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Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl: Excerpt from Land and People (1851)

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This zone of pure farmland is by no means small in Germany. It stretches across a large part of Tyrol, upper and lower Austria, Steiermark, Kärnten, the Bavarian highland, over the higher, less cultivable areas of almost all of the German central mountainous regions and over the marshlands on the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts. In all of these areas the people appear to be in their purest, but also rawest, natural form; they stand out against the rest of Germany like forest against field, like an impassable road against a wide-open highway. They are poor in historical monuments; the people themselves with their farms, villages, and communities constitute the only monuments. Art history bypassed this region; like the history of trade and industry, it followed the rivers and lowlands; it does not climb willingly into the inner mountain regions. The most artful trade is peasant work in every mountainous region, as it is in the Black Forest, in Erzgebirge, in the Bavarian Alps, and in Tyrol. For the watchmakers, lace-makers, fiddle-makers, and woodcarvers are peasants in a social sense, even if their hands have never touched a plow.

Let us descend deeper into the hills and high plateaus of the south and into the large, open north German plains, where we find the large, true villages next to impressive and in part large cities with the same definite urban character and at the same time, the richest self-contained manors, the most significant and the best preserved remains of the old seats of the landed gentry. Here areas most clearly urban and rural in nature abut one another. These land masses make up the main area of the greater German states, namely Austria, Prussia, and Bavaria. Here are to be found a large number of the most important of the old imperial and Hanseatic cities, in which the most curious bourgeois life still exists today, complete with many of the remnants, if not of the ancient special privileges, then certainly of their offshoots. However, here you will also find the large granaries of Germany. In the sizeable, wealthy villages of this broad, fruitful land, the later village community constitution, as well as the customs and the lifestyle of the genuine German peasant, were most thoroughly formed. The most socially original of these regions, Westphalia, shows us how the different forms of settlement in the form of farms, aristocratic lands, villages, and cities can exist next to each other and, at the same time, the contrast between city and countryside can still be strictly maintained. To the north of the River Lippe are found the court peasants, to the south the village peasants. Beside communities of the formerly free, genuinely aristocratic court peasants, there are communities that still preserve their relationship to the landed gentry out of habit and devotion, even if they are no longer legally required to do so. Beside former imperial cities, there are former princely cities and modern industrial cities; the individual character has been preserved with all of them, but the great contrast between city and countryside has nowhere disappeared.

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