In 1950, Herta Hammerbacher became the first female professor to be appointed to the faculty of architecture of Technische Universität Berlin. She is considered a “virtuoso of the Neue Landschaftlichkeit movement”. It was as a result of her efforts that Technische Universität Berlin restored the University garden. Despite her male colleagues’ protests, who wanted to use the space as a parking lot, she persevered in the1950s to have the garden reinstated.
Born on 5 December 1900 in Munich, she was the descendant of a Nuremberg manufacturing family and Bavarian military nobility. Her life was to be defined by her entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity. Her early childhood was unsettled. She grew up in Nuremberg, the headquarters of the Spaeth factory, as well as Aachen, Hanover, and Jena, before her family moved to Berlin in 1911. There she attended Cecilie Lyceum until completing secondary school level. With her interest in music, drawing ability, and fascination with Marie Curie, she was anything but a conventional “aristocratic daughter”. She pursued professional vocational training, atypical for women of the time. After completing training as a horticulturalist in Swabia and Potsdam, she was determined to become a landscape architect. Between 1919 and 1924 she acquired an array of practical experience at Lake Constance. In 1924 she began studies at the Teaching and Research Institute for Landscape Architecture in Berlin-Dahlem, completing her state exam as a landscape architect in 1926. Her curiosity and interest in many subjects persisted and she trained herself further in her new field. Hammerbacher was also active in social politics and was a particular supporter of women’s rights activist Lily Braun.
The 1920s were driven by innovation and this was also reflected in landscape design. After her studies, she first worked in the design office of Späth Berlin, whose director, Otto Valentien, had attracted great attention for his essay “Expressionism and Landscape Architecture” in 1924. Historicization and academization gave inspiration to landscape architecture. From 1928 to 1948 she was a member of the “Bornimer Kreis”, a circle of architects, musicians, writers, and other artists and intellectuals centered around Karl Foerster, whose ideas for a “New Garden” would define an era. Here she met architects Hans Poelzig and Hans Scharoun and musicians such as Wilhelm Kempff and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Her time in the Bornimer Kreis left a lasting impression on her, as did she on the other members. After 1933, the circle around Karl Foerster, Hermann Mattern, and Herta Hammerbacher developed into a working and fraternity community. It was a place of “inner emigration”.
In 1946, Hans Scharoun, professor at TU Berlin, nominated Herta Hammerbacher as lecturer for landscape and garden design. From that point on she worked as a dedicated and courageous professor at Technische Universität Berlin for more than twenty years. Her ideas were ahead of their time. Countering the preference for urban concrete jungles, she pushed for an urban design that incorporated landscape. After her retirement as professor emerita in 1969, she moved to Lake Starnberg. However, she needed to remain active. In 1972 she was co-founder of the “Gesellschaft für experimentelle und angewandte Ökologie“ (GEO), a society for experimental and applied ecology. Herta Hammerbacher died on 25 May 1985 in Niederpöcking. She was laid to rest in the Spaeth-Hammerbacher family plot in the historic St. Peter Cemetery in Nuremberg.