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Commuting - Separation of Residence and Workplace

A contribution to the Atlas Bundesrepublik Deutschland


Klaus Spiekermann

Before industrialisation residences and workplaces were located close to each other. Only in larger cities with spatial concentrations of crafts, trade and administration a sizeable number of people commuted from suburbs or rural areas to their workplaces in the city centre. The number of commuters significantly increased during industrialisation. At the beginning of this century commuting had become commonplace in large cities; since then it has continually increased.

The reasons for the growth of commuting are the spatial separation of residences and workplaces enforced by the locational requirements of industry and services and the development of monofunctional residential areas at the outskirts of cities. The spatial separation of functions in conurbations was made possible by the development of transport systems. At first longer work trips became feasible by the expansion of public transport. Since the 1950s growing car ownership has resulted in households choosing their residence almost regardless of the location of their workplace. In 1950 only 14.5 percent of all work trips crossed municipal boundaries; by 1987 this share had grown to 36.8 percent. At the same time the average distance per work trip had grown, too.

With the size of a city the balance of incommuters v. outcommuters grows. Especially the central cities of large conurbations have much more incommuters than outcommuters. They tend to have a wide hinterland without other large employment centres. At the same time they are important service centres with a large supply of white-collar service jobs.

In a contribution for a pilot volume of the Atlas Bundesrepublik Deutschland published by the Institut für Länderkunde in Leipzig work trip flows in Germany were analysed and visualised in three-dimensional surfaces.

The three-dimensional surface below shows corridors of work trips crossing county boundaries in Germany.

Work trips in Germany

Work trips within one district were not considered. The elevation of the surface at a location represents the number of work trips passing through that location. Despite the suburbanisation of workplaces the large cities have retained their dominant position as work trip destinations. In addition many medium-sized towns become apparent as secondary employment centres. Within conurbations different work trip patterns can be identified:


  • In mono-centred city regions like Hamburg or Munich and in most medium-sized towns work trips point from the suburbs to the city centres.
  • In polycentric city regions like Frankfurt additional work trip destinations with significant numbers of jobs become visible besides the still dominant city centre.
  • In more dispersed city regions like the Ruhr hardly any hierarchical work trip pattern can be detected.


Lesser corridors between some of the largest cities show the phenomenon of weekend commuters. For instance, their number between Hamburg and Berlin is about 2,500 and between Munich and Frankfurt about 1,600. Additional weekend commuters live in smaller communities around these cities. For an analysis of intraregional work trip patterns and the analytical method applied see Pooling Potential of Work Trips.


Spiekermann, Klaus (1997): 'Berufspendler - Die Trennung von Wohn- und Arbeitsort'. In: Institut für Länderkunde (Hg.): Atlas Bundesrepublik Deutschland - Pilotband Leipzig, 92-93. © 1997 Klaus Spiekermann, IRPUD