and the quest for the laws which apply to this absolute appeared... as the most sublime scientific pursuit in life." Could it be, a romantic with an eye on the future? Johann was at once intrigued with the prospect.
If he had uncovered anything in his reading in the previous nine months, it was that the anxiety he had been experiencing stemmed from an unease with the surgical precision with which man had learned to separate time from his perception of space, a conviction having its roots in the same Enlightenment Johann was so recently idealizing. He also came to appreciate that modern man's Newtonian perception of a clockwork universe was rapidly merging with the uglier side of social Darwinism, giving rise to a grossly deterministic revelation of progress. Might makes right was now the watch cry of presidents, foreign ministers and industrialists alike. The resultant restructuring of individual societies, political systems and world trading patterns based on the availability of labour, resources and capital, placed a premium on time at the very expense of space, while in the same breath commodifying space at the expense of the natural environment. And no one knew better what atrocities the duopoly of industrialization and urbanization wrought on the environment and the human condition than the man made responsible for sanitizing these conditions-the sewerage engineer.
As he continued reading through the summer, he came to suspect the answers he was looking for might well rest somewhere or somewhen in the indeterminate future, rather than where and when he had been looking-in the fictive past. He spoke briefly with Planck after the lecture, outlining his concerns, asking Planck whether the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy law-the law which argues that every closed system tends toward a state of total disorder or chaos-might equally apply to societal systems.
Societal systems aren't closed, was Planck's terse reply, but he was nonetheless intrigued by Johann's suggestion. Planck proposed they begin a correspondence to explore this issue further, but advised Johann to first read Ernst Mach's The Science of Mechanics (1883), as well as his more controversial Analysis of Sensations (1886). While the latter stands in conflict with many of Planck's own arguments about the role of the theoretical in science, he felt its excellent refutation of Newtonian physics might help Johann overcome the hurdles he was currently struggling with.
Johann soon found that Mach argues all knowledge is derived from sensation. Consequently, all scientific investigation is beholden to the experience, or "sensations," of the observer in his encounters with phenomena. Further elaboration on this point allowed Mach to categorically reject the Newtonian notion of absolute space and time (laying the groundwork for Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity, published in 1905). Johann was ecstatic; not only did Mach provide the means by which he might restore the unity of space and time-at least within his own thinking-but he could do so without relying on the past and without abandoning his faith in the universal power of sensation.
Planck was not so sure, finding Johann's logic a tad metaphysical; even so, a close friendship soon developed, although it may have had less to do with science, than with their common love of music in general and Schubert in particular. Planck was blessed with the gift of perfect pitch and was himself an excellent pianist. He and his wife Marie often caught the train to Leipzig for concerts, staying with Johann, Anna and the children.
The late night dialogues Johann records between himself and Planck more often than not centered around music. But then, he was a Leipziger: Wagner, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, Grieg, Mahler, they all spent crucial years in the city (as well as in Weimar) during the course of Johann's life, allowing him to come in contact with each, as well as to see all but Wagner and Schumann either conduct or perform. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of music in his work, despite there being only a handful of direct musical references in his boxes.
For Johann, music and only music could create such an idealization of space as to transcend time, while still existing within it as an undivided whole. Music is at once truth and form, knowledge and sensation. Music defies absolute space and time by not only transcending the boundaries, but by suggesting the very boundlessness of the universe itself.
Another to have passed through Leipzig-in this case on his way to Vienna-was Sigmund Freud. In Freud, Johann found his journey had come full circle. Where Johann had begun by challenging his students to question the veracity of truth through his enigmatic displays on human physiology, he ended by proffering that truth is neither supreme nor absolute; our universe may be governed by laws, he suggests, but truth resides just outside our reach, amidst the deepest dark corners of a world we have only just begun to unravel: that of the human mind.
The final period of work that grew out of these revelations can only be described as early modern. Johann's competence as a carpenter, along with his total command by this point of the medium of the wooden box, allowed him to plunge headlong into works unlike anything he had considered prior. The most striking feature of these pieces is their simplicity of line, plane and form. This new sensibility he referred to by the German expression die Mut zur Lücke-the courage to leave things out. Several works even verge on abstraction, most notably his politically charged pair Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1894 and Prince Otto von Bismarck, 1896. The enigma of these works, an enigma which creates puzzlement even today, rests in the subtlety of their comment, rather than in the compelling presence of a narrative, as was often the case in earlier works.
