Culture and Tourism

Heike Wolter
University of Regensburg

English version of the section on culture and tourism of: Kultur, Tourismus und Sport, in: Thomas Rahlf (Ed.), Deutschland in Daten. Zeitreihen zur Historischen Statistik, Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 2015, pp. 154-171.

Heike Wolter, Culture and Tourism, in:, 16.10.2017 < >.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Deutschland in Daten, and the author, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact

All figures and tables were taken from the German book edition. The Data from all tables including the English translations of all column titles can be downloaded at A list of all english series names is also available in the documentation, pages 1931-1988.


The chapter on culture, leisure and sports breaks new ground in many ways. For a long time these topics have only sporadically been statistically recorded. For the first time here a long series from the 19th century to the present is displayed and commented on. Not only will a series of newspapers, theatres, movies, book, libraries, tourism and sports clubs provide new insight but also a general comparison of various leisure time activities.

Cultural history at an accelerated pace

The 19th century was a time of strong expectations of change in society. The aristocratic culture, which had been the political elite so far, fell into decline. The rising middle class was considered culturally interested but nonpolitical after the foundation of the German empire. This attitude resulted mainly from the missed expectation of the 1848 revolution and the manifestation of an authoritarian state in 1871. The retreat to inwardness led to bourgeois forms of sociability that emphasized privacy. With only ostensible acceptance of the given, various reform movements came into existence. Their members picked up deficiencies and made them a topic for – also cultural – discussions.

The following period between 1918 and 1933 signified a cultural differentiation and visibility, which is known as the “Weimarer Kultur” (culture of the Weimar Republic). In addition to the f­act that these years were partly culturally highly productive, traditional and modern ideas of cultural dignity combined and competed with each other. For the first time a real mass culture emerged, which on the one hand strongly aimed at entertainment, but on the other hand provided room for a fierce fight for the only correct cultural interpretation of history and the present.
With the transfer of power to the National Socialists in 1933, initially conservative forces won the battle for sovereignty over interpretation. For the following years two developments gained significance: firstly, the antagonism between the government-mandated cultural and educational policy and the autonomous nature of the concept of culture, secondly the conditions of existence for cultural activities under a dictatorship and in a war society. Individual difficulties in dealing with life under a dictatorship have not been statistically visible. The implementation of the „Volksgemeinschaft“ (national socialist peoples’ community) meant a cultural opening towards and regulation of the majority. However, it was only the part of society, which corresponded to the ideology of National Socialism that was included. The exclusion of entire groups of the population resulted in an incomplete cultural history. Also, the massive cultural exodus was highly significant in terms of cultural history.

After World War II a double but interwoven German cultural history emerged. Cultural activities in the GDR, founded in 1949, were strongly regulated and influenced by ideology. They were used for political legitimization. Nevertheless – and with remarkable parallels to the Federal Republic of Germany –, culture was seen as a means of re-educating people after the distortions of National Socialism. On the other hand, there was one clear distinction: The GDR saw itself as the better Germany, its culture was to verify this position. Working towards a socialist mass culture was desired. The conviction that culture has much of an entertaining character began to gain acceptance in the GDR only in the 1970s. With the rise of alternative forces in the 1980s, a non–conformist culture, which won political effectiveness in 1989, came into being.
Major lines of development in “western” culture can be seen in the cultural history of the Federal Republic of Germany. Only briefly did the material hardships after 1945 bring cultural life to a standstill. Soon, culture was seen as an „indispensable moral life and survival equipment”.2 The rapid economic upswing was accompanied by cultural reconstruction, which fluctuated between longing for an ideal world and dealing with the past. In the 1960s, with the end of the era of Adenauer, a politicization of larger parts of the society set in. It was perceptible in a cultural way too. From the 1970s onwards, cultural diversity was enriched by the increasing integration of people from other cultures and widespread civil efforts. Continuous medialization, still felt today, added to this change. Reterritorialization, transition of time and reproduction of communication created new cultural forms.
Since reunification, however, the Federal Republic of Germany saw itself in a complicated situation. The initial euphoria was followed by rapid disenchantment and the question of the possible incorporation of the GDR culture. New cultural horizons came up, in which, despite all globalization trends, national horizons played a larger role again. However, with the beginning of the 21st century the issue of a dominant culture came into discussion, arising mainly from Germany’s multiculturalism. Since then the question of a multicultural Germany is being negotiated.

