Karl Marx came from a Jewish family with branches all over Europe: one grandfather was Hungarian, the other Bohemian. One grandmother had roots in what is now Ukraine, and the other was a rich Amsterdam merchant's daughter. His father was French, his mother Dutch, and Karl Marx was born a Prussian. When he was barely a year old, his father bought the house at 6 Simeonstrasse, where Karl Marx lived for 15 years, taking his Abitur in Trier and then going to study in Bonn.
After Trier had been under French rule from 1794 to 1814 and had benefited from numerous infrastructure measures, the city fell to the Kingdom of Prussia. This cut it off from its traditional sales markets. In addition, the people of Trier suffered from the lack of investment and the levying of a tax on grinding and slaughtering; about 80 % lived at or below the poverty line. The situation was also aggravated by the fact that the Prussians abolished the centuries-old right of citizens to collect firewood in the forests and took rigorous action against violators. At times, several hundred citizens sat in the overcrowded prison.
The attitude of the educated middle classes, who in Trier were influenced by the Enlightenment and the ideas of the French Revolution, also contributed to the tensions between the people of Trier and the Prussians. This included the Marxens and the von Westphalens, the parents of his later wife Jenny. This bourgeoisie was also characterised by liberal thinking, multilingualism and a high level of education.
In addition to this, there were the people of Trier.
In addition, there were religious differences: The people of Trier were almost 100% Catholic except for the small Jewish minority, which made up 1% of the population, whereas the Prussians were Protestant. Karl Marx therefore knew Judaism through his origins (his father converted to Protestantism along with the family for professional reasons), and as a Trier native he was also familiar with Catholicism.
So he already got to know progressive thinking through his family (and school) environment as well as deep poverty in Trier - not only later in Berlin or in London.
Author: Prof. Dr. Frank G. Hirschmann
Editorial staff: Prof. Dr. Frank G. Hirschmann