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An office or Contor (of French comptoir "pay table" in German post Comtoir ) was in the late Middle Ages , a subsidiary of Hanseatic merchants in foreign countries and is an obsolete term for the office and the branches of banks.

Hanseatic office building in Antwerp
Clerks or clerks at work in 1894


Kontors formed a (merchant) town within the town and at the beginning had their own jurisdiction . The merchants of an office elected so-called elder men (also comes hansae , Oldermann or Aldermann ), who supervised the merchants gathered in the office. Later, Lübeck in particular regulated the statutes and regulations in the offices.

In addition to numerous other trading branches (the so-called factories ), the Hanseatic League owned four offices. These were the Hansekontor in Bruges , Bergen ( Tyske Brygge ), Novgorod ( Peterhof ) and London ( Stalhof ). The Novgorod Schra is the only completely preserved collection of regulations on the internal order of one of the four Hanseatic offices.


The term office has only been used since the 16th century . Before that there was talk of house or farm . For example, the office in Novgorod is called Peterhof . Until around 1700, Kumthor referred to the merchant's writing furniture in Lower Germany, not a room. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the term was often used by merchants for offices and business rooms. Those employed with the office or office work were also known as clerks or clerks . Even today, traditional businesses use the designation Kontor. Frequent headquarters of these companies are the old Hanseatic cities . The merchant's office was often together with his warehouse and living quarters under one roof. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that buildings that were used exclusively for offices , especially office buildings, began to appear . In Hamburg emerged 1886-1938 hundreds of office buildings , essentially similar types, with a uniform function.

In Danish , Norwegian and Swedish “office” is still called kontor today , in Indonesian it is called kantor (adopted during the Dutch colonial period ), and in Dutch and Low German an office is still called kantoor or kuntoor . In Polish , an exchange office is called a cantor .

The trading office as a workplace

The trading office was “integrated into the traditional spatial organization and the diverse social structure of the patriarchal household up to the middle of the 19th century.” With the expansion of the “Zollverein”, free trade economic policy rose, especially in the 1850s. “The expansion of regional economic policy to supraregional and international trade interdependencies as well as the increase in monetary transactions and investment capital are now also accelerating the growth and expansion of trading companies. Large offices with more than 10 sales assistants (note: up until then the merchant had an average of one to three employees) are no longer the exception until the post-revolutionary years. With the enlargement of the offices and the increase in the number of office staff, there is a greater differentiation according to hierarchy and function within the patriarchal household of merchants, analogous to the processes of specialization of the bourgeois-industrial development as a whole ”(Fritz p. 69). “The positional differentiation of the office staff and the associated income and power inequalities are visible to all through the hierarchization of the spatial and object structure in the office. The principal's private cabinet is now separated from the other office rooms. Even the dispatcher and the senior clerks have their own room in some merchants' houses. The gradual separation between managerial and executive activities is slowly becoming apparent in the increase and differentiation of office space. If you find a principal, accountant, a clerk and the apprentice working together in the one room called the office or com (p) toir in the smaller companies, in the larger companies there is a second next to the first. "(Fritz S. 69) “In the general work room 10 to 15 clerks sit at their desks. Large and small desks, extensive and cramped workplaces, directly at the window or in the darker corners of the work rooms, single or double desks, work areas shielded from other clerks by railings, storage tables and visitor chairs, armchairs or racks and the various dispositions of others Work equipment characterizes the hierarchical structure of the office rooms. ”(Fritz p. 69)“ The spatial privileges are always characterized by a shielded separation from the other spatial-social interrelationships. The more shielded and hidden a workplace is, the higher its prestige value. "(Fritz p. 69)

Advertisement for Ph. O. Besenbruch, 1904


  • Ernst Schubert : Novgorod, Bruges, Bergen and London: The Hanse offices. In: Concilium Medii Aevi . 5, 2002, pp. 1-50 ( PDF; 296 kB ).
  • Soewojo Wojowasito: Kamus Umum Lengkap, Inggeris – Indonesia, Indonesia – Inggeris: Dengan ejaan yang disempurnakan . Angkasa Offset, Bandung, 1982. p. 221
  • Langenscheidt's pocket dictionary, Dutch - German . 6th edition, 1965, p. 188

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Individual evidence

  1. Ernst Grohne : Cultural history from old Bremen town houses. In: Bremisches Jahrbuch 37, 1937, p. 98.
  2. ^ Hans-Joachim Fritz : People in office work rooms. On long-term structural changes in office working conditions with a comparison of small and open-plan offices, Munich 1982 (therein pages 69– [79]: "The trading office of the 19th century")