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Culture in small towns

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Source: Jan Genge/Unsplash

More than a third of all cultural institutions in Germany are located in small towns, which thus provide an important part of the services of general interest for almost 30 percent of the population. However, there is a clear south-north divide, as maps of Germany in the National Atlas of the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography show.

The highest density of culturally comparatively well-equipped small towns is found in the rural regions of Bavaria and in the urban areas of Baden-Württemberg. In northern, eastern and western Germany, on the other hand, there are only a few small towns with cultural diversity. Municipalities with 5,000 to 20,000 inhabitants or at least a basic central function were taken into account.

Madeleine Wagner from the University of Heidelberg and Christoph Mager from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology see one reason for the uneven distribution in the regionally varying accessibility of larger centres. Country-specific political decisions on the designation of “Zentrale Orte” (central places) in rural areas and the financial support of cultural institutions also play a role. In addition, local and regional reforms, especially in eastern Germany, have led to numerous mergers and closures of cultural institutions.

The authors of the latest contribution to the National Atlas identified libraries, museums, adult education centres, music schools and cinemas as basic cultural facilities. Four-fifths of the small towns with at least five different sections have one of the facilities mentioned, and 40 of the 70 small towns even have all five sections. Youth art schools, art associations and especially theatres are only occasionally found in small towns.

The evaluation is based on data for 2017, which, as the authors point out, does not provide any information on the cultural work actually carried out, the staff, the size and catchment areas of the institutions, or the visitor numbers and their composition.

Original publication

Wagner, Madeleine and Christoph Mager (2021): Small towns, no cultural facilities? In: Nationalatlas aktuell 15 (10.2021) 6 [08.10.2021]. Leipzig: Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (IfL). URL:

Scientific contact persons

Madeleine Wagner
University of Heidelberg, Institute of Geography

Dr. Christoph Mager
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Geography and Geoecology