Table 1: Newspapers and magazines
Table 1: Newspapers and magazines

Newspapers: From the mouthpiece of revolution to newspaper-crisis

The (political) press developed significantly through the revolutionary upheaval around 1848. Its liberalization was quickly withdrawn because of the failure of the revolution, which resulted in the closure of newspapers. The number of titles declined by 1.680 in 1849 to 401 in 1855. Still, the daily and weekly press prevailed in the long run, caused by technical innovations. It was up–to–date, affordable and widely available. (tab. 1)
This can especially be seen from the daily newspaper–boom around 1900. Between 1891 and 1906 the number of newspapers raised by 37 percent. Also, a close relationship between politics and the press became visible in the Empire. An opinion–forming orientation of the press was central, especially before and during World War I. Publications mostly fulfilled their desired function as “warmonger” and have so been used for propagandistic purposes. The decline since 1914 is above all explained by paper shortage during the war years. The number of titles declined by 21 percent until 1917. (fig. 1)

During the Weimar Republic the press benefitted from press freedom on the one hand, but on the other hand, it suffered from prohibitions via emergency decrees from 1931 on. The daily press was diverse, highly politicized and thus split–up. The fragmentation in the market shares also resulted in the presence of countless local newspapers.
Developments between 1933 and 1945 occurred under different political conditions. The press policy was based on three clear goals: eliminating political opponents, cooptation / synchronization and control of opinion.
World War II represented a significant break. Scarcity in paper and printing capacities, information needs of readers and propaganda intentions of producers formed an incompatible qualitative and quantitative triangle, in which newspaper production suffered a heavy setback.
After the end of the war, the media was initially under control of the Allied Forces, who followed different paths. However, initial paper shortage affected all of them. The first allied newspapers nevertheless already appeared in the late course of the war, initially published as Army Group newspapers. They should help to re–educate people.
In the Soviet occupation zone (SBZ) the „Tägliche Rundschau“ and the „Berliner Zeitung“ were published yet in May 1945 as a mouthpiece of the command of the Red Army. The first concessionary newspaper was the „Deutsche Volkszeitung“, published in June. Additional print-outs followed, again per licensing. These products have been heavily censored because freedom of speech was hardly desirable. Gradually, parties were created, followed by the permission for party magazines.
Even after the founding of the GDR in 1949, the Soviet Union influenced – at least initially – the media strongly. The aim was to establish a “new type of the press”. In 1952 the newspaper „Neues Deutschland“ was founded as a central institution of the daily press. Then central steering, deficient economic balance sheet and high newspaper density with a relatively low title number were essential characteristics. In other words: While the circulation rose, the number of titles stagnated. Numerous newspapers and magazines were subject to a blocking notice, influencing the circulation. Thereby new subscriptions were only taken out with other readers simultaneously unsubscribing.

Fig. 1: Circulation of newspapers – in million
Fig. 1: Circulation of newspapers – in million

In the western occupation zones, a license practice which was intended to protect democratic principles applied to the new and back start–ups. In the 1950s they seemed to return to the traditions of the Weimar Republic. Local newspapers, which proved to be less main editions but mostly head editions and additional editions were established primarily on political instruction of the federal states. They already made up 21 percent of the total edition output in 1947. A caesura took place in 1952 when the newspaper “Bild–Zeitung”, which quickly became the largest German newspaper, was founded. Its increasing character as „opinion maker of the nation“ was formative. The 1960s and 1970s were marked by an economic and journalistic concentration of the press. In 1966, while the number of main editions abated, the total number of outputs stagnated. In the 1970s these trends were accompanied by a general stagnation or critical economic development with decreasing demand. Also, the media competition by television was noticeable already in the 1950s. From 1958 on, only a slight increase in the number of main expenditure had been recorded.

