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

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Even more disturbing is the fact that after the Thirty Years War, the number of families in the villages frequently increased, while the number of houses decreased. Before that time, nearly every family lived in its own house, but now there are already a lot of tenants. However, to rent is not at all peasant-like; in a proper village every family must have its own house, even if it is just a hut. So as tenants move into the houses, the city moves into the countryside.

If one finds a whole range of settlements on the middle Rhine, for example, where it is almost impossible to tell whether they are villages or cities, then these are hybrids blessed by the devil, monuments to political helplessness and social weariness, documents for the obsolescence of rural areas and the unnaturalness of their conditions. Such village-cities are not normally the place where burghers and peasants exist side by side, but rather places of the bourgeois and peasant proletariat. “If all the peasants of the city go to the fields, then there are no more burghers at home.”

The ruined villages of southern and central Germany stand together with the artificial cities. Nowhere are there so many “artificial cities” as in Germany where, spiting nature and history, the land has been forced to become the trading centers for both spiritual and material traffic. Nowhere are there so many cities that extort and feign a significance to which they have no right, which through the moods of individuals or because of wrong government policies have become hothouse flowers. These artificial cities have everywhere displaced the natural channels of trade and commerce. They have brought the emphasis on the economy into conflict with the emphasis on politics and thereby helped to shake the foundation of the material blossom of the nation. Wherever we cast an eye upon the map of Germany, we see ancient hubs of trade and commerce shoved aside, while cities have been made the centers of the land and, using all available artificial means, have been built up, cities which according to their location should figure at best as villages or rural towns. The story of the artificial cities is more important than one would like to believe, for it touches upon the sorest point of our twisted nation-building, it is closely related to the great story of our material helplessness and fragmentation, and can speak casually of a most deeply justified resentment and sorrow.

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