Vienna and Berlin: Society, History and Culture

Vienna and Berlin: Society, History and Culture



Every nation has undergone evolution and with evolution comes changes in political, cultural and social arenas. Many changes have been experienced in the 20th Century due to the introduction and improvements in fields such as technology and architecture. People evolve along with their countries and cities, and they are affected socially by the modernity that takes place. Once the city develops, the people who live there are affected and the aim of this article is to explore these changes. Vienna is a city in Australia and Berlin is a city in Germany and they have undergone through political, social, and cultural changes. The cities have become modernized and this process affected different social groups. The main focus is on changes that have taken place from 1890 to present day world. One aspect of social and cultural change that was evident was the way of clothing (Mentges 2011). Fashion is one important aspect of modernity. As old times pass and the cities evolve people change their way of dressing. New trends come by and the old ones are reinvented. Evolution or modernity also comes along with changes in feeding patterns. Modernity also affected various cultural practices which were being carried out by different social groups. This article seeks to discuss how modernity affected different social groups in Vienna and Berlin from 1890 to present times.

Modernity in Vienna and its effect on different social groups

 Vienna is the capital city of Austria and is one among the nine cities of Austria. A lot of developments took place in Vienna starting from 1890 moving forward. Some of these developments had been kick started before the 1890 and it was just a matter of expansion later on. Railway construction had started in the 1830’s and 1850’s (Blau 1999). The construction of the railway led to much industrialization in Vienna. The forms of modernization mentioned above led to new patterns of settlement (Blau 1999). Many people both skilled and semi-skilled migrated to Vienna and got employed in the industries and at the railway construction sites. Due to this migration, the population of Vienna increased drastically between 1869 and 1890 (Blau 1999).  According to statistics, the inner city’s population increased by 3,000 with that of the inner suburbs increasing by 200,000 people (Blau 1999). However, the outer suburbs experienced the highest increment which was almost triple the original number and that was by 600,000.

New types of houses had to be built to cater for the growing population. The houses were constructed in such a way as to accommodate more tenants and their interior arrangements were averagely standard (Blau 1999). Industrialization affected people’s way of life in that they could not afford spacious rooms for living as it was before modernization.

Another form of modernization that took place in Vienna and affected different social groups was the art of the Russian Avant- garde numbers. This art is one of the most diverse forms of modernization and it affected artist and artist associations (Albertina 2016). It is said that artists’ associations experienced major breakthrough between 1910 and 1920 (Albertina 2016). Artists were affected in that modernization changed their way of viewing people, objects and events. They were greatly inspired by the new houses, housing and other developments that were happening.

Vienna was heavily populated with the Jewish people and they considered this city as their protagonists of modernity as is illustrated by Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl’s lives (Lichtblau 2011). The Jews were creative and they were accused of initiating unwanted change by the aggressive anti-Semites. According to Lichtblau modernity affected the Jewish population in Vienna in a ‘socio-historical manner such as population growth due to migration and urbanization, segregation and secularization’ (2011, n.p). Modernity means change and various changes result to fears and hopes as they involve losers and winners. One form of modernization that left a mark among various social groups in Vienna was industrialization as it led to change in population policies. There existed discriminatory mobility rules for certain social groups and with modernity came the removal of such restrictions (Lichtblau 2011). Although change had come during the revolution of 1848, it was well asserted in the 1890’s.

Modernity led to the improved use of radio in Vienna. Radio was seen by labor unions as a positive force as compared to film which was deemed controversial (Saldern 2002). Radio can be used in various was such as a means of communication and a way to pass further education to laborers. Certain parties such as Vorwarts encouraged unions to use radio as a way of reducing cultural defects that affected the lower social strata and bringing democracy in cultural production (Saldern 2002). However, certain social groups felt that radio was not of any advantage. Some artists felt that radio took pleasure out of art in turn making look so easy thus losing its taste. The organization by the name SPD felt that radio was just a source of entertainment for weary workers and it feared that this new realization could lead to minimized political and cultural work among labor organizations (Saldern 2002).

