Workers' Culture in Imperial Germany: Leisure and Recreation in the Rhineland and Westphalia

Workers' Culture in Imperial Germany: Leisure and Recreation in the Rhineland and Westphalia

Workers' Culture in Imperial Germany: Leisure and Recreation in the Rhineland and Westphalia

Workers' Culture in Imperial Germany: Leisure and Recreation in the Rhineland and Westphalia

Synopsis

This comprehensive historical analysis of the emergence of Germany's modern leisure industry also provides a major contribution to the social history of working-class life in the nineteenth century.

Excerpt

Leisure is taken for granted in contemporary society. Some would argue that leisure has now supplanted work as the more meaningful social activity for most people living in the modern western world. In little over a century leisure has become a right; the length of the working week continues to decline; the provision of leisure facilities has become big business, with considerable numbers relying on the leisure industry for their employment; and recreational provision is addressed by government, often through designated ministers and departments. On the other hand, it could be said that little has changed since the nineteenth century. Our ability to participate in leisure activities is still dependent upon having sufficient disposable income; time for leisure is still restricted by commitments to work, the family and the community. Leisure is still a commodity with a price. Moreover, the activities we choose to undertake in our leisure time have hardly changed. Pubs still attract crowds on Saturday nights, dancing remains one of the favoured leisure pursuits of the young and sporting events continue to attract thousands of spectators. In Germany traditional fairs like the Kirmes, carnival and the shooting festivals continue to be celebrated by millions across the country, while around 40 per cent of the population of what used to be the Federal Republic belong to one or more voluntary associations.

If people today regard their leisure activities to be of such vital importance to their personal fulfilment and satisfaction, surely in the past, when recreation was severely limited, it assumed an even greater significance. And yet we know little of what the majority of Germans, the working class, did in their leisure time. It is my contention that we should know, not merely to complete a part of the jigsaw depicting the everyday life of the German working class, but in order to gain an insight into the social relations governing German society in the age of industrialization, urbanization, Bismarck and Wilhelm II. Workers’ actions in the workplace were governed by a regulated system of discipline and incentives. Leisure activity was comparatively free from such constraints and as such it offers a window through which one may gain an appreciation of the values and attitudes—culture—of the working class in Germany in the period between unification and the First World War.

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