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October 16, 2014

Vintage Photographs of the Life in Germany From the 1910s

Here is an amazing collection of vintage photographs that shows everyday life in Germany from the 1910s.

Coffee canteen at AEG, 1909. This canteen in the large-machine factory [Großmaschinenfabrik] of the AEG [Allgemeine Elektizitäts-Gesellschaft or General Electric Company] provided coffee for the entire workforce. The woman on the left measures out beans from a sack; the woman on the right checks one of many large vats of coffee.

Augustiner brewery, Munich, c. 1910. Breweries were common locales for socializing, especially in Bavaria. Accommodating hundreds of guests, they were prototypical experiments in mass gastronomy, and their appeal transcended class barriers. Here we see customers lining up to order beer by the Maß – i.e., in large 1-liter mugs. Note that the Kellnerin [waitress] to the far left is carrying eight of these mugs to a table; each mug weighed over a kilogram (2.2 pounds), but this was a common feat in these locales. The Augustiner brewery’s summer beer is advertised on the sign above the filling window. Another sign to the right of it reminds customers to make sure their mugs are completely full when picked up: “Mugs not completely full should be topped off immediately.”

This photograph from 1910 shows three generations of a working-class, urban family. Workers often dressed like members of the bourgeoisie, albeit with markers, such as caps, that distinguished them from more affluent Germans.

Working class quarters, c. 1910. In Germany, industrialization and urbanization went hand in hand, as individuals and entire families left the countryside and moved to cities in search of work. Living conditions were often miserable: working-class housing was dank, cramped, and overcrowded, with little fresh air or natural light. Entire families lived in narrow rooms without indoor plumbing. One such quarter on Berlin's Liegnitzer Straße is depicted here. The rent for this type of space would have consumed a large portion of a family’s income.

In the care of grandmother, c. 1910. Industrialization caused a demographic shift in Imperial Germany. Seeking industrial employment, former agricultural workers moved to cities, where they lived in cramped, overcrowded apartments. Often, both parents needed to work to pay for rent and daily necessities. In the photo below, an elderly working-class woman looks after her grandchildren. When both parents had to work, grandparents made essential contributions to the household, especially with respect to child care.

Here, a group of lower-middle-class children, who were probably part of an organized day-care group, can be seen in front of a row of houses in the Borsigwalde district of Berlin, c. 1910. Borsigwalde was a new community. It was developed in the late 1890s on the fallow Dalldorf Heaths for employees of the Borsig machine and locomotive factory.

The kitchen staff, c. 1910. Wealthy bourgeois families hired outside help both as a practical matter and as a mark of status. The vast majority of domestic servants were women. While the family matriarch oversaw the household, the kitchen staff took care of the cooking and other laborious chores. Here we see two domestic servants in a bourgeois kitchen. Cooks were not only responsible for the preparation of food, they also bought the ingredients, washed the dishes, and cleaned the dining room after meals. The woman on the right is probably consulting a cookbook in preparation for the family’s next meal.

A female mason perched high above Berlin, c. 1910. With the rise of industrialization, the number of German women who worked outside the home also increased. This usually meant factory work. But in some families with their own businesses, daughters also learned a trade so that they could help out: here, we see a master-mason's daughter during the renovation work on the old city hall tower in Berlin.

Women in journalistic professions were a rarity in Wilhelmine Germany. Nonetheless, some women did succeed in establishing themselves as journalists – initially, they did so by working for the women's newspapers and magazines that had been around since the middle of the nineteenth century; later on, they also worked for large newspapers. In this photograph (c. 1910), a female photographer surveys metropolitan Berlin from a crane being used in the construction of the Stadthaus [City Hall] on Molkenmarkt. The City Hall was built as an extension of the Rotes Rathaus [Red City Hall], whose large tower can be seen at the right. The Berliner Dom [Berlin Cathedral] can be seen in the background off to the left.

This photograph by the Haeckel brothers shows athletes performing calisthenics at a gymnastics festival (June 6-9, 1911) in Gotha (Thuringia) in which teams from various universities took part. In Germany, clubs and societies came together around various interests, including gymnastics. Public sports and gymnastics festivals, such as the one shown here, created a sense of community and solidarity among participants. They brought Germans from various regions together, strengthening the country’s vibrant associational culture. Photo: Gebrüder Haeckel.

Wilhelmine-era German households were largely patriarchal. Women played multiple roles, often contributing to the family income through work in the fields, even as they cared for the children. They were also responsible for meals, which consisted primarily of bread and potatoes, supplemented by fats, oils, and an occasional cut of meat. Here, we see a rural family enjoying a modest midday meal together, as was customary, ca. 1912.

A well-ordered grocery store, 1913. By the early twentieth century, Germany was a highly industrialized country. A consumer society also developed. The shop in this photograph catered to the needs of German consumers. It offered whole milk, cocoa and chocolate, baked goods such as bread, packaged egg noodles, and bottled beverages.

Consumer cooperatives bought goods in bulk and sold them to participating members. This approach allowed them to offer food and other everyday items at reduced prices. This photograph shows the counter in a consumer cooperative in Hanover, ca. 1913. In such cooperatives, employees filled orders for customers.

The first International Women’s Congress, held in Paris in 1878, was a step towards creating a transnational women's movement. Although activists sought to improve the condition of women internationally, they remained committed to pragmatic reform within their own respective political systems. This photograph was taken at a meeting of German activists during the International Women’s Congress in Berlin in 1914. It shows (clockwise, from left): Hedwig Heyl, Alice Salomon, Anna Pappritz, Dona Martin, ? Hanning, Annette Hamminck-Schepel, Helene Lange, and Gertrud Bäumer.

(Photos © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, via German History in Documents and Images)


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