The house of the Sorbs in Bautzen
A house with history
When the Maćica Serbska Scientific-Cultural Society was founded in 1847, the idea of a clubhouse was already being considered. In 1873 Jan Arnošt Smoler bought a property on the Lauengraben in Bautzen with a house, yard and garden. The house should become the center of club life of Maćica Serbska. The funding worried Smoler. He even asked for money in Slavic countries abroad. His travels were derided as Wendish agitation. From the last request he returned from Russia in 1883, ailing. He never recovered and died on June 13, 1884.
A new building on the existing property became necessary for the extensive library and the construction of a museum. Arnošt Muka, through his relationship with the Dresden architect Grothe, took charge of the new building. Funds have been collected since 1882, supported by the young chaplain Andricki. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Maćica Serbska, the foundation stone for the new building was laid on April 21, 1897.
The Wendish House was inaugurated on September 26, 1904 by Bishop Jurij Łusčanski, then chairman of Maćica Serbska. The exterior design under the direction of the architect August Grothe corresponded to the forms of the early Renaissance and blended into the historic townscape.
With the scientific library, the Sorbian Museum, the Smolersche publishing company and bookshop and the hall built in 1907, the Wendish House became the center of Sorbian cultural life. A café was opened in 1907, and later a small reading room was added. The Sorbische Volksbank found its domicile on the ground floor.
The Wendish House during the National Socialist era
After the first years of toleration during the Nazi era, the Domowina, its associations, institutions and the public use of the Sorbian language were banned in 1937. The Sorbian Café was renamed “Schöne Lausitz”. The hall was used as a meeting room for the NSDAP. All pictures were removed, figures smashed and the extensive library sold or taken to the Wenden department at Ortenburg. Some of the museum’s paintings and important exhibits were saved by courageous Sorbs.
The laying of the foundation stone of the new house of the Sorbs
On March 6, 1947 The Maćica Serbska got new ground as a replacement for the burned out and destroyed Lessing School on the Postplatz. The architect Högg and the engineer Rötschke from Dresden were awarded the building contract after the public architectural competition. The foundation stone was laid on August 24, 1947. This solemn act was symbolically linked to the 100th anniversary of the founding of Maćica Serbska.
The Brigade Movement
At the beginning of 1948, the Sorbian youth began voluntarily cleaning up the rubble. Building rubble was cleared, bricks were plastered, wooden beams were hewn and basements were shoveled free. The youth brigades came from different villages. In 1948, 580 youths worked in 38 brigades. A total value of 100,000 RM was created.
To this day, a sandstone figure at the front of the building is a reminder of the Sorbian brigade movement of the post-war period.
Financial difficulties in building the house of the Sorbs
The donations of 1.5 million Reichsmarks collected from the people were almost completely devalued by the financial reform of 1948. The Maćica Serbska was dissolved and the assets were legally transferred to the Domowina. A year later, the state approved DM 500,000 for the construction of the house. The topping-out ceremony was on May 26, 1954. Shortly before completion, the Domowina transferred the Sorbs’ house to public ownership. The house was inaugurated on July 8, 1956, on the occasion of the II. Sorbs’ Meeting.
The house of the Sorbs in the time of the GDR
The entrance hall is adorned with a lead-framed colored window depicting Sorbian customs. The three club rooms on the ground floor were used by artist groups, local Domowina groups and the Bautzen Club of Intelligentsia. The national board of the Domowina met in the hall, rehearsed the Sorbian children’s theater and concerts, academies and exhibitions took place. In 1957 the Museum for Sorbian Literature and Writing was established. In 1968, work rooms were set up for the department of the Academy of Educational Sciences for schools in bilingual Lusatia.
The promotion of the Sorbian language and culture was gradually subjected to the ideology of the SED from 1948 onwards. The Domowina should win all Sorbs for socialist construction. In 1969 it declared itself a “socialist national organization”. The further existence of the Domowina was a tightrope walk between the guidelines prescribed by the SED and the personal commitment of many members who, in their local groups, maintained the tradition and the Sorbian language and culture.
The house of the Sorbs today
After the political change, the Domowina became the independent umbrella organization of the Sorbs and their clubs and associations. The Foundation for the Sorbian People receives annual financial grants from the federal government, the Free State of Saxony and the State of Brandenburg to fulfill its tasks. These lie primarily in the preservation and development of the Sorbian language and culture. In addition to the Domowina and the foundation, the House of the Sorbs is home to the Witaj language center, the Sorbian school association, the editorial office of the Katolski Posoł and a number of other smaller Sorbian associations such as the singing or sports association. The Sorbian cultural information is located on the ground floor.