After German reunification, the East German press was mostly taken over by publishers from the Federal Republic. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press was quickly enforced. Since the turn of the millennium the following trends can be identified: Depending on the character of different press products stronger or less strong declines are detectable. The circulation from 2001 to 2013 declined by 27 percent. More and more readers catch up on the Internet. This is partially at the expense of the press via free information portals, sometimes publishing houses succesfully offer online offers.

Book market: From book to e–book

In many respects developments of book production correspond to the findings of press history. (Tab. 2).
The 19th century was characterized by a democratization of reading culture, supported by a broad wave of alphabetization. Book production got more diverse and quantitatively richer. The entire title production tripled between 1851 and 1900. Technical innovations made books cheaper and more ordinary. The censorship was responsible for the control of production with the exception of the years of the revolution. The second half of the 19th century was marked by the setting up of numerous publishing houses, with a concentration during the Weimar Republic. Agents tried to cooperate – mainly in the “Börsenverein der Deutschen Buchhändler / des Deutschen Buchhandels” (German Publishers and Booksellers Association). In addition, there were many particularistic attempts. In the severe market crisis of the second half of the century, publishers developed divergent strategies – books of cultural high quality in small numbers were accompanied by mainstream book productions.
World War I marked a turning point, as wartime economy and paper shortages led to the fall of production numbers. The Weimar Republic also experienced a book crisis with drops in production in 1924 and 1931. Professionalization by the intermediaries and massive advertising was the strategy to deal with the crisis. (fig. 2)

National Socialism took over with forcible coordination of book production and elimination of all opponents, which had its tragic climax in the book burning. Moreover, strong restrictions imposed by censorship and active promotion of production through propaganda motivated publications took place. 1933 was a turning point, as the number of issued titles went down to one third or 10.000 in total numbers below the value of 1932. Many authors went into exile, publishing in exile publishing houses from now on. Paper shortages and destruction during the war hardly led to a stoppage in production until 1945.
After the war the Allies enforced strict control, publishers were approved only through a licensing system. The book market developed positively until the beginning of the 1980s: Sales increased fivefold from 1960 to 1984.

In the Soviet occupation zone three politically legitimate publishers were founded in July 1945. There and as well later in the GDR book production was strongly censored, even though not equally. The state–controlled publishing saw itself in its form of sales as a public book trade with heavily subsidized prices. This led to high numbers of production according to ideological guidelines. Cuts show the changing restrictions of the system. This was true in particular for the consequences of the 11th plenary of the ZK of the SED in December 1965 (“Kahlschlagplenum”, plenary that determined a crackdown on the arts). At that point the title production fell from 7.400 in 1966 to 5.300 in the following year. (fig. 2)
After reunification, the book remained a central medium, although soon a structural change was perceptible. The book market differentiated itself, title imports increased. Furthermore, a media competition has been caused by other formats. This manifests in a rising share of electronic publications, such as e–books, to name only one example of many other changes. The leading function of the actual printed book seems to be broken in this respect, though, sales figures show a/an – continuous, albeit slow – increase in turnovers.

Table 2: Books
Table 2: Books
Fig. 2: Book trade – overall title production – in 1.000
Fig. 2: Book trade – overall title production – in 1.000

Libraries: from public bookshelves to multi–media information services

As in other cultural areas a popularization, as well as a differentiation (in the reading– or book hall–movement, for example,) has taken place since the 19th century. The public library system witnessed a keen factional dispute, which was mainly about the conception of libraries as service providers or educators. Nevertheless, more and more people used libraries as an information provider. For example, between 1901 and 1911, the number of facilities in German cities doubled – albeit at a low supply level all in all. Entrusted with the task of collecting all German–language publications, the German Library in Leipzig was founded as a national library, however in 1912. In addition, more and more libraries were established in municipal or church sponsorship. (fig. 3)

During the Weimar Republic public view focused on the English and American Public–Library–System, which was considered to be exemplary. There, personnel and media equipment, as well as opening hours and societal relevance of the libraries were significantly better than in Germany. However, wishes and reality varied widely. With the inflation crisis in 1923 and the economy crisis in 1929, libraries came under strong economic pressure. Although the demand rose enormously, the number of new acquisitions dropped. (tab. 3)
In 1933 the Nazis took over the public library system promptly. Also, the libraries did not escape racially or politically motivated staff cleansing. May 10, 1933, the day of the book burnings, oppressively proved that books would be given a key role in the education of the German people. Only fundamentalist literature was therefore accepted in the conformist librarianship. World War II led to the destruction of many public libraries and the loss of complete stocks.

