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The Consuming TempleJews, Department Stores, and the Consumer Revolution in Germany, 1880-1940$
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Paul Lerner

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780801452864

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801452864.001.0001

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The Consuming Fire

The Consuming Fire

Fantasies of Destruction in German Politics and Culture

(p.179) 5 The Consuming Fire
The Consuming Temple

Paul Lerner

Cornell University Press

This chapter turns to the problem of violence, both real and imagined, toward and within department stores, from early riots and opposition through the actions of Brownshirt thugs in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It focuses above all on the department store fire, a preoccupation among turn-of-the-century agitators and a leitmotif in fictional representations. Voicing concern with fire safety was, on one level, simply one among many strategies by shopkeeper activists for curbing the growth of department stores in German cities. However, the ubiquity of the destructive fire as a motif signifies the explosiveness of the German encounter with consumer culture and the wonders of modernity. The fire also brings to the fore the invisible violence veiled behind the process of mass production. Moreover, the department store fire operates on a religious level, functioning as a symbolic purging of the Jewish temple of commerce from the modern cityscape. It thus resolves the contradictions and tensions around consumer society by doing away with the provocation of the Jewish department store, an alluring destination to be sure, but ultimately, in the eyes of its detractors, a false idol.

Keywords:   department stores, Germany, fires, fire safety, consumer culture, modernity

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