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2. Society
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Overview: Forging an Empire: Bismarckian Germany, 1866-1890   |   1. Demographic and Economic Development   |   2. Society   |   3. Culture   |   4. Religion, Education, Social Welfare   |   5. Politics I: Forging an Empire   |   6. Military and International Relations   |   7. Politics II: Parties and Political Mobilization

City and Countryside. Like “German agriculture,” the “German countryside” is an abstraction that cannot be sustained. The lifestyle of a landlord or a day laborer on one of the vast grain-growing estates owned by Junkers in eastern Prussia bore little resemblance to that of a poor livestock farmer or a vintner trying to eke out a living from a tiny plot of land in the southwestern state of Baden. These groups benefited to different degrees and in different ways from the rationalization of German agriculture, which included the introduction of new farming techniques, synthetic fertilizers, and mechanization. Hence, the increasing diversity, not uniformity, of rural society merits emphasis. This diversity explains why Germans from some regions voted with their feet and left unsatisfying rural lives to move to the big cities. It also determined the local flavor of personal reflections written during and after such peregrinations (D1, D2, D3, IM1, IM2). Those reflections are bolstered by statistics drawn from an increasing number of social-scientific studies of rural and urban life in these years, and they suggest a high degree of interpenetration between city and country. The urbanization of what had previously been a tiny village near Lübeck (D2) illustrates the disorienting effect that mobility, machines, and markets had on rural Germany.

Class Relations and Lifestyles. One way to appreciate the effects of this interpenetration between city and countryside is to consider the new ways in which time and space were measured. In rural areas, the rhythms of the sun and seasons still largely determined productive and social activities. But farmers and inn-keepers needed to be aware of train schedules and shift times if they were to serve clients who now lived beyond the horizons of the village. Marriage customs and burial rites (D1, D49) in the countryside still appeared to unfold according to an ancient time-clock – one that ran too slowly for young city dwellers rushing to a dance-hall or an international art exhibition. The simple meals and spartan interiors of rural cottages seem worlds apart from the food budgets and interior furnishings of middle-class households in the cities (D13, D14, D50, D51, D52, D53, D54, D55). But keeping up appearances required social strategies that were not only fluid and ill-defined, but also subject to intervention by “outside” forces in both countryside and city. Such forces included the state in its local, regional, and national guises; lawyers, politicians, and social theorists; and entrepreneurs, consumers and others for whom the cash nexus was paramount. As parents hoped that their children would prosper and profit from their own sacrifices, and as the new significance of wealth, both real and symbolic, gradually erased the boundaries between social “estates” [Stände], the contours of a new class society gradually came into focus.

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