Middle-Class Morals Make a Comeback in Germany | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 04.05.2006
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Middle-Class Morals Make a Comeback in Germany

The new conservatism is a topic that regularly features in the lifestyle pages of Germany's newspapers. Rebellion is out, and bourgeois living is in. Is it a sign of the times?


Young people these days.....

Fashion magazines might be busy hailing the new ladylike chic, but judging by Berlin's hippest neighborhoods, not everyone has caught on to the trend yet. The capital hasn't quite given up its love-affair with dressed-down grunge, with the prim looks that have been dominating the catwalks for the last few seasons still resolutely restricted to the government district, if anywhere.

But there is some evidence of a changing mood in a city famed for its anti-authoritarian cool. Experts, however, say that technically speaking, the bourgeoisie no longer exists in Germany.

Junges Paar unterwegs in einem offenen Mercedes SLK Cabrio

When times are tough, material values matter more than ever

"Bourgeois elements of society disappeared after World War II and were taken up by the middle class," said trend scout Peter Wippermann. "Bourgeois values have been pushed in the last two or three years as a new lifestyle. Trends which are rooted in the bourgeois era have been re-examined and re-interpreted."

A retreat from eco n omic gloom

Trend scouts and marketing experts say the renaissance of bourgeois styles has primarily economic roots. With unemployment rife, the renewed popularity of fine silverware and expensive home furnishings reflects a desire to seek comfort in cozy, old-fashioned living.

In what could be seen as a similar retreat from the harsh reality of contemporary life, courses in etiquette and ballroom dancing are suddenly in demand, while increasingly urgent calls for more elite schools suggest that people are tired of being egalitarian and dreaming of position and privilege.

Chaostage in München?

The face of the past

But what's driving this new interest in bourgeois values? Is it all just a retro fad? An affirmation of neo-conservatism -- or a longing for orientation in times of social and economic uncertainty?

"Behind it all there's a well-founded fear of decline by the middle class," said Jens Jessen, a journalist with the weekly Die Zeit. "Whenever people fear decline, they try to acquire as many attributes as they can to define themselves in society. The focus is of course not on
decline, but rather on background. So people are acquiring things that they previously thought of as unnecessary."

He also suspects bourgeois habits have reappeared as a way for people to set themselves apart from others.

"I'd say bourgeois values have simply become a lifestyle choice," Wippermann said. "It's not about labeling in the traditional sociological sense, but the fact is, we're developing a class-oriented society whose divisions will grow in the future."

Politically loaded

But there's another, more politically charged dimension to the debate.

The more reactionary commentators interpret the revival of bourgeois tastes as a celebration of old-school virtues, and are keen to see this translated into a political agenda.


Volunteering as an old-fashioned value

Emphasizing traditional values such as discipline and community spirit, many Conservatives are calling for a more civic-minded society in Germany -- one in which people get involved and take on more responsibility in the form of volunteer work and community service projects. Given the state of the nation, it's a proposal that makes sense.

"Looking for a reason for this debate leads us to a depressing answer - the government's financial woes, " Jessen said. "We can no longer afford the generous social benefits that used to be thought of as a right. And they might be more drastically cut. A new outlook is needed, and it has to be drawn from traditional ideas about self-reliance."

Whatever the reasons, bourgeois values, once declared dead, have been reborn. Whether the phenomenon is simply a lifestyle trend or an evolving political movement, talk about a new bourgeois mentality seems to reflect a growing unease and fears that tougher times lie ahead.

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