The Politics of German Cities: A Tale of Visions, Money, and Democracy

  • Jutta A. Helm


An examination of the history of Germany’s big cities reveals surprising continuities as well as major upheavals and disruptions. Among the continuities is the fact that between 1819 and 1992 Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt, in that order, remained Germany’s most populous cities. Even an expanded list of the 25 largest cities shows that about half of them maintained their approximate ranking for two centuries.1 But the impression of stability suggested by these rankings is deceptive. To mention only the largest upheavals that have swept over German cities, the industrial revolution and the two world wars have imposed their own forms of turmoil and dislocation. If the industrial revolution created a new type of city, the industrial city organised around a major industry, it also ushered in massive urban population growth, the triumph of capitalist forms of work and production, a proletarian counterculture and the decay of the bourgeois city. War-time destruction generated a search for new forms of urban life, sometimes overlapping with a cultural critique of cities, directed especially at the larger Grosstädte, which are the subject of this chapter. And today cities are being remade, or in some cases unmade, by economic events such as the growth of the service sector, the rise of the information age and globalisation.


Local Government Social Assistance Grand Coalition City Government German City 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Hartmut Häussermann and Walter Siebel, Neue Urbanität (Frankfurt: Suhkramp, 1987), p. 114. This work is a good introduction to the demographic, social and economic situation of German cities.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Jeffry Diefendorf focuses on the history of postwar reconstruction in In the Wake of War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). Peter Schoeller’s work, while dated, offers a useful history of the evolution of German cities, including coverage of urban developments in East Germany: Die Deutschen Städte (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner verlag, 1968).Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    Hubert Heinelt and Helmut Wollmann’s edited volume, Brennpunkt Stadt (Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1991) is one of several fine collections with chapters on a range of urban problems and issues. Urban politicians have also contributed helpful assessments of the urban condition. Compare Georg Kronawitter’s edited volume Rettet unsere Städte jetzt! Das Manifest der Oberbürgermeister (Düsseldorf: Econ, 1994)Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    Rolf Böhme’s Beeilt Euch zu handeln, bevor es zu spät ist zu bereuen (Freiburg: Herder, 1997). Joachim Jens Hesse is a prolific analyst of the political and administrative dynamics of urban politics. Compare Joachim Jens Hesse (ed.), Erneuerung der Politik “von unten?” (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1986)Google Scholar
  5. 1.
    Karl Ganser, Joachim Jens Hesse and Christoph Zöpel (eds), Die Zukunft der Städte (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 1991).Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    Arthur B. Gunlicks’ Local Government in the German Federal System (Durham: Duke University Press, 1986) remains the only comprehensive English-language survey of Germany’s constitutional, legal and administrative framework. In addition to the Statistisches Jahrbuch für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland the Deutsche Städtetag provides the best documentation on urban affairs. Its annual Statistisches Jahrbuch Deutscher Gemeinden as well as its biannual report (Geschäftsbericht), special studies and the monthly journal Der Städtetag cover just about every aspect of urban governance. There are also several specialised journals, such as Stadt und Gemeinde, Finanzwirtschaft and Der Gemeindehaushalt.Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    Konrad Adenauer, Erinnerungen 1945–1953 (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1967), p. 16 ff.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann and Edgar Piel (eds), Allensbacher Jahrbuch der Demoskopie 1978–1983, vol. 8 (München: K. G. Saur, 1983), p. 40.Google Scholar
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    Jürgen Gramke, ‘Praktizierte Bürgernähe’, Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte B 15 (1978), pp. 3–21.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Berndt Reissert, ‘Federal and State Transfers to Local Government in the Federal Republic of Germany: A Case of Political Immobility’, in Douglas E. Ashford (ed.), Financing Urban Government in the Welfare State (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980), p. 160.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung, Kommunale Selbstverwaltung (Bonn, 1994), p. 63. These and other data on local expenditure include all local governments, large and small. In 1996 local expenditure in the Western Länder was as follows: personnel 26 per cent, purchasing 18 per cent, social services 22 per cent, interest 4 per cent, investments 16 per cent, other 14 per cent. Spending patterns in the East are higher in personnel and investments and lower in social services and other. Compare Hanns Karrenberg and Engelbert Münstermann, ‘Gemeindefinanzbericht 1996’, Der Städtetag, vol. 49 (1996), pp. 119–211.Google Scholar
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    Michael Bretschneider, ‘Probleme der Städte aus der Sicht der Stadtentwicklungsplanung’, Der Städtetag, vol. 50 (1997), pp. 3–7.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Among these critics are Erwin K Scheuch and Ute Scheuch, Cliquen, Klüngel und Karrieren (Reinbek: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1992).Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Peter Cornelius Mayer-Tasch, Die Bürgerinitiativbewegung (Reinbek: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1976), ch. 4.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Margit Mayer, ‘The Career of Urban Social Movements in West Germany’, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 1993.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Jutta A. Helm

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