How do cities come into being

German conditions. A social studies

Hartmut Häussermann

Hartmut Häussermann, 1943 - 2011, was professor at the Institute for Social Sciences at the Humboldt University in Berlin from 1993 to 2008. 1964 - 1970 studies of sociology, politics and economics at the Free University of Berlin, 1970 - 1976 research assistant at the Institute for Sociology of the Free University of Berlin; 1976 - 1978 Professor of Urban and Administrative Sociology at the University of Kassel, Department of Architecture, Urban and Landscape Planning; 1978 - 1993 professor for urban and regional sociology at the University of Bremen in the social sciences course. Thematic focus: segregation in the cities, migrants in the city, social city, urban politics. Recent publications: Urban Sociology. An introduction (with W. Siebel), Frankfurt / Main-New York 2004; Stadtpolitik (with D. Läpple and W. Siebel), Frankfurt / Main 2008.

The cities represented a special economic and political unit in the Middle Ages. Capitalism arose in the cities, characterized by trade and the early forms of wage labor. Politically, they were ruled by an oligarchy made up of the bourgeoisie. Even during industrialization, cities acquired a special meaning as a hub of economic development.

Cities are the centers of economic and cultural innovations as well as social change. They have the densest development and the highest population and job density. The distribution of cities across the country is historically very stable. Their origins have very different causes: In the Middle Ages trading centers emerged from the intersection of transport routes, which developed into larger settlement units through the accumulation of businesses; Trade and handicraft businesses sprang up around the rulers of princes, kings and bishops, which satisfied their demand for court and procured goods from long-distance trade.

Cities can be geographically separated from the other types of settlement by a high population and job density as well as intensive commuting links with the surrounding area; Cities are also defined politically and administratively, whereby historical patterns are recorded and administrative policy goals are pursued. The federal states are responsible for this and also decide on the classification of municipalities in a hierarchy of centers (cf. Kost / Wehling 2003).

The city in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the cities represented a special economic and political unit; if they had been granted city charter, they had special powers: they could levy duties and taxes, develop their own jurisdiction and decide on their own affairs. In this respect, they were "free" or independent and thus represented a completely different political and social order in the German Reich than the surrounding feudalist country - this resulted in the urban-rural contrast. The cities were precisely delimited by city walls, and their citizens were free citizens inasmuch as there was no serfdom in the cities. They were organized as resident co-operatives with property ownership and elected political leadership. They had to pay regular taxes to the landlords, which regularly gave rise to considerable conflicts. Some cities therefore fought for full independence through revolutionary uprisings; they became 'free imperial cities', which, as it were, represented small states of their own.

Capitalism emerged in the cities, characterized by trade and the early forms of wage labor. Politically, they were ruled by an oligarchy made up of the bourgeoisie. In the cities, too, there were clear class boundaries, but membership was - and that is the decisive difference to the "country" - not regulated by birth. In the cities, social advancement was possible through material success or through education. The relationship between town and country was characterized by a division of labor between "head" and "hand".

The urban social order

The urban social order was also largely shaped by belonging to a large family, but the guilds and city administrations began early on to build a social infrastructure that also made it possible to survive beyond the family, especially in times of poverty, illness and old age. In this respect, the cities formed pre-forms of the modern welfare state - but only so-called "respectable" citizens who were in need through no fault of their own were able to benefit. In contrast, destitute immigrants and beggars were sometimes persecuted in a draconian way.

Belonging to the city also created a specific identification, because the cities maintained a collective infrastructure and were military communities, i. H. individual freedom also depended on the collective ability to defend against attacks by wandering bands of robbers or enemy military units. In this respect, cities were definitely communities in which individual wellbeing was embedded despite enormous social differences.

With the emergence of the territorial states in the early modern period, the cities were incorporated into the newly organized domains, they largely lost their independence. As hubs of economic development, however, they also gained special importance during the industrialization that began in the 19th century. The industrialization took place largely in the then existing network of cities - first as a further densification of the buildings, and then as a rapid growth on their edges. Cities became centers of economic and population growth. Only in the regions where coal and ore were mined as raw materials for industrialization and an iron and steel industry emerged did completely new cities emerge in the 19th century (e.g. in the Ruhr area; cf. Reulecke 1985).