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View into an upper-class salon (around 1895)

Upper citizens were citizens of a city who had acquired the great citizenship of the city.

Today, those circles are usually referred to as "upper class", to which one only attaches great wealth. In this respect, the concept of the upper bourgeoisie is similar to that of the patrician , who no longer only refers to patrician families, but also applies to families that have gained importance in the history of a particular city.

Acquisition of upper citizenship

The right of upper citizenship, like civil rights, was acquired for a fee. Citizens 'money had to be paid, which was a multiple of the normal citizens' money to acquire citizenship. Upper citizenship was - at least in Hamburg - hereditary in the male line .

Legal nature of upper citizenship

It is controversial whether the right of upper citizenship in the strict sense of the word is a legally different civil status from the so-called minor or normal citizenship or whether it is merely a trade license . For anyone who wanted to trade on a large scale in the cities required great civil rights. Things were different in Hamburg:

“In Hamburg, a very precise distinction was made between the major and minor civil rights, and only those who, thanks to their economic circumstances, were able to acquire the major civil rights had unrestricted freedom of trade and business and were allowed to sit in the Senate, the citizenship and other offices be elected - and there were only a few. The wealthy wholesalers set the tone in the Hanseatic cities. "

“They secured the power of their class and their class at their own disposal, distinguished themselves in rank and habitus from the small merchants, the 'shopkeepers', and viewed themselves with some right to be the rulers of their city.”


Upper citizens were regularly citizens of a city beforehand . As citizens of the upper class, they had further privileges in addition to the general powers of a citizen. An example of this was the right to long-distance trade and the free hunting right otherwise reserved for the nobility . As a special further expression in Hamburg, the upper-class citizen was allowed to maintain bank accounts in contrast to the ordinary citizen .

Social position

Sociologically , upper class citizens and city citizens can be distinguished. The citizen who achieved the great citizenship had regularly already achieved a certain level of prosperity , which enabled him to pay the increased citizen money . He will have regularly drawn further prosperity from the wholesale trade made possible by the large bourgeoisie . Thus, from the different deals that were possible for the citizens on the one hand and the upper bourgeoisie on the other, a progressive differentiation according to diverging economic possibilities followed.

As a result of his prosperity, the upper-class citizen was able to lead an “upper-class lifestyle ” that served not least for representation , that is, a lavish life with town and country houses, staff and social events. His financial possibilities on the one hand and the decline of the country nobility on the other hand enabled the upper class to acquire aristocratic country estates. In general, the way of life of the bourgeoisie and the lower nobility largely converged in this class . Often the endeavor to acquire aristocratic property was also associated with the endeavor to be ennobled oneself . In this respect, the Hamburg residents are an exception, for whom the acceptance of nobility titles was frowned upon well into the second half of the 19th century.

Social differentiation

The "Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg " is an example of the social differentiation that has arisen over time due to the various civil rights . Hamburg has always been a purely bourgeois city in which the nobility were not allowed to have any rights. Originally, it was a tried and tested means of preventing possible conflicts with the nobles and their masters in the outskirts of the city from the outset . In the course of time, the distance to the nobility and order became part of the Hanseatic character of Hamburg. One effect of this principle was, for example, that citizens who, regardless of this basic consensus, accepted foreign status surveys , were no longer allowed to hold honorary posts in the city . From the second half of the 19th century onwards, this led to citizens who did not want to be elected to municipal offices, fled to the ennoblement, because taking on municipal honorary offices was linked to the task of commercial activity. An election office could not be refused. The refusal to accept the office was coupled with the compulsion to leave the city. The bourgeoisie of the city went so far that the commander-in-chief of the military was only allowed to hold the rank of colonel , because the citizens of the city did not want any higher military ranks with their claim to social validity in the city.

Regardless of this, at first glance, egalitarian approach, Hamburg was in fact an unequal society of the sharpest variety. Strict attention was paid to such. B. in marriage that “the three classes : the trading nobility, the wealthy industrialist or small merchant and the plebs were strictly separated”.

Different states, different developments

The development in other countries is not identical to the development in Germany . In southern Europe , the nobility, which had become resident again, played a considerable role in trade and commerce , especially in the Italian nobility .

In England , the younger aristocratic sons trained the middle class with the gentry , the rural upper bourgeoisie and the urban bourgeoisie .

