third generation large-scale entrepreneurs had usually given up their merchant activities, invested their fortunes in landed property and become aristocrats. There was a wide general increase in prosperity, especially since borrowers from all levels of society were increasingly able to contract debts; this could not have been possible without massive increases in the value of assets. South German industry in particular was able to diversify, and its merchants, having been principally interested in exports, emerged as organizers of production (such as textiles in Nuremberg), exploiting the resources of rural Saxony, Lausitz and Silesia. Similar developments occurred in north-west Germany, where the decline of Hanseatic monopolies in no way implied economic collapse. German shipping through the Sound steadily increased. Hamburg was only the most important of the newly prosperous towns. In Westphalia, prosperity moved away from the east—west trade route in the south of the province, called the Hellweg, to the wooded uplands, suitable for industry; towns such as Bielefeld, Iserlohn, Altena and Lüdenscheid, and later Elberfeld, Solingen and Remscheid, grew up as centres of the early modern iron armaments and textile industry with outlets along the Rhine, Ems and Weser.
How did east-central, east and north Europe fit into the general European pattern of growth? The Baltic area came to be a crucial and strategically separate region of interest to the whole of Europe because of the essential raw materials that it produced. Shipping through the Sound increased continually, and it was the west of Europe that gained from the expansion of Baltic trade. Western finance developed Polish grain, and western ships sailed to Danzig to collect it for Amsterdam warehouses. From there it was sold all over south and west Europe. Bad harvests in the west in 1561, 1565, 1586 and during most of the 1590s were relieved with Polish grain imported by the Dutch and resold as far away as north Italy. After the 1590s, shipping through the Sound decreased for a number of years, only to reach new record levels in the period between 1610 and 1620. Subsequent wars such as those between Sweden and Poland then led to a decline. East-west maritime connections also developed along interior roads and waterways, such as the Vistula. Similar economic developments occurred in the Mediterranean area, although it was the Baltic that provided the most spectacular advances in this period.