Initially, there were artists whose careers were similar to those of their German female counterparts but this trend changed after modernization (Finnan & Schonfeld 2006). Modernity led to improved designs of art. A rt by ‘Worpswede, Der Blaue Reiter and DADA flourished and gave fruit to excellent results in modernist circles and among various social groups which were heterogeneous and united in opposition to the old’ (Finnan & Schonfeld 2006, p. 22).

Modernity in Berlin and its effects on various social groups

Berlin rose to be the capital city of Germany in the beginning of the modernization period. Modernity in Berlin affected both genders (which are social groups) in various ways. After becoming the capital city of unified Germany in 1871, Berlin became the centre of urban modernity, a change that affected various social groups in different ways (Rowe 1995). ‘The double strand pre-war response of the city had translated into overtly sexual terms’ (Rowe 1995, p.143). Modernity in Berlin was seen to favor the male species and put the female gender at risk due to the sexual development. Women had become an over determined sexualized object by the male subjects (Rowe 1995). As a result of such practices, the city of Berlin was seen as a sexualized image.

The youths were not left out in the wave of modernity that swept across Berlin. They were affected in various ways, some of them being social effects and the older generation tried hard to tame them. ‘Modernization created a gap between popular culture and the upper social classes’, meaning the old was almost completely erased and replaced with new ways of life (Bolin 1994, p. 24). The young were specifically affected by this type of modernity as they forgot the old ways of culture and embraced new cultural practices. These new trends included changes in fashion (mode of dressing), feeding patterns, and new genre of music, sports and even arts. Although the authorities in Berlin tried to control this change they could not master it completely (Bolin 1994).

According to Detlev Peukert Germany and in this case Berlin underwent three phases of modernization which included industrialization, urbanization and social and cultural transformations (Killen 2006, p.11). Industrialization took place in the middle of the 19th Century and it had much effect on various social groups. Urbanization followed later towards the closing of the nineteenth century, with the social and cultural transformations setting in early 20th Century. Peukert further argues that modernity is characterized by disciplining of various social groups, bureaucratization and normalization of life for the same social groups (Killen 2006). The character traits for various social groups were affected by the three stages of modernity and some people changed drastically in terms of behaviors. For instance industrialization led to more skilled laborers with urbanization leading totally new ways of life in terms of fashion and arts.

Due to modernity, Berlin resulted into a political, financial, industrial and cultural centre; leading to rapid growth (West 2000). This growth was as a result of massive immigration by people from agricultural communities and other parts of Europe. The rapid change resulted into housing shortages, poor working conditions for those who were hired at the time, unhealthy living conditions, and the spread of disease (West 2000). The social groups that were most affected by the spread of disease (in this case syphilis) were men and women. Housing shortages and unhealthy living environments affected all social groups. It becomes a problem if people are not able to live in comfortable and spacious houses and in healthy environments. Due to these challenges, people resulted into violence and Berlin came to be seen as a city of violence (West 2000). Modernity brought about positive and negative changes to various social classes of people.

As seen in previous text, modernity affected sanitation and public health in Berlin, Germany. According to Annmarie Adams’ study, it was the role of women to maintain hygiene to keep up with the increasing modernization; women had formed hygiene movements and they were also involved in the reform of domestic architecture (ProQuest 2007, p. 20). Women had to be actively involved in promoting good health as the burden of disease lies on them wholly. These practices affected how women interacted with the rest of the people in the society. Different social groups had different ideas of beauty and health and these ideas had largely been influenced by modernization. Modernity had a great impact in the city of Berlin as the city changed drastically in a matter of a short period of time.


The cities of Vienna and Berlin are closely related in terms of social, cultural, historical and political occurrences. The two cities experienced the same mode of modernization and the results were closely related in both cities. Modernization kicked off in the late 19th Century, which was around the 1890s in both cities. The very first form of modernity was industrialization, followed by urbanization and later social and cultural transformations. The three phases of modernization brought about changes among various social groups. There were various social groups including labor organizations, skilled and unskilled laborer, men, women and the youths. Each of these social classes got affected by modernization in various ways. Cultural practices changed from of old and new practices were adopted, new trends in fashion were also embraced and there was spread of disease due to squeezed housing and unhealthy living environments. Over-population which was promoted by modernity was also a major social crisis and it led to violence in Berlin.




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