Upper bourgeoisie as bourgeoisie

The French class term " bourgeois " was already used negatively by Diderot . According to Karl Marx , the bourgeoisie defined as the capitalist bourgeoisie is that of the two basic classes of the bourgeoisie (upper middle class) and the proletariat (= dependent workers ) that rule under capitalism . Historically, it developed from the 3rd class of feudal society ( craftsmen , traders , free and land-owning large farmers ). After Marx, some of the craftsmen became factory owners . After the replacement of feudalism by capitalism, the capitalists meant by the bourgeoisie exploit the working class (the proletariat). While citoyen is understood to mean the emancipatory bourgeoisie of the French Revolution, bourgeoisie or juste milieu means the bourgeoisie as a ruling body.

Decline of the upper bourgeoisie

Two world wars and the world economic crisis between the wars as well as advancing industrialism - as a departure from the individualistic economic style of the bourgeois entrepreneur - and the associated process of concentration in the economy have destroyed the economic foundations of the upper class to such an extent that it no longer exists as a socially distinguishable group , as a milieu still exists today (2007). The upper bourgeois lifestyle can still be found today in particular among industrial families who were able to preserve their wealth, although this class, as it regularly emerged from the craftsman class, did not belong to the upper middle class in the narrower sense and was ostracized by the upper bourgeoisie, who saw themselves as the trading nobility.

The modern welfare state with its leveling function and high taxation , combined with the striving of many women for self-fulfillment in their employment as well as the replacement of patronage and charitable work by individuals through public action or that of companies, is another reason for the reluctance of the "upper-class" way of life which generally presupposes:

In the second half of the 20th century, the forms of the dignified bourgeoisie were gradually abandoned because they were perceived as no longer up-to-date in a society geared towards an average style . Following the 1968 movement, this development radicalized to a more or less conscious anti-bourgeoisie, when various new social movements set the tone for society, while many (new) rich took refuge in the detached lifestyle of the jet set . Around the year 2000 the trend then moved towards Bobo existence, the lifestyle of the new elites of the information age, which “brings together what was previously considered incompatible: wealth and rebellion, professional success and non-conformist attitudes, the thinking of the hippies and the entrepreneurial spirit the yuppies . The ' bourgeois bohemian ' is a new type who lives idealistically, cultivates a gentle materialism , is correct and creative at the same time. ”( David Brooks , Bobos in Paradise , 2000)

The undiminished attractiveness of upper-class attributes - without, however, being accompanied by an upper-class lifestyle in the true sense of the word - is evidence of the efforts of newly ascended members of society to imitate individual upper-class elements of life.

Upper bourgeois genders

Families who have acquired hereditary upper citizenship in a Free Imperial City include:


  • D. Augustine: Patricians and Parvenues. Wealth and High Society in Wilhelmine Germany. Oxford 1994 (English).
  • D. Blackbourn, RJ Evans (Eds.): The German Bourgeoisie. London 1991 (English).
  • Michael Hartmann : The myth of the performance elite . Frankfurt am Main, New York 2002.
  • Oskar Köhler : Citizens, bourgeoisie. In: Staatslexikon. Volume 1. Freiburg im Breisgau 1985, ISBN 3-451-19301-9 , Col. 1040 ff. (With further references).
  • Michel Pinçon, Monique Pinçon-Charlot: Voyage en grande bourgeoisie. In: Journal d'enquête. Paris 2002 (French).
  • Reinhard Rürup : Upper Jewish bourgeoisie at the end of the 18th century. In: Rüdiger Hohls, Iris Schröder, Hannes Siegrist (eds.): Europe and the Europeans. Sources and essays on modern European history. Stuttgart 2005, pp. 134-138.
  • Dieter Ziegler (Ed.): Citizens and entrepreneurs. 2000, ISBN 352535682X ( excerpts from Google books ).

See also

Web links


  1. Matthias Wegner: Hanseaten , Berlin 1999, p. 34: “In Hamburg, a very precise distinction was made between the major and minor citizenship, and only those who, thanks to their economic circumstances, were able to acquire the major citizenship had unrestricted commercial rights. and freedom of trade, could be elected to the Senate, the citizenship and other offices - and that was only a few. " ; Robert Steimel: Versippt with Cologne Volume II, Introduction
  2. ^ H. Pesch: Citizens and Citizenship in Cologne , Marburg 1908, p. 35
  3. ^ Matthias Wegner: Hanseaten , Berlin 1999, p. 34
  4. Wegner, p. 35
  5. Meyer's Conversations-Lexicon, 1840ff, 14th volume, p. 922: There was “ an old-fashioned Oberservanz in relation to the strictest separation of the various classes ... where the three classes: the commercial aristocracy, the wealthy industrialist or small merchant and the plebs were severely separated ”.