Johann was quite conscious of this deviation, crediting a most unusual source as his inspiration: a source involving an earlier journey. In June 1887, he set sail for Sydney, Australia under contract to design a sewerage management system for this most backwater of cities. Within a week of his arrival it became apparent he had been sorely misled, with the funding for the project still years away from approval. He writes of his distain for Sydney from the moment he set foot on its wharves, describing it as brutish and vile, every bit what one would expect of an English convict settlement and worse.
Rather than remaining stranded for a month or more, waiting for the next clipper that would make the return trip as he had come-following the Great Circle around the Cape of Good Hope, up through the roaring 40s, across the Southern Ocean, skirting the Great Australian Bight and on to Melbourne and then Sydney, a route that was bitterly cold in the depths of the Southern Hemisphere's winter and one that would only be worse battling the westerlies home-he opted for the first coastal clipper north to the warmth of Townsville. From there he continued on by steamship through the Torres Strait, zigzagging the Indonesian archipelago, following the ancient coastal tea routes of South Asia to India and Ceylon, finally taking passage on the P & O service through the Suez Canal to Brindisi. The last leg home he enjoyed by the comfort of rail, arriving in time for Father Christmas to deliver a most exotic assemblage of gifts to his three small children. Among his parcels were a number of rare artifacts he purchased from a Lutheran missionary in Port Moresby, the steamship line's first stop for coal and fresh water. Home alone with these works, all from New Guinea's Lower Sepik River region, he began to wholly rethink the notion of representation, tangential to his rethinking the question of space and time. He speculates in his diaries whether it might not have been the New Guinea tribesman's very ignorance of our Newtonian strictures of space and time that freed him to think and live in the metaphysical as freely as he did.
As he put these modernist precepts into practice, Johann explored a broad range of themes, but inherent in each work is a viewpoint liberated from the deep cultural roots that so tightly bound him previously. Medical imagery re-emerges, but rather than being limited to physiology, as were the Dresden Boxes, here the works focus on psychological issues having to do with questions of identity, personality and human sexuality. Sensory awareness crops up again and again, in each case coyly speculating on the observer's role in the outcome of that which is being observed.
By 1892, we find the internal architecture of the boxes to be much less complicated, with simple deep frames housing just two to three objects or groups of objects-die Mut zur Lücke. Where Johann did have occasion to repeat architecture, he re-contextualized it to suit the spatial and temporal demands of his modernist vision. One such form was the grid. In the Dresden Boxes Johann employed the grid to compartmentalize objects according to set themes, with little interaction between objects. In his later works, the grid becomes a vehicle through which he stressed the very interrelatedness and interdependence of objects, objects which he often further bound by means of repetition. In one series of boxes, the faces of watches-all but one missing its hands-alternate in deep grids with daguerreotype portraits of unnamed men and women. Here we experience time frozen in space, time robbed of its only real manifestation: change.
When Johann finally confronted the issue of representation in the mid-1890s, he did so with gusto and determination. Kaiser Wilhelm II and Prince Otto von Bismarck are seminal works by any measure. But they also tell us something of his caution, for like the rest of his middle and later period works, they were never publicly shown. And for good reason. What could have been more inflammatory than to depict Germany's beloved ex-Chancellor-the man most responsible for a united Germany and a generation of peace and prosperity, the man who was then in his 81st year and in poor health-as a Papuan headhunter? It was not in Johann's character to subject himself or his family to the onslaught of criticism such a work would have generated. Whatever his politics, Johann was a pragmatist; whatever his revelation of the modern, Johann at heart remained Gottlieb Biedermaier.
Although Johann's personal vision of the modern was a far cry from what came to be, the very onset of the modern gave Johann confidence that the 20th century would see man enter over into a world in which representation would be derived not only by means of the visual, but through a state of complete sensory and metaphysical awareness. He believed the modern would allow us to enter over into a world in which space and time were again united, halting the misuse and reckless abandonment of the physical world brought on by our gross obsession with the temporal. In doing so, he believed that cities might one day become more humane places in which to live, factories might develop into more benign places in which to work and human beings might long last relinquish their fixation with the watch inside their pocket, the clock on the mantel or the timetable on the corner of Schonbach and Äuss. Hospital Strasse.