Ernst May

Photograph: Ernst May
Ernst May, 1926, photographer: Otto Schwerin
Nürnberg, GNM, DKA, NL May, Ernst, I, B-2 (62)

Ernst May

Unterdessen sind nun auch noch die politischen Ereignisse eingetreten, die mich als einen Vertreter des alten Regimes abstempeln, weil ich zufällig meine Arbeit nicht unter dem Malermeister Hitler sondern unter dem Sattlermeister Ebert bzw. seinem Nachfolger ausgeführt habe […]. Dadurch werden wir bezügl. der Richtigkeit des von uns gewählten Weges nur noch bestärkt.

[In the meantime there have also been political developments that label me as a supporter of the old regime just because I performed my work under the supervision of the master saddler Ebert and not under the master painter Hitler […]. And this only strengthens our conviction that the path we have chosen is correct. (ed. trans.)]

Ernst May in a letter to his mother-in-law about his decision to emigrate to East Africa, 26 March 1933

Bornon 27 July 1886 in Frankfurt am Main
Diedon 11 September 1970 in Hamburg
ExileTansania, Kenia
ProfessionArchitect

Ernst May's emigration to East Africa was a marked turning point in his career. The architect and town planner had previously worked in Silesia, Frankfurt am Main and the Soviet Union with great success. After his work in Russia, his way home was barred because the Nazis disparaged May's modern architecture. Together with his family, he took the decision to use the money he had earned in Russia to start life afresh as a farmer in what is now Tanzania. They arrived by boat in Mombasa in 20 February 1934.

It was only several years later in neighbouring Kenya that May was able to continue with his former vocation. He received accreditation as an architect in the British colony and set up a business together with a partner. As a result of the war, he was interned as a German citizen by the British in Kenya and South Africa. While interned, he was allowed access to books that enabled him to continue his professional development. After his release in autumn 1942, he took on commissions from settlers and also drafted proposals for living areas for black Africans as well as working as a town planner. Parts of the Ugandan capital Kampala can be traced back to May's plans.

At the end of the war he craved the opportunity of being able to use his experience and vision to contribute to the reconstruction of Germany. However, he still had contractual obligations and had to wait a long time for a concrete offer of work in his home country, meaning that May only re-migrated to Germany in December 1953. After around 20 years of exile in East Africa he began another new stage of his career with projects such as Neu-Altona in Hamburg.

Further reading:
Buekschmitt, Justus: Ernst May. Bauten und Planungen. Band 1. Stuttgart: Alexander Koch 1963
Herrel, Eberhard: Ernst May. Architekt und Stadtplaner in Afrika 1934 – 1953. Tübingen: Ernst Wasmuth 2001
Quiring, Claudia u. a. (Hg.): Ernst May 1886 – 1970. München: Prestel 2011

Gallery