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

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It is considerably different in central Germany and in the southwest, the paradise of the political fragmentation born of the small German state. Here the differences between urban and rural communities are rapidly being erased. Only the higher mountain regions, which I already mentioned above, are also an exception to this here. Social levelers like to take this one small part for the whole and ascribe to all of Germany that which is true only for this lesser Germany in the narrowest sense.

In the large landmasses of southern and northern Germany, the Thirty Years War did more lasting damage to the cities than to the villages. The Mecklenburgish, Pomeranian, the old Bavarian peasant today is still a more important social power than the citizens of these areas, whose small cities often remain social ruins. In fragmented central Germany, by contrast, where the Peasants' War had prepared the way for the Thirty Years War, where in the struggle for sovereignty of the many small imperial estates the dominance of the small city and its mentality were most well preserved, the cities first began again to flourish. This flourishing was feeble enough in the miserable age of the wig and the plait; still, the numerous cities of princes and bishops also formed the decisive center of a hundred tiny regions. Thus the small cities dominated the eighteenth century; the large ones will dominate the nineteenth. This proposition becomes most illuminating if one looks at the history of central Germany.

One of the saddest consequences of the Thirty Years War is, in my opinion, the fact that in many areas of Germany, the achievement of the proper balance between city and country was delayed. It enabled a one-sided emphasis on the interests first of the small cities, then of the large ones, to take priority over the interests of the people of the countryside. Thus a hollow blooming of city life devoid of all natural energy was created, next to a rural population that was healthy at its core but which was materially disadvantaged and socially and politically isolated.

After the Peace of Westphalia, all the sad signs of the complete breakup of most farms began to emerge in central Germany, and with it the destruction of the power of the peasants. Horse breeding, which requires large, self-contained farms, disappears first. Then there is a decrease in oxen, then cows, until finally only goats remain as the true domestic animals of the fourth estate, which, without property of its own, can let the goats graze on wastelands and paths and, when the wretchedness is complete, run loose in the grassy alleys of villages and cities.

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