Danzig -- Social Structure

The population of Danzig was unusually diverse. The ruling class comprised those of German extraction, largely Protestant. Most of the laborers were Polish and largely Catholic, as were Polish aristocracy in and outside the city gates. In addition, although city ordinances did not allow it, other minorities resided within the city walls. In difficult economic times, or for political or religious reasons, rival entities applied pressure on the City Council to expell Jews or Scots or Mennonites or Pietists. Theoretically, for instance, the English were not allowed to own property in the city, but some did. Full citizenship in the 16th and early 17th centuries was only granted to Catholics, Calvinists or Lutherans; later only to Catholics and Lutherans. The wealthier citizens lived in the section of town called the Rechtstadt (Main Town), and many owned houses with gardens outside the city as well. There the homes had roomy foyers, second stories, were surrounded by gardens with fountains, terraces and statuary. These were connected by interlacing networks of tree-lined roads. The patricians were a rather well-defined entity of a small number of interrelated families.

A number of villages flourished just outside the city gates. In order to practice crafts in these a person did not need to apply for Danzig citizenship, pay guild fees, produce the costly guild "masterpiece", or pay city taxes. Crafts flourished especially in the village of Alt-Schottland [image Alt-Schottland] where line-drapers, tailors, butchers, bakers, leather and metal workers lived. The Mennonites there were known for haberdashery and the distillation of vodka (the Danziger Goldwasser). They also produced luxury cloths and fine leather goods in the soft, Spanish tradition.

In order to communicate with trade partners, laborers, or Polish nobility German-speakers virtually had to learn Polish. Sons of patricians were sometimes sent to Polish villages to learn Polish well before they began their studies. Reports from the 17th century suggest that the patrician class was fluent in Latin (at least the men) and French. In addition to private schools there were schools in French, Polish or Dutch.

[Edmund Cieslak and Czeslaw Biernat. History of Gdansk. trs. by Bozenna Blaim and George M. Hyde. Gdansk: Fundacju Biblioteki Gdanskiej, 1995.]