Germany’s rapid urbanization and industrialization

“In 1870 Germany’s population was two thirds rural; by 1914 that relationship had been reversed, and two thirds of all Germans lived in an urban setting. In 1871 there were only eight cities with a population of over 100,000, whereas in 1890 there were twenty-six, and by 1913, forty-eight. By then twice as many laborers worked in industry as in agriculture, and over a third of the population consisted of industrial workers and their families. The concentration of German industry was another of its striking features. By 1910 almost half of all employees worked in firms using more than fifty workers, and the capitalization of the average German company was three times that of the average British firm.

The speed of urbanization and industrialization in Germany meant that many workers were first generation urban dwellers, confronted by all the attendant social and psychological problems that the shift from countryside to city entailed. The concentration of industry and population also produced the rapid growth of a managerial class, of service personnel, and of municipal and state bureaucracies. As Gesellschaft, or society, overwhelmed the sense of Gemeinschaft, or community, as speed and bigness became the dominant facts of life, work and social questions, ambition and job enjoyment became abstract notions, beyond the individual and his scale of personal reference, a matter of theory and intuition rather than experience and knowledge. The rural pre-industrial setting had been replete with its own social problems and indignities, but it is undeniable that industrialization, particularly the rapid industrialization undergone by Germany, brought with it a disturbing measure of depersonalization that material well-being could not expunge or rectify. The so-called new middle class — this enormous army of semiskilled white-collar workers involved primarily in management and service — was a sudden and direct offshoot of the later phases of industrialization and was perhaps even more prone to a sense of isolation and hence vulnerability, than the laboring classes. The concentration of industry and of commerce meant that this social group was particularly large in Germany.”