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Dwelling and Domesticity (1899)

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Among the very worst characteristics of today's "grand" tenement houses we must reckon the absence of hallways in the rear houses. There, one bedroom opens onto the next, any possibility for the sick, for those in need of rest, for those who work with their minds, for the nervous, to withdraw, to be by themselves, to find peace, is lacking.
[ . . . ]

But we in the far northern and central part of Germany allow the little people to go under in garrets and basements, to degenerate in night-lodger quarters [Schlafgänger-Quartieren], and we live under the usurious dominion of the urban agrarians [Stadtagrarier] in houses without clean air, without sunshine, without comfort, without the thousand aids of modern technology, whose means pertaining to heating, ventilation, lighting, washing, and elevators we install in our insane asylums and infirmaries, but which we do not dare to demand from the greed and selfishness of the land usurer [Bodenwucherer]. And I will not even begin to talk about the aesthetic of living – volumes could be written about the senseless ornamentation of the two or three front rooms, about the shabby neglect of the four or five cramped backrooms, which they dare to rent to us as a dwelling for 2,000 or 3,000 marks a year.

Why do we put up with this misery and this slavery? Is not our discomfort and the terrible housing misery of the workers and artisans the product of the same soil? Are the 930 in a thousand (in Berlin) or the 910 in a thousand (in Breslau) who are tenants among the inhabitants of our flourishing cities merely a herd of sheep who have to quake in fear before the 70 or 90 per thousand inhabitants who own a house?

The lack of small dwellings for families with a modest income, the lack of dwellings that would allow for real living, instead of cramped overcrowding, for the social class that is willing to sacrifice 20 or as much as 25% of a good income to pay for it, is a very paradoxical phenomenon.

Source: Hans Kurella, "Wohnung und Häuslichkeit" ["Dwelling and Domesticity“], Neue Deutsche Rundschau 10 (1899), pp. 816-19.

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]. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1982, pp. 56-60.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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