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Gründerzeit building by Arwed Roßbach in Leipzig (1892)

The Gründerzeit (German, literally: the Founding Epoch) denotes the first decades after the foundation in 1871 of the Prussia-led German Empire. As a design style it was succeeded by the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) (1895–1914).

In the mindset of the Germans, the epoch is distinguished by Kaiser Wilhelm I and Chancellor Bismarck, but it didn't end with them (in 1888/1890) but continued well into the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was the Golden Age of Germany, when the disasters of the Thirty Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars were remedied, German scientists were developing new technologies faster than anyone else, German industrialists were developing new methods and products that no other nation could compete with, and German merchants were once again taking over market after market around the world. This was the time when particularly the German middle class rapidly increased their standard of living, buying modern furniture and kitchen fittings and household machines, of a standard that wasn't to be outshone for generations.

The social working of Industrialization was the same as elsewhere: Increased agricultural efficiency and introduction of new agricultural machines led to a polarized distribution of income on the countryside. The landowners gained to the disadvantage of the agrarian propertyless working force. Emigration, most of all to America, and urbanization were the unavoidable outcomes.

Typical Aachen street with early 20th century Gründerzeit houses

In the rapidly growing industrial cities, new workmen's dwellings were erected, that already contemporary physicians denounced as unhealthy: "without light, air and sun", quite contrary to the then ruling ideas on town planning. The blame for a marked increase in tuberculosis, spread also to wealthier neighborhoods, came to a great deal to be put on the dark cramped flats.

However, also the working class saw improvements of living standard and other conditions, for instance social security through laws on workers' health insurance and accident insurance introduced by Bismarck in 1883/1884, and in the long run also through the foundation of a Social Democracy that would remain the model for the European sister parties until Hitler's Machtübernahme in 1933.