The Weimar Republic, 1918-29
This section provides Edexcel GCSE History revision resources for The Weimar Republic
This section is part of Weimar and Nazi Germany, 1918-39
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|Chapter 1 Contents|
The Weimar Republic 1918-29
The legacy of the first world war
The first world war started in August 1914 and split Europe into two.
On one side you had the allied forces consisting of Britain, France and Russia while the other side consisted of the central powers Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey.
The USA joined the allied forces in April 1917 and by autumn 1918, Germany had been pushed back on the Western Front in France.
The British had also built a naval blockade which resulted in food shortages for the German people which meant defeat was fast approaching.
Prince Max of Baden formed and led a new government in early October 1918.
This government included members of the Reichstag (parliament) and was Germany’s first parliamentary cabinet.
This meant for the first time, the government was now accountable to parliament rather than the emperor (Kaiser).
Before this happened, the Kaiser had complete control over the army and navy as well as parliament.
The abdication of the Kaiser, the armistice and revolution 1918-19
With defeat looming, Prince Max approached US President Woodrow Wilson about ending the war.
Wilson refused to discuss peace terms with Germany unless the Kaiser and military advisers relinquished control.
By the end of October 1918, the German navy mutinied.
The Kiel Mutiny happened as sailors at Kiel refused to attack the British Navy believing such an act risked derailing the ceasefire talks. This resulted in unrest spreading across Germany.
By November 9th 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm realised he had little support and decided to abdicate.
Two days later, Friedrich Ebert, the Chancellor of the newly declared German Republic accepted the Armistice based on President Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points.
The photograph to the right was taken straight after the signing of The 1918 Armistice that ended World War 1.
The railway carriage pictured is Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch’s railway carriage and the location is the Forest of Compiegne. Foch is pictured second from the right.
Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points
Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points were a statement of principles for peace negotiations after the ending of the First World War by US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson.
The 14 points were used in the Treaty of Versailles and were originally outlined in Wilson’s speech on January 8th 1918.
Wilson’s 14 Points were:
The setting up of the Weimar Republic
Kaiser Wilhelm had abdicated on November 9th 1918 and a new constitution needed to be drawn up to turn Germany into a democratic Republic. This was the first time in Germany’s history it had experienced a democracy.
At first, people believed Germany could accept a new democratic constitution, but the challenges the Republic would go on to face would see chaos, violence and economic instability which would pave the way for Hitler to come in later and bring this into question.
At the signing of the 1918 Armistice, Friedrich Ebert accepted Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points and announced there would be elections for a Constituent Assembly on January 19th 1919.
The final weeks of 1918 saw huge upheaval and there were attacks on the new government from the left-wing and right-wing.
After the elections for the Constituent Assembly had taken place, it was believed Berlin was too dangerous a place for the members to meet.
It was decided that members would meet at the peaceful town of Weimar, which is where the Republic got its eventual name.
The January elections took place and what the results showed (table below) was there was no clear winner with no single party with a majority.
The table below gives you a breakdown of the party and the number of seats they held.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) had the most votes but it wasn’t enough to secure a majority.
To address this, a coalition government had to be formed and these became a feature of the Weimar Republic.
The Assembly chose Friedrich Ebert to be the new president and he chose Philipp Scheidemann (also of the SDP) to be the Chancellor.
As they lacked a majority, Scheidemann formed a coalition with the German Democratic Party (DDP) and the Catholic Centre Party (ZP).
The members of Assembly (pictured above) had two key tasks; To draw up a constitution and to formulate a peace treaty with the Allies.
|Party||No. of seats won|
|Social Democratic Party (SDP)||163|
|German Democratic Party (DDP)||75|
|Centre Party (ZP)||71|
|Germany National People’s Party (DNVP)||44|
|Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD)||22|
|Bavarian People’s Party (BVP)||20|
|German People’s Party (DVP)||19|
The Weimar Constitution
The Assembly was tasked with creating the Republics constitution. This was finalised in August 1919.
