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Analysis 3/2019: The Myth of German Deglomeration

Germany is presented in the Polish public debate as a country which has successfully carried out deglomeration in the sense of dispersing the headquarters of central offices across the country and has thus achieved a balanced rate of development of cities of all sizes - without the uncontrolled growth of large cities and the depopulation of small towns. Such a picture is untrue.

  • In Germany, the largest cities grow the fastest, while small towns are depopulated. Between 2000 and 2016, functional urban areas (city and commuting area) of more than 400,000 inhabitants grew by 1.2 million people in Germany, despite the individual depopulation of large urban centres such as the Ruhr and Dresden mining areas in eastern Germany. At the same time, urban areas with a population of 250,000-399,000 shrank by 0.4 million inhabitants.
  • The German settlement system is unique in Europe, but this is not the result of a deliberate policy of the authorities, but first of all the late reunification of Germany in the 19th century, when the Länder were already relatively urbanised, and then the division of the country between east and west after the Second World War. After the war, West Berlin was cut off from the rest of West Germany, thus losing its political and economic functions. Before the war, for example, Berlin Airport was the largest air hub in Western Europe. After the war, however, the hub moved to Frankfurt, where, at that time, the American army created its main air base in Europe. Today Germany is the only country in Western Europe where the largest airport is not located in the largest city. After German reunification, relocating the air hub back to Berlin was too expensive because of the costs already incurred in Frankfurt, which had to be met again in Berlin. Similarly, after the war, the banking sector moved from Berlin to Frankfurt, the insurance and industrial processing industry to Munich and the publishing industry to Hamburg.
  • Employment in the public sector rarely has a significant positive impact on employment in the private sector. Even moving the capital from Berlin to Bonn had much less impact on local employment than locating private industry. Moreover, in 1988, Bonn had lower average labour productivity than other comparable German cities.


Rafał Trzeciakowski, economist

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