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Urbanization of Village Life near Lübeck after 1870

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It did not take many years until the character of the village had changed profoundly. As the city began transferring larger and larger crowds of workers to the village, the little farming town turned into a suburb that increasingly coalesced with the city. In the past, the village had fed the city by supplying vegetables, milk, meat, and grain; now, conversely, the city had to support the village. Now the vegetable carts no longer drove from the countryside to the city; instead the greengrocers of the village obtained their produce from the city’s markets. A horse-drawn trolley line was constructed; but ten years later it did not suffice anymore; so electric lines were put up, and the trolley cars were soon criss-crossing several lines at shorter intervals. They went past an uninterrupted row of houses, past shops and businesses with bright billboards, and small villas, for the number of those who were able to afford their own home increased every year. Where, in the past, the village inn stood at the location of the old toll barrier, several dance halls had opened their doors. On Sundays young workers gathered there, making a racket as they crossed the street from one dance hall to another. Soon the river did not look like a river any longer. People said and wrote that it had to be straightened. The banks were straightened and reinforced with solid stonewalls, which created the impression of passing through a canal. The old towpath was made into a posh residential street, and all the meadows were turned into building plots, because riverfront properties were much sought after. The docks were extended and laid out, allegedly because in the future a huge amount of traffic would have to be managed. The spit of land that had separated the river at the bridge and enriched the landscape was removed, making way for a boring harbor basin. All the more curious were a couple of barns with thatched roofs, which remained as if forgotten by time. However, there were no storks nesting on the roof ridge any longer: the commotion was too much. Everything assumed an artificial urban character. The old peasant costume disappeared entirely. And, hand in hand with the attire, the language was urbanized as well. The northerly Low German was soon regarded as inferior, and it gave way to badly spoken High German. Everyone wanted to appear more educated than he actually was. [ . . . ]

Source: Karl Scheffler, Der junge Tobias. Eine Jugend und ihre Umwelt [The Young Tobias: An Adolescence and its Environment] (1927), new and expanded ed. Wiesbaden, 1946, pp. 29-33, 41-42.

Original German text reprinted in Gerhard A. Ritter and Jürgen Kocka, eds., Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1870-1914. Dokumente und Skizzen [German Social History 1870-1914. Documents and Sketches]. 3rd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1982, pp. 50-53.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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