Rebuilding of libraries shaped the development after the war. Some libraries were reopened in multi–sites because of Germany’s division in 1949. In the GDR, a new ideology was propagated. After 1949 the socialist state offensively cultivated its self–chosen image as a „country of reading“. Particularly the expansion of those stocks whose authors openly admitted to socialism were supported by the State. In 1950 the “Zentralinstitut für Bibliothekswesen” (Central Institute for librarianship), which was to promote a cooperation between the different institutions, was formed. The GDR remained that „reading country“ until its end, probably also for lack of other leisure activities and in order to bring the world into her house.3 (fig. 3)
In the Federal Republic of Germany the reconstruction of libraries as well as the denazification and internationalization of book collections was launched after the war. Despite its strongly federally structured library landscape operators still payed attention to cooperation. For this purpose, they founded the “Deutsche Bibliotheksinstitut” (German Library Institute) in 1978. Furthermore, a progressive specialization, either within the stocks or through the establishment of special libraries for different user groups and interests, set in.
Currently, German librarianship is characterized by strong changes. The modern media systems, competing with the medium book, demand an opening of the libraries. From 1990 to 2010 the media holdings declined by 20 percent. New use approaches arose through a cross–library, often digital approach (access to databases, etc.), which renders the physical access to certain medias no longer necessary. Furthermore, more and more libraries put greater emphasis on developing into cultural centers, which offer non–librarian events, too.

Fig 3: Libraries – readers in 1.000 and rents in million
Fig 3: Libraries – readers in 1.000 and rents in million

Theatre: From the mirror of a nation to a temple of the muses

During the 19th century the theatre developed from a court theatre to a business theatre. The high theatre concentration because of the German fragmentation was palpably. From 1869 on, theatres were industries, subsequently more and more concessions were provided. The start–ups were partly privately financed, although subsidized municipal or state theatres represented an equally significant portion. However, the theatre was more than just an entertainment medium: depending on political and social will in the course of time, it kept its character as a stimulating diversion, as a place of national education, as peoples’ stage. With the beginning of the 20th century, at first an undiminished sense of modernity and otherness set in, which led to a stormy exchange of styles and an opening up for new groups of visitors.
In the Weimar Republic theatres were increasingly taken over by public authorities. Berlin was considered the theatre metropolis. Since around 1930 the increasing number of cinemas became clearly noticeable, which, between the late 1920s and the middle of the 1930s, resulted in a large decline of theatres and decreasing numbers of seats. (tab. 3)
Under National Socialism the development initially stagnated and even turned into the contrary because the theatre as a place of education became state–protected, brought into line and subjected to propaganda requirements. The subsidies rose. Moreover, large contingents of tickets, firmly bound to organizational and party mass events, were awarded. The strict censorship changed the program. Also – from the start of the war –, operettas and comedies should create distraction. Only in September 1944 operation of all theatres subordinated to the “Reichstheaterkammer” (Reich Theatre Chamber) was stopped.
After the war in the Soviet occupation zone and later in the GDR, the focus was on the production of plays that supported the development of socialism. For this purpose, the rebuilt or newly built stages were heavily subsidized. Prices declined and broadsections of the population turned towards the theatre, which nevertheless had to contend with significant cut–backs caused by the media competition. The number of visitors continuously declined after a climax in 1956 with 17.9 million visitors. The theatre partially established a subtle culture of criticism, which was not always accepted and led to the exodus of many theatre practitioners. The „stage republic”, propagated for the GDR, served the formation of socialist personalities – the very same aim amateur theatre groups and workers’ festival groups were expected to achieve. The success of this effort was limited. (tab. 3, fig. 4)

