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Kurt Tucholsky, "Berlin and the Provinces" (1928)

Berlin was the capital of both the German Reich and Prussia, the Reich’s largest and most populous state [Land]. In the mid-1920s, Berlin had a population of four million and was by far the largest city in Germany. (In fact, at the time, Hamburg was the only other German city with more than a million inhabitants.) By the 1920s, urbanization had already made substantial inroads in Germany. Still, in 1925, only 16.7 million Germans (26.78 percent of the population) lived in large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, compared to some 33 million Germans (around 53.3 percent of the population) who lived in rural communities and small towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. In the following text, Kurt Tucholsky voices doubts that Berlin was the “core and heart” of the country. At the same time, his critique of the “German provinces,” and his support for greater centralism, reflects the very same fixation on Berlin that he criticized journalists for.

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Berlin and the Provinces

When journalists in Berlin speak of Germany, they are fond of using the ready expression, “out there in the countryside,” which signifies a grotesque overestimation of the capital. For the basis and foundation of Germany, the source of its standards, lie “out there in the countryside”—and the extent to which Berlin is merely an exponent of provincial values remains to be seen.

As for the republican idea (in the attenuated form in which it is produced in Germany), it must be said that it is to be found only spottily out there in the countryside. East of the Elbe things look bad in this regard; west of the Oder things are worse. One has to read the minutes of a meeting of the Republican Press Association to comprehend the extent to which republicans are merely tolerated. A public assessor in Arnsberg inclines to the Reichsbanner and therefore is not allowed to eat with the others at the “officials’ table” in the clubroom. He complains and gets replaced; he gets replaced, not the governor. The good will and difficult position of the Prussian interior minister should not be mistaken: the tradition of [Carl] Severing’s good days is still there. But the republicans are almost always on the defensive; their appearances in public are frequently so timid that they give the impression of excusing themselves for their existence in the world. That not only signals, as they always contend, a shortage of the right kind of people—it is a lack of force, of courage, of strength.

Entirely aside from politics, however, the question arises to what degree Berlin influences the provinces and how they would actually look with or without Berlin.

As far as a single individual can say, I would contend that, in many minor and a few major areas of superficial civilization, Berlin influences the provinces quite strongly; at least the development of the capital city and the provincial cities runs parallel in this respect. Bars, stupid revue theaters, amusement centers; the whole “get-up”—all of that is prevalent in the larger provincial cities, and they are very proud of it too. But what about the individuality of the states?

It certainly is there, but I think that the civilizing process is rapidly progressing on a deeper level as well. A mechanization, an automation of life, has set in, against which the federalist idea signifies regression and a somewhat dangerous romanticism. That which F. W. Foerster, for example, wants to reconstruct is dead—he overlooks the fact that the invigoration of small communities does not entail the invigoration of culture but supplies a pretext for localist vanity and a cover behind which what little constitutionality exists can be sabotaged yet more effectively than is already happening, for example, in Bavaria. Better a single Prussia than twenty-six, although it has also been noted by the major French press that Prussia is today one of the freest of the provincial states and no longer the seat of reactionary tendencies.

Berlin, however, vastly overestimates itself in believing that it is the core and heart of the country. Berlin journalists would do well to travel incognito to a large estate in Silesia or East Prussia, or to a Pomeranian town—that would be an experience for them. The farcical figures, Kaiser Wilhelm memorial top hats, centenary frock coats, and traditional forester beards spewed toward Berlin on the Hindenburg Day of old was only a small sample offering: the warehouses are to be found well-stocked in the small towns and can be viewed any time, if not always without danger. Not without danger whenever a “Berliner” has made an energetic attempt to shut down the terror, dictatorship, and insolence of the ruling local bourgeoisie. One will find no court to provide support there, no administrative officials, no newspaper. One is lost and has no choice but to forsake the field.

Does it look better in the culture of the provinces? Hardly.

The crisis of the Dessau Bauhaus recently demonstrated how things stand there. First they drove that black-red-gold Jewish architecture out of Weimar; then a slander crusade lasting years got underway in Dessau as well; and now they have run the leader, Mr. [Walter] Gropius, quite completely into the ground. The facts are these:

The moment an artistic institution becomes dependent on municipal or state officials in the provinces it is lost: it falls helplessly into the reactionary mire of narrow-minded philistines; liberal men are fired, thrown out, overcome with disgust, and because one only occasionally finds a free-thinking local aristocrat, who has so often been the creator of rural culture, the provincial philistine rules absolutely. There are, of course, exceptions in the larger provincial cities.

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