Grunderzeit was the economic phase in 19th century Germany and Austria before the great stock market crash of 1873. At this time in Central Europe the age of industrialisation was taking place, whose beginnings were found in the 1840s. No precise time for this phase can be given, but in Austria the March Revolution of 1848 is generally accepted as the beginning for economic changes, in contrast to political reforms. In Germany, as a consequence of the large influx of capital resulting from French war reparations from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, and the subsequent German Unification, there followed an economic boom, giving rise to the description of these years as the "founding years."
In the mindset of many Germans, the epoch is intrinsically linked with Kaiser Wilhelm I and Chancellor Bismarck, but it did not end with them (in 1888/1890) but continued well into the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was a Golden Age for Germany, when the disasters of the Thirty Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars were remedied, and the country competed internationally on a world-class level in the domains of science, technology, industry and commerce. This was the time when particularly the German middle class rapidly increased their standard of living, buying modern furniture, kitchen fittings and household machines.
The need for housing rose in consequence of industrialisation. Complete housing developments in the so-called Founding Epoch Architecture style - Grunderzeit - arose in previously green fields, and even today in Central European cities large numbers of buildings from this time can be found together along one single road or even in complete districts. These 4- to 6-story buildings, often constructed by private property developers, often sported richly decorated facades in the form of Historicism such as Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, German Renaissance and Baroque Revival. The span of construction served not only for magnificent palaces for nouveau-riche citizens, but also the construction of infamous rental ghettos for the expanding urban lower classes.
This phase was important also for the integration of new technologies in architecture and design. A determining factor was the development of new processes in producing steel (Bessemer process) which made possible the construction of steel facades. A classical example of this new form is found in the steel and glass construction of the Crystal Palace, completed in 1851, revolutionary for the time and an inspiration for future decades.
Grunderzeit in Gorlitz
Gorlitz is currently one of the few German cities with such a huge variety of late XIX century houses. As the entire city has luckily survived the IIWW and its urban substance was untouched, it is currently a real open air museum of grunderzeit architecture in many shapes and forms. Grunderzeit buildings can be found almost nook and cranny and most of them are perfectly renovated. Gorlitz proud of its cultural herigate, gives us just a small sample of how Berlin, Dresden or Breslau, heavily destroyed in 1945, could look like at the beginning of XX century.