In the Western occupation zones in the immediate post–war period special attention was paid to rebuilding theatres according to the concept of re–education. Moreover, people were starving for culture; the public taste for traditional, classic plays wanted to be served. The number of visitors increased until 1958, remained more or less stable for almost a decade, before descending slowly at first and fast in the 1980s.
This decline in visitor numbers has continued to the present, even after reunification. Demographic change and the existing diversity of media play a crucial part in it until today. The event–oriented theatres, usually privately operated, notably the musical theatres and the children’s and youth theatres, have experienced a boom in recent years, however.

Table 3: Cinemas, theatres and libraries
Table 3: Cinemas, theatres and libraries
Fig 4: Theatre visits – in million
Fig 4: Theatre visits – in million

Movies: From palaces, shoebox cinemas and multiplex cinemas

It must have been a special moment, when the first German cinema opened in Berlin in 1907. Even before there had been showings of “running pictures” in musical halls and travelling cinemas. At the beginning, the cinemas’ naming and architecture mirrored the culture of the theatre (which was therefore named “movie theatre”). But soon its new character became apparent: The cinema reacted quickly to contemporary taste as well as ideologies and reflected visions of the present and the future. Last but not least, the cinema explicitly served as a means of distraction, however with a serious cover. The first wave of new cinema start–ups hit Germany even before World War I. Visiting the cinema initially meant watching a silent movie, often with the support of acoustics by orchestras and demonstrators. In 1917 the Universum Film AG (Ufa) was founded as the first big German film company.
A short demise of the cinema because of the “Lustbarkeitssteuer” (festivity tax) between 1923 and 1925 only shortly interrupted the triumph of the movie theater, when its numbers fell from 4.017 to 3.428.  tab. 3 In the Weimar Republic, cinema culture had been already established, all the more so when the sound film was established in 1928. This led to the installation of sound film theatres, which had even more seats. In many German cities “cinema palaces” arose.
This boom continued after 1933. Until 1939 the number of cinemas had increased to 6.673. However, this form of culture also was under strong control of the state, employees and content were brought into line in Nazi Germany. During the war many cinemas were destroyed. However, as early as a few months after the war performances started in temporary venues.
The existing cinemas were rebuilt in both parts of Germany from the late 1940s on but especially in the 1950s new buildings were added. From 1945 to 1960 the number of cinemas increased sixfold.
This period also saw the comprehensive introduction of the color film. With new competition from the television – cinema at home – visitor numbers in the Federal Republic declined from 1959 on. Many cinemas were converted in the 1970s: large halls were divided to offer several films simultaneously. „shoebox cinemas“ were formed. (fig. 5)

In the Soviet occupation zone and later in the German Democratic Republic there were special cinemas up to 1955, which solely played Soviet import films, as well as private cinemas until the 1960s. Subsequently, all cinemas were subordinated to the “Kreislichtspielbetriebe” (state-owned cinema company), founded in 1953. The cinemas were supplied by the state-owned “Progress” company. Censorship ensured that only films in conformity with the political system were admitted for performances. Until 1957, the number of admissions had increased continuously, from then on the number decreased. From 1965 on the strong competition of television was significantly noticeable. Between the early 1970s and the early 1980s new performance venues – for example, summer cinemas, tent cinemas or mobile village cinemas and open-air stages – accomplished to keep the number of visitors constant.
From the 1990s, technical innovations led to a further reversal in reunified Germany. „Super wide screen“, „Dolby Surround“ and „THX Sound“ demanded large cinemas. Multiplex cinemas with a comprehensive leisure and catering offer were spreading. It was through this “event culture“ that the cinemas tried to consolidate viewer numbers.

Fig 5: Visits to the cinema – in million
Fig 5: Visits to the cinema – in million

Tourism: From summer retreats to touristic take–off

Essential conditions for tourism are a scheme of paid leave for workers, free time and disposable income. All of this was only given for a small part of the population in the 19th century. Traveling had long been regarded as a private entertainment or an educational undertaking.
At first, the premise of recovery was to restore manpower for the working process. But the rapid technological development promoted tourism: Railway and steamship could transport people quickly, cheaply and in large numbers. In the German Empire, the summer resort became a matter of course for nobles and wealthy bourgeois circles. Thus, at first traditional tourism regions emerged, especially in the Alps and at the North and Baltic Sea.  tab. 4 Around the turn of the century, modest leave arrangements for workers gradually started to gain ground. However, many people still mostly travelled for short periods of time on weekends and bank holidays but, overall, the intensity of travel rose enormously. World War I slowed down the tourist development for the moment.
In the Weimar Republic tourism continued to expand into a mass phenomenon. More and more areas were opened up for public transport, most of the workers could claim leave arrangements for themselves, trade unions and some parties promoted the so–called „social tourism“ for workers and employees. The tourist development remained, however, strongly linked to economic conditions. During the inflation of 1923 the number of guests was 7.3 million – thus significantly below the 1922 figure with 10.3 million. (tab. 5, fig. 6)
In National Socialism, travelling was politically instrumentalized and regulated. The “1000–Mark–Sperre” (Thousand–Mark–Ban), an economic sanction against Austria between 1933 and 1936, for example, should weaken the Austrian tourism economy in favor of the German. This is reflected by strong increases in guest numbers in Bad Reichenhall, where 158.000 guests in 1933 face 283.000 guests in 1937. (tab. 4)

In the wake of a propaganda-bound social policy travelling continued to become a – self–intensifying – mass phenomenon. The number of overnight stays in Germany rose from 49.2 million in 1932 to 114.8 million in 1938. (tab. 5)

Also, Nazi organizations contributed to this development – in particular “Kraft durch Freude” (KdF, “Strength through Joy”, state–operated workers’ association), which allowed loyal workers and employees domestic and foreign travels at affordable prices. Due to the war touristic supply and demand fell off sharply. (tab. 5)

Immediately after the war the rise of tourism continued. It became even more dynamic. During the “economic miracle” of the 1950s and 1960s, tourism development was referred to as a major wave of travellers or a „touristic take–off“. This is reflected in the rising number of beds between 1952 and 1966 by 175 percent. With rapid private motorization individual travel rose. But also the interest in and the purchasing power for organized trips increased.

Table 4: Tourism (1)
Table 4: Tourism (1)

Table 5: Tourism (2)
Table 5: Tourism (2)
Table 6: Tourism in the GDR
Table 6: Tourism in the GDR
Fig. 6: Guest reports – in million
Fig. 6: Guest reports – in million

The prototype of package tourism evolved: standardized, in series and distributed en masse. Alongside the domestic traditional places distant destinations became increasingly sought after. The upheavals of the 1970s could only briefly break the continuous growth – especially in travel transport –. The intensity of travel and hence the overnight figures continued to rise, however since the 1980s no longer primarily domestically.

Tourism in East Germany took place under entirely different circumstances. Domestically, travel intensity significantly increased with the help of the dominant, state–organized and highly subsidized tourism, while most foreign destinations were blocked for GDR citizens. Nevertheless, similar significant developments in tourism in the second half of the 20th century were also noticeable in the GDR – e.g. the reconstruction of touristic structures after the war and the tourist take–off in the 1950s and 1960s. The detectable but statistically non–reliable internationalization of tourist flows, especially increasing foreign travel of GDR citizens, mostly towards the so–called „socialist sister countries“, is not visible in the table. (tab. 6)

In unified Germany, a strong differentiation has been visible in recent years: Conditioned by several factors, especially the globalization of politics, economy and society, tourism has been changing: Growing individualization has been expanding the offerings. Within Germany there are still particularly popular destinations but not every traditional domestic destination was able to strengthen or expand its tourist demand – reflected in numbers of guests and over–night stays. However, incoming tourism shows that Germany is a popular tourist destination, which has managed to significantly enhance its appeal in recent years. The overnight figures and guest reports from abroad nearly doubled from 1966 to 2011. (tab. 4, tab. 5)