Sandra Schürmann. Dornröschen und König Bergbau: Kulturelle Urbanisierung und bürgerliche Repräsentationen am Beispiel der Stadt Recklinghausen (1930-1960). Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, 2005. 325 S. EUR 38.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-506-72884-5.
Reviewed by Angela Schwarz (University of Siegen, Germany)
Published on H-German (September, 2007)
Sleeping Beauty's Slow Awakening to the Realities of Coke Town
Some 160 years ago, a stretch of land in the western provinces of the Kingdom of Prussia stood on the brink of fundamental changes. Within a few decades, this area, which stretched from the river Rhine eastwards along the river Ruhr, would be transformed into one of the most heavily urbanized and industrialized regions in Europe. In this future "Ruhr Area" (Ruhrgebiet), hundreds of blast furnaces and steel plants would operate, powered by the coal produced by local mines drilling countless shafts into the ground. Hundreds of thousands of people would come to earn a living as miners or steel workers, at first from the neighboring provinces and later from the easternmost parts of the kingdom and from Poland. New towns and cities would arise; the shape and size of existing ones would change dramatically. Eventually, contemporaries would try to make sense of these transformations, and would argue that a new rule had arrived, that of King Coal. However, observers who came from the "old families" or traditional elites would refuse to accept this new power and would try to stave it off as long as possible.
One graphic example of industrialization scorned and ignored is to be found in the town of Recklinghausen on the eastern fringes of the Ruhr. In the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth, its middle-class inhabitants saw their town as a creature from an idyllic age gone by, suddenly confronted with modernity and the dangers and ruptures of booming industrialization. To put it in their own words, their town was a "Sleeping Beauty" forced to wake up or be vanquished by a brutal conqueror named "King Coal." It took these elites a long time to adjust to the changes threatening their status. In the process, they stretched the limits of their hegemonic position to define the dominant representations of the town. However, this success came with a price: social and cultural backwardness that enhanced the probability of social conflict and a considerable delay in reaping the benefits of industrialization and urbanization. Sandra Schürmann focuses on these perceptions and definitions of the urban in this interesting study. She traces the hesitantly slow awakening of Sleeping Beauty (that is, Recklinghausen's middle- and upper-middle-class elites) to the realities of Coke Town between 1930 and 1960.
Based on the concepts of the spatial turn and on Roger Chartier's definition of social representations, the book moves beyond a more traditional exposition of urban growth, economic developments, and social changes to consider mechanisms of appropriation or cultural urbanization. Consequently, Schürmann defines the city as a cultural and social space, one of perceptions and interpretations. In this sense she agrees with Doreen Massey, who sees the city as a social battlefield with warring factions defining themselves via such categories as class, ethnicity, and gender. Schürmann argues that only after Recklinghausen industrialized did its middle-class inhabitants begin to adjust to the changes wrought by industrialization. They negotiated the rules of coexistence between traditional middle classes and new working classes, between Westphalians and migrants from rural areas of the eastern provinces and Poland, and between men and women. Even after World War II and a new (if short-lived) coal mining boom, this adjustment went hand in hand with an unwillingness to accept or welcome change. In Recklinghausen, what had started in the mid-nineteenth century was not fully accepted until the 1970s. In other words, being a part of the Ruhr did not automatically make Recklinghausen's inhabitants perceive their town as an industrialized community. In fact, it was by drawing a clear line between their town and others of the region that inhabitants could construct a middle-class identity.
Which images were created to veil the realities of a rapidly developing mining town? In what way and why did these representations change? Which groups were excluded in the process of re-asserting the power of the in-groups? What kinds of contradictions did this refusal to deal with reality bring to the fore? To answer these questions, Schürmann mainly draws on two kinds of sources: official documents and interviews with town inhabitants. The first includes reports of the municipal authorities, articles, books produced by city officials, press statements, and documents from the town's board of works. The author conducted interviews with ten of thirteen interviews conducted with people (six women and four women) who responded to a call in the local newspaper. Occasionally, the interpretations they present are juxtaposed with those of miners interviewed in earlier oral history projects by the Institute for History and Biography.
In some respects, the representations created by Recklinghausen's middle classes and city officials fit well with contemporary trends of anti-urbanism and a general critique of modernity. However, in contrast to other cities of this industrial heartland (most of which still await detailed study of their form of cultural urbanization), Recklinghausen saw more virulent anti-urban imagery. For instance, the middle classes in the neighboring city of Dortmund adjusted fairly soon to the new economic forces and framed them as a boon to the whole community. Envisioning themselves as a fortress of stability and order that had survived from the middle ages, Recklinghausen's middle classes rejected new urban areas south of the old town inhabited mostly by workers and their families. In contrast to what they viewed as aggressive and even brutal change, they depicted themselves as the epitome of rural peacefulness and continuity--of the good life, all condensed into the image of the green city. Consequently, the city's officials preferred to present Recklinghausen as a destination for shopping rather than industrial production. Yet a considerable part of the money spent in the town's department stores, celebrated as symbols of progress and wealth, came from mining. And consequently again, the district "Süd" was clearly perceived as the other, the "Un-Ort" (p. 97). The middle-class population that grew in Recklinghausen-Süd identified with the bourgeois inhabitants of the old town rather than attempting a rapprochement between the town's south and north.
Conservative, if not to say backward, representations of industrialization had practical effects, influencing political decisions and community life. These are analyzed in the second part of Schürmann's study. Planners differentiated between modern and traditional sections of the city, whether in discussing the ramifications of the advent of automobile traffic for the inner city or in debating the promotion of higher education for girls in the town. This distinction worked to the detriment of those who would have benefited most from the promises of modernity such as freedom, education, tolerance, plurality of choices: working-class men, immigrants, and women. As this study graphically shows, the project of modernity does not automatically result in freedom and progress. Urban space structured by class, ethnicity, and gender may well result in injustice and discrimination. It would be interesting to see if elites in other towns of the Ruhr opted for a similar reaction, keeping their eyes wide shut so as to uphold, as long as possible, the illusion of living in a fairy tale. But that would be another story.
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Angela Schwarz. Review of Schürmann, Sandra, Dornröschen und König Bergbau: Kulturelle Urbanisierung und bürgerliche Repräsentationen am Beispiel der Stadt Recklinghausen (1930-1960).
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