The City in Central Europe: Culture and Society from 1800 to the Present

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The City in Central Europe: Culture and Society from 1800 to the Present, Malcolm Gee, Tim Kirk and Jill Steward (eds), Aldershot and Vermont, Ashgate Publishing, 1999, 288 pp., £49.50

This book is a collection of essays which show different aspects of historical, architectural, and social development of cities in central Europe, in particular German cities and ones within the Habsburg Empire. Most essays focus on the shaping of modern urban culture, and those factors which had the main impact on how these cities appear today. Of course, these factors are many faceted and therefore the contributions to this book illustrate this development from various sides.

A major part of The City in Central Europe deals with cities and the arts. Urban elites have always been interested in initialising and sponsoring institutions of high culture for reasons of prestige and support. Robin Lenman exemplifies this by describing German cities in the nineteenth century. Many German cities at that time became art centres, the art market was thriving, and especially addressed the middle-class bourgeoisie. For them 'consumption' of art was an important aspect in their lifestyle. In another essay on arts and the city Malcolm Gee describes the world of arts in Berlin in the interwar period. He tells us how different groups sought to adapt modern art even in such difficult times as 1918. As a result of these efforts, the Prussian National Gallery, in particular its new section, attained an important role for the support of modern German art. Ludva Klusiakovia takes a complementary view by dealing with less-developed urban centres in central Europe, especially the region close to Eastern Europe. The questions that arise are, what makes a town a European centre, and what are the factors for establishing art centres?

A city whose name is closely linked in our minds with arts and culture is Vienna, being in the very centre of Europe. In the nineteenth century it was one of the biggest cities in Europe and capital of one of the largest empires ever. But for some obscure reason it seemed not to become a metropolis, like Paris or London. The main reason was that, in the eighteenth century, Vienna was chiefly a city of government, the capitalists of the double monarchy with its nobles and government officials. Although the Habsburg dynasty and other nobles were highly interested in art, art was not available to the citizens and tourists. Jill Steward shows in her essay that Vienna was not prepared for tourists, and only slowly developed a tourist market with facilities for visitors. But not only tourism was needed to change the 'sleepy' city of Vienna-Steven Beller points out that the middle class was virtually non-existent. This changed rapidly when Jewish immigrants moved to Vienna at the end of the eighteenth century. They were involved with all sorts of financial business and supported all kinds of art, and soon became opinion leaders in Vienna's society. …