Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Modern Jena as a Model of Cultural Regeneration in Wilhelmine Germany

Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Modern Jena as a Model of Cultural Regeneration in Wilhelmine Germany

Article excerpt

The city is, rather, a state of mind, a body of customs and traditions, and of the organized attitudes and sentiments that inhere in these customs and are transmitted with this tradition. The city is not, in other words, merely a physical mechanism and an artificial construction. It is involved in the vital processes of the people who compose it.

-Robert Park, The City (1925)

The German Kaiserreich, circa 1900, was marked by a significant degree of social, cultural and political segmentation. In the struggle for cultural prominence, a number of cities in Germany profiled themselves as incubators for the generation of a new German culture, among them Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg, but also Darmstadt and Dresden-Hellerau, Weimar, and - my focus - Jena.1

Since Carl Schorske's Pulitzer Prize-winning Fin-de-Siècle Vienna appeared in 1980, with its fine sense for the heterogeneity of political, cultural, and intellectual innovations in one of the great turn-of-the-century cities in Europe, it has found many admirers, and some critics.2 In fact, Schorske's work became a model in intellectual history for the interdisciplinary exploration of the highly fragmented culture and politics of modernism. Since modernism, as Schorske also presumed, is generally associated with major urban centers, his study inspired a great many investigations into the multiple forms of modernism in Europe's great cities. From Petersburg to Barcelona, Budapest to Paris, Berlin to Prague, Hamburg to Cracow, and London to Munich, we now know a great deal more about the patterns of urban modernism.3 However, the smaller cities, which especially for Central and Eastern Europe were tremendously important, are only slowly being discovered as laboratories of modern movements. Trieste is one of those cities, Turin and Czernowitz are others.4 For Switzerland, one might add Zurich, Basel and Geneva.5 In Imperial Germany, this diversity had deep roots in a history of decentralized cultural production, whether the humanist imperial cities of the sixteenth century, such as Nuremberg and Augsburg; or the various eighteenth-century courts, such as Anhalt, Weimar, and Braunschweig, where Lessing served as curator of the court library; or Germany's many university towns, like Halle, Heidelberg, Tübingen, and Göttingen.6 If the nation-state prejudices of the nineteenth century, when it was assumed that culture mainly flourished in the capitals of strong states, have tended to obscure this tradition, it nevertheless remained a distinguishing fact of German cultural life before World War I. Moreover, while it helps to recall that the large cities experienced the highest rates of population growth in these years, it was still the case in 1910 that only twenty-one percent of the German population lived in cities of over 100,000, and that the rest of the people, nearly eighty percent, lived in smaller communities, with thirteen percent residing in medium-sized cities (such as Jena) with populations between 20,000 and 100, 000.7 When we focus just on Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich (or in the Austrian case, on Vienna), a great deal about modernity is missed.

This seems obvious in the case of writers and intellectuals. After all, Thomas Mann was from Lübeck; Nietzsche, from Naumburg, lived in Basel; Rilke, born in Prague, wandered across Europe; and Heidegger, even as he taught in Freiburg, never completely left the mental world of rural Meßkirch. Although less apparent, publishing was also a part of this decentralized modernity, with major publishers not only in Berlin, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Munich, and Frankfurt am Main, but also in Dresden, Freiburg im Breisgau, and in a string of university cities.8 The focus on publishers is particularly revealing, since they consciously marketed their books and thus served as a seismograph of cultural developments. Advertising, a paratext that remains an underdeveloped aspect of cultural studies for the late nineteenth century, had become by the outbreak of the war a central aspect of the publisher's work. …

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