Hometown Hamburg

Hometown Hamburg

Artisans and the Political Struggle for Social Order in the Weimar Republic

By Frank Domurad

‘Hometown Hamburg’ explores the role of institutionalized historical continuity in the collapse of urban democracy in the Weimar Republic.

Hardback, 384 Pages


March 2019

£80.00, $120.00

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About This Book

‘Hometown Hamburg’ explores the problem of social order in modern German urban history. It argues that institutionalized normative structures are the bedrock of temporal continuity in German history. In an era of various linguistic and cultural ‘turns’ historians have lost the theoretical and analytical ability to explain events over the long term. Their accounts and explanations of human activity and historical processes usually rest on an unexamined behaviourist psychological model where simple instrumental self-interest drives individual decision-making. As a result they reduce communal social action to individual preferences conditioned by external contingent events.

Such an epistemological viewpoint has prevented historians from taking seriously the notion and reality of a ‘bürgerliche’ social order, not in the sense of a bourgeois-dominated class system, but in terms of what the historian Mack Walker has defined as a “hometown” conception of communal solidarity. Belief in the value of a bürgerliche social order has provided the institutionalized basis for the remarkable continuity of German and Hamburg handicraft over time. Its norms and values have been shared by forces from all strata of society, who, like artisans, were committed to a ‘rooted’ notion of local community that in Walker’s terminology preserved the ‘webs and walls’ of occupational estate cohesion and parity in the face of ‘outsiders’ (Standeslose) or ‘disturbers’ (Störer).

The corporate politics of both occupational estate and the bürgerliche social order in which it was embedded played a key role in the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism, and may yet endanger democracy in Germany once again. The division of Hamburg and Germany into irreconcilable social and moral trenches, to use Jürgen Kocka’s trenchant phraseology, based on adversarial images of social good and social community, produced, in the words of the sociologists Rainer C. Baum and Frank J. Lechner, a society of extreme ‘value dissensus’, whose members were essentially ‘moral strangers’ to each other. It was in this anomic context that National Socialism became an acceptable political alternative. Nazi spokesmen intrinsically understood the meaning of Walker’s ‘webs and walls’ of local community and opposed those whom they defined as disturbers of domestic peace and social harmony. National Socialism was able to offer a cross-section of social and economic groups, stretching in a city-state like Hamburg from a free trading commercial elite through the artisan master in his workshop into the ranks of the craft-trained skilled worker in the shipyard and factory, complete and comfortable integration into a very familiar hometown social order – one that they grew up with, whose logic they could understand, whose morality they could trust and whose roots reflected the continuity of history.


Frank Domurad’s book casts new light on a much commented upon, but little understood phenomenon: the support offered to Nazism by self-employed artisans. Conventional analysis portrays this as a panicked reaction by the lower middle classes to the onset of the Great Depression, underpinned by the long term issues of competition from industry and the rise of organised labour. Domurad, however, employs a detailed analysis of the social and political lives of Hamburg artisans to demonstrate that they thought of themselves as members of a flourishing institutionalised corporate estate. The flexibility of their conception of Handwerk enabled them to preserve their position even within the rapidly modernising and politically liberal city. Their support for Nazism, he argues, is best understood as a political tactic for obtaining the corporate self-governance promised, but never delivered, under the Weimar constitution, rather than an expression of existential crisis. This is an important book whose sense of, and sensibility to, the mental and material world of the Hamburg artisans allows readers to understand how such a calculation came to be made. —Professor Jonathan Morris, Vice President and Chair of Research Policy Committee, Royal Historical Society, Research Professor in Modern European History, Director, Heritage for Business, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire

"Among Hometown Hamburg many fortes is its engagement with the historiography on the lower middle classes. This monograph is essential reading for historians of the lower middle classes. Especially impressive is Domurad’s command of the vast historiography and an array of methodologies. — Sara Sewell, Virginia Wesleyan University, USA, European History Quarterly 50(4): 720-22."

“The publication of this book satisfies a lifetime of research and hard work. Frank Domurad began the research in 1970 when I was a young professor in Cambridge and two chapters were written. He then had a career in public service and resumed research and writing. The final text is a masterly study of an aspect of German history that needed a new treatment. It is a brilliant study.”
—Jonathan Steinberg, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History (Emeritus) University of Pennsylvania, USA, and Emeritus Fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, UK

“By examining the beliefs, traditions and actions of Hamburg’s artisans, Frank Domurad uses a local study to address major questions about the political culture of the Weimar Republic. The result is a well-researched, theoretically informed book that offers new insights into the collapse of Germany’s first democracy.”
—Richard Bessel, Professor Emeritus of Twentieth Century History, Department of History, University of York, UK

“Frank Domurad provides a brilliant theoretical and empirical examination of artisans seeking to maintain an accepted place in the German social community. 'Hometown Hamburg' is important both as a history leading to an understanding of the onset of Nazism and for its relevance in comprehending our contemporary political situation.”
—Mark Gould, Professor of Sociology, Haverford College, USA

Author Information

Frank Domurad is an independent scholar in modern German history, who has also written extensively on public finance and governmental restructuring, evidence-based management, organizational development and change management, public safety, and terrorism and the protection of homeland security.


No series for this title.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Continuity in History; 1. The Peculiarity of German History: Handwerk versus Handicraft; 2. Hamburg: A German Home Town?; 3. In Search of Hamburg Handwerk: Figures and Forms; 4. The Handicraft Occupational Estate in the Crisis of the Weimar Republic; 5. A Constitution without Decision; 6. From the Politics of Barter to a Volksgemeinschaft; Conclusion: Continuity in History Revisited; Bibliography; Index.


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