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Urbanization of Village Life near Lübeck after 1870

This account documents the rapid architectural and socioeconomic changes that took place in a small village near Lübeck in northern Germany during the period of German industrialization. It describes the spread of factory labor, the expansion of urban infrastructure and mass housing, and even a reversal in the direction of the produce trade, which had started to flow from urban distribution centers into villages that had become more like suburbs. In this excerpt, the sense of spiritual and cultural loss in the midst of these transformations is balanced by the author's realistic acknowledgment of the profit motive and its power to accelerate change even in allegedly parochial settings.

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Soon after the Franco-Prussian War and the political unification of the German states, a change set in. At first, the change was barely noticeable, because the substance of what had grown slowly over centuries was robust. In the first decade after the war, things did not look much different in the city and the village. But then the new tendencies caught on all the more rapidly and thoroughly. Each year brought further changes, and soon nobody could escape the new circumstances of life. Even in the village one felt the desire to build, something that was characteristic of those years. At first several large factories were built a little further upstream. Initially, they just sat there rather curiously, with their tall brick smokestacks in the middle of cow pastures. It was not long, though, before houses in the style of the factory were built right next to them [the smokestacks], and the green of the meadows disappeared underneath huge piles of coal, rubble, and garbage. Together with the factories came people to the village who had never been seen there before, except in their Sunday best as day-trippers. They were droves of workers – the kind who differ from rural and skilled tradesmen at first sight, because they had no training except for in a few mechanical tasks, because they felt no occupational spirit, because they belonged to that class which was subsequently called proletarians. Since the journey to the city was a long one, the need soon arose to create dwellings for these workers in the village itself. And because there was nothing suitable there, the first meager apartment houses were put up. Tall, bare, multi-floor buildings stood isolated in the middle of fields. Poor families lived there side by side in squalor, without any comfort; an unkempt, quickly dilapidating backyard adjoined directly. The space between the houses was teeming with children. But they were the children of a new population. The poverty of these people was different from the poverty of the village farm worker; their dirt was different, everything was uglier and, in its ugliness, cheekier. The industrial workers seemed to be degenerate, even when they were doing well; if they were really poor, it seemed as though foul-smelling poverty was their natural element. The men were not brought up in the tradition of any particular occupation, the women were not housewives and mothers, and the children were little vagabonds who stole fruit from the gardens and trampled on the grain in the fields. Ash and refuse were scattered everywhere; in the middle of the germinating rye lay rusty tin cans, old enamel dishes, broken pots, and kitchen waste.

The multi-floor apartment buildings required special facilities for lighting, water, and the sewer system, because the concentration of so many people necessitates a degree of concern for public health. Therefore, these new houses were equipped with water and gas pipes. The entire village was dug up in order to gain access to the main pipes located further downstream. As soon as the pipes were laid, however, gas streetlights were tackled next. And then people soon became convinced that running water in the house was much more convenient than a pump in the courtyard, and that gas was more elegant than kerosene. The old villagers seized the opportunity and spoke

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