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3. Culture
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Overview: Forging an Empire: Bismarckian Germany, 1866-1890   |   1. Demographic and Economic Development   |   2. Society   |   3. Culture   |   4. Religion, Education, Social Welfare   |   5. Politics I: Forging an Empire   |   6. Military and International Relations   |   7. Politics II: Parties and Political Mobilization

The gradual development of a national art market; the rapid rise in the circulation of journals and newspapers; the increased number of illustrated books, book series, and lending libraries (D14, D15, D16, IM32, IM33); new efforts to make museums and concert halls more accessible to the bourgeois public (D10, IM17, IM18); the staging of national or international art exhibitions (IM15, IM16): all these developments eventually exerted a homogenizing effect on German culture. It nevertheless proved impossible to devise, much less impose, identifiably “national” standards of what constituted good German art. Long before 1890, German artists were searching for new ways to express the deeper cultural significance of political unification (D1, D2, D5), industrial capitalism (D19, IM20, IM38), and alienation from bourgeois conventions (D6, IM29, IM30, IM31). Particularly evident in the novels of Imperial Berlin, these issues were tackled in every artistic genre.

Thus, it would be incorrect to say that either complacency or conformism characterized the creativity of individuals who, like Adolph Menzel and Friedrich Nietzsche, followed the beat of a different drummer throughout their careers or who, like Max Liebermann and Gerhart Hauptmann, expropriated the “celebratory” kernel of official court culture by celebrating new subjects and new styles. Many of the artists whose work is featured in this chapter – Fritz von Uhde, Hans Marées, Wilhelm Leibl, Arnold Böcklin, and others – laid the groundwork for the Secession movements that developed in Dresden and Munich after 1890. But as we see when we compare reactions to two German unifications (1870/71 and 1989/90), cultural anxiety about the durability of fundamental social values was expressed in print, paint, and on the stage, even as victorious Prussian troops marched through the Brandenburg Gate in 1866 (the analogous moment in October 1989 might be the now-famous kiss on the cheek that occurred when Mikhail Gorbachev and Erich Honecker celebrated the 40th anniversary of East Germany’s founding, even as the GDR’s popular legitimacy was crumbling).

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