Below is a breakdown of how the constitution was organised with its key articles outlined below.
Key articles of the Weimar Constitution
|Article 1||The German Reich is a Republic and political authority is derived from the people.|
|Article 22||The Reichstag delegates are elected by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage by all men and women over the age of 20 years in accordance with the principles of proportional representation.|
|Article 23||The Reichstag is elected for four years.|
|Article 41||The Reich President is chosen by the whole of the German electorate|
|Article 48||If public safety and order in the Reich |
|Article 54||The Reich Chancellor and ministers require for the administration of their offices the confidence of the Reichstag. They must resign if the Reichstag withdraws its confidence.|
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution
Why was the Weimar Republic was unpopular?
Germany had lost the war, the Kaiser had abdicated and fled the country and for the first time in the country’s history, it was becoming a democracy.
Despite all this, the main reason the Weimar Republic was so unpopular was due to The Treaty Of Versailles which followed and its conditions.
The German people were really not happy with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Treaty Of Versailles
The Germans had signed the Armistice on 11th November 1918 however the treaty to end the war was not signed until 28th June June 1919.
The people of Germany expected the peace treaty to be based on Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points with the idea of self-determination as a safeguard for Germany’s sovereignty.
Once the terms of the Treaty of Versailles was published, many Germans were shocked at how severe they were.
The French Prime Minister Georges Benjamin Clemenceau sought revenge against Germany and wanted to ensure it could never again threaten France.
The table below outlines some of the key terms of the peace treaty across territory, military and financial terms.
In brief, Germany lost 13% of its land, 48% of its iron production and over 6 million citizens were absorbed into other countries.
One particular article was the toughest for them to accept which was Article 231 – The War Guilt Clause.
The War Guilt Clause stated Germany had to accept blame for starting the war in 1914.
From left to right: David Lloyd George(UK), Vittorio Orlando (Italy), Georges Clemenceau (France), and Woodrow Wilson (USA) at the Paris Peace Conference 27th May 1919.
Key terms of the Treaty of Versailles
|Territory Sanctions||Military Sanctions||Financial Sanctions|
|All colonies to be given to allied powers||Army not to exceed 100k||Coal to be mined in the Saar by France|
|Alsace-Lorraine returned to France||No tanks, armoured cars or heavy artillery permitted.||Reparations fixed at £6.6 billion|
|Eupen-Malmedy given to Belgium after a plebiscite||No military aircraft permitted||Cattle and sheep to be given to Belgium and France as reparations|
|Saar to be administered by the League of Nations||No navel vessel to be greater than 10k tons.||Ships over 1600 tons to be given up.|
|Posen and West Prussia to Poland. Eastern Upper Silesia to Poland after a plebiscite.||No submarines permitted||Germany to build merchant ships to replace Allied ships sunk by U-Boats.|
|Danzig created a Free City.||Rhineland demilitarised|
|Memel to be administered by the League of Nations.|
|No union (Anschluss) with Austria|
|Northern Schleswig to Denmark after a plebiscite.|
The “stab in the back” theory
The German people saw the Treaty of Versailles as a stab in the back as it was simply a dictated peace that stoked the fire of shame and humiliation for them.
People wanted to blame someone for the harsh conditions and Friedrich Ebert, the Weimar Government and all the involved politicians fitted the bill.
The newspapers began to refer to them ironically as the “November Criminals” despite the German cabinet initially rejecting the terms of the peace settlement.
So disgusted by the conditions was he, Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann resigned on 19th June 1919 and Ebert even referred to the settlement as an enforced peace.
At the time, the German population were unaware that the Allies had informed the German leaders that refusal of the terms would lead to renewed hostilities and an immediate invasion of Germany.
Despite this, criticism of the Government began to grow and the idea that they had “stabbed the army in the back” really took hold among the people and various newspapers began to publish propaganda suggesting this (see image above).
Challenges to the Republic from the left and right
While Friedrich Ebert and Scheidemann were trying to set up a new government for Germany, political turmoil swept across the country adding further problems for them.
In the early years, the Weimar Republic faced threats from the left and right-wing and several uprisings swept across the country which further threatened the fragile Government.
The politicians were criticised for ending the war, accepting the Treaty of Versailles and then introducing high levels of taxes for the well-off in society in order to meet the reparations imposed.
Other Germans felt democracy had been imposed on them against their wishes.
These radical changes were introduced as those in power saw no other alternative given the continued threat of invasion from the Allies.
There was continued unrest as the British naval blockades aftermath still left Germany with food shortages.
To make matters worse, the population was beginning to experience inflation of their currency meaning its value began to drop in relative terms.
Over in Russia, the Bolshevik Revolution had taken place on October 1917 which resulted in the provisional government being overthrown by communists Lenin and Trotsky.
This resulted in many Germans believing a socialist country could be established in Germany too and soldiers, workers and sailors set up councils in October and November 1918.
The picture above was taken in Russia where a revolution began to spread.
The Tsar had been overthrown and a temporary provisional government had been set up.
The people continued to be unsettled and on 4th July 1917 in Petrograd, the government troops opened fire on protestors which stoked the fires even more ultimately leading to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.
Friedrich Ebert feared a revolution was on the cards in Germany too so he made a deal with the armies leader, Groener.
The army agreed to support the government against any revolutions as the alternative was a Bolshevik-style government which they did not want.
This meant the new government was dependent on the army which undermined their authority further.
The Spartacist Uprising
Going back to the period of War, there were several groups that emerged from the German Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The most radical of the group was the Spartacist League which was led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
The group sought to establish a government based on communist ideals and took their name from the Roman slave Spartacus who led a rebellion in 73BC.
In December 1918, the Spartacist League led demonstrations against the Government which led to clashes with the army and 16 Spartacists were killed.
The group then went on to form the German Communist Party (KPD).
On January 6th 1919, the Spartacist League attempted to overthrow the Weimar Government in an effort to create a communist state.
A picture of the group’s militia during the fighting in Berlin is below:
To combat the uprising, Friedrich Ebert and defence minister Noske used the army (Reichswehr) and paramilitary groups (Freikorps) to put down the rebellion.
Within only a couple of days, the uprising was over as the group were no match for the army and Freikorps.
The group’s leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were both captured and killed.
It was due to this uprising itself the Assembly was moved to Weimar.
Two months later in March, another communist-inspired uprising occurred in Berlin which was put down aggressively resulting in the deaths of over 1000 people.
In April, the Freikorps crushed a further communist driven rebellion in Munich.
The Kapp Putsch
With resistance from the communist-inspired left dealt with, then came the challenges from the right-wing.
In March 1920, the Weimar Government announced plans to reduce the size of the army and to disband the Freikorps and this caused a huge uproar in Berlin.
The leader of the Freikorps Hermann Ehrhardt (pictured right) refused to comply with this and together with Wolfgang Kapp, a leading Berlin politician, they drew up a plan to create a right-wing government.
Wolfgang Kapp stressed the threat of communism and the severity of the Versailles Treaty as some of the motives for the rebellion.
The Reichswehr was commanded by General Luttwitz and supported the Kapp Putsch and Ehrhardt and Kapp were able to successfully seize Berlin on 13th March 1920.
The Weimar Government subsequently moved to Dresden and then Stuttgart and asked the new regular army to put down the Kapp Putsch.
The Commander-in-Chief Von Seeckt replied stating “The Reichswehr does not fire on the Reichswehr” (meaning we do not fire on our own kind).
Ebert and Scheidemann called on the people of Berlin not to support the Kapp Putsch and to strike.
Trade unionists and civil servants all supported the Government and as it had little support, the Putsch crumbled.
Over 400 soldiers were involved in the Putsch however very few were punished for this.
To make matters worse, a week after the Kapp Putsch began, another communist uprising occurred in the Ruhr.
On this occasion, the army became involved and brutally took down the rebellion resulting in the death of hundreds.
Violence continued for the next two years from both the left and right wings.
|Between the period of 1919-22, there were approximately 376 murders of which 354 were attributed to the far right (none of which were sentenced to death). 10 left-wing rebels were sentenced to death, however.|
|In 1921, Matthias Erzberger was assassinated. He was the leader of the Centre Party and a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles.|
|In 1922, Walther Rathenau, the foreign minister, was assassinated.|
|In November 1923, there was a putsch in Munich led by Adolf Hitler. This was known as the Munich Putsch.|
The challenges of 1923 for The Weimar Republic
In 1923, the Republic faced a number of new challenges.
The French occupation of the Ruhr due to non-payment of reparations and hyperinflation and devaluation of the currency presented further problems for the country. So how did this happen?
During the first World War, Germany had borrowed extensively to finance its war efforts.
Once defeated, they were told by the Allies to pay reparations amounting to £6600 million which the Weimar Government initially stated they could not afford to pay.
The loss of wealth-making industries worsened the problem still.
Inflation had increased and in order to pay workers in the Ruhr during the French and Belgian occupation, the government began to print more money.
This resulted in the value of the German currency falling rapidly.
No reparations were paid and this angered France who in retaliation, sent troops into the Ruhr which is Germany’s main industrial area.
The Ruhr is located in the Rhineland where there were no German troops available to stop the French invasion.
The French occupation of the Ruhr, 1923
French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr in 1923 (see image above) when Germany failed to pay reparations to both countries.
The French had war debts of their own which they needed to pay back to the USA and non-payment by the Germans resulted in them invading Ruhr to seize goods they needed with the Belgians.
The French occupation was met with some passive resistance initially however this soon soured.
Germans carried out industrial sabotage, went on strike, set factories on fire and flooded mines in protest of the invasion.
A number of Germans who were striking and resisting were shot by French troops and their funerals only led to further demonstrations against the French occupation as it stoked resentment further.
The French and Belgian invasion of Ruhr simply united the Germans more in their hatred for these two countries and people striking were seen as heroes for standing up to the humiliation that was the Treaty of Versailles.
The German government printed more money to pay those on strike a wage and this meant not only fewer goods being produced due to workers being on strike, but inflation of the currency turned into hyperinflation.
The table below shows how the value of the mark decreased against the pound between 1914-1923.
Hyperinflation in Germany
When there is too much of something, it loses its value and the same is said of any currency.
The German Government started to print excessive amounts of money to pay workers on strike and this resulted in a new problem; inflation had now become hyperinflation.
|Date||Value of German Mark|
|July 1914||£1 = 20 marks|
|Jan 1919||£1 = 35 marks|
|Jan 1920||£1 = 256 marks|
|Jan 1921||£1 = 256 marks|
|Jan 1922||£1 = 764 marks|
|Jan 1923||£1 = 71’888 marks|
|July 1923||£1 = 1,413,648 marks|
|Sept 1923||£1 = 3,954,408,000 marks|
|Oct 1923||£1 = 1,010,408,000,000 marks|
|Nov 1923||£1 = 1,680,800,000,000,000 marks|
With hyperinflation gripping the country this affected people in different ways:
- People with savings or on fixed incomes became penniless and poor.
- Businesses who had borrowed money from the banks were able to pay off these debts
- Serious food shortages led to higher prices for necessities such as food, which benefited farmers.
- Foreigners in Germany who had pounds or dollars suddenly had a huge advantage as they could afford things many Germans could not.
Reasons For Economic Recovery For The Weimar Republic
So far we’ve learnt Germany was going through a horrendous time politically with rebellions but also economically due to hyperinflation.
The country was able to make some progress and turn this around thanks to the new Chancellor, Gustav Stresemann.
So who was Gustav Stresemann? and how did he help turn the economy around? – He was kind of a big deal for Germany during this period contributing to a period of economic recovery from 1924-1929.
In 1923, he became Chancellor and introduced a new currency, the Rentenmark and took out loans from the USA and worked successfully with Britain and France to renegotiate repayments.
The Dawes