GHDI logo

Dwelling and Domesticity (1899)

The growth of the urban population led to acute housing shortages and the transformation of urban space. The demarcation of space along class lines continued, but the concentration of commercial activity in the city center pushed the well-to-do middle classes into the suburban periphery and drew the proletariat into densely populated inner-city neighborhoods. The author of this piece, which originally appeared in the magazine Neue Deutsche Rundschau, criticizes the abject living conditions of most urban wage laborers.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 4

The concentration of the growing population owing to the invisible iron band that separates the urban periphery from the countryside leads not only to an overcrowding of real living spaces, but also to the use of every room that is the least bit suitable as housing. No statistic can grasp the grotesque things that occur in the process, no imagination can paint the strange cases that can be found in the growing cities. Fortunately, there is no need to solicit inquiries on this point; members of well-to-do families need only look at how their own maids and those of the families of friends are housed to grasp the entire casuistry of a use of space guided by wise thriftiness – the difference being that in the houses of the poor, the landlord rents such dingy rooms, shacks, and nooks as rooms. These then appear in the statistics as dwellings with only one heatable room, and not infrequently are they occupied by six or more residents.*

Of course, it is not only the oft mentioned iron boundary [between the city outskirts and the countryside] that leads to concentration and the renting of stables, drying lofts, and coal cellars as living spaces for people. In economically advancing cities there is another process involved, which is evident in two primary symptoms: the transformation of the former city center into a large bazaar and the conversion of peripheral parts into something like the former center.

Unfortunately, current housing and living statistics have not yet closely tracked the increase in shops, storehouses, and storage depots in the busy sections of flourishing cities and probed their influence on the concentration of the population and housing prices. All one has to do, however, is inspect house façades, scan a few years of the address book, and pay an occasional visit to the houses most subject to this process to get a clear picture of the interesting transformation of central sections of the city into one single market, whose sites are distributed fairly evenly between wholesale business, including banks, and elegant retail trade.

One might think that this metamorphosis would push the entire population out of the center. That may well be true for London City, for New York between Castle Garden and Post Office Square, and for some parts of Hamburg, but not in the least for medium-sized large cities like Breslau, Magdeburg, Leipzig, and Dresden, and not even for Berlin and Munich (more likely for Vienna).

*The wise thriftiness that the homeowner learns in the process is then applied to his “grand dwellings” of 1,200-2,000 marks; tolerably spacious rooms 7-8 meters wide are given two dividing walls, and suddenly there are three tube-like rooms as “grand salons;” a bathroom becomes a “bedroom with an adjoining bath closet;” a porch is quickly enclosed and turns into a balcony room; a small part of the hallway is sectioned off by a wooden wall as a “maid’s room,” and what was once the maid’s room is dressed up into a “boudoir” with a little stucco and a screaming gilded stove. Presto! The lordly residence of 7 rooms is finished!

first page < previous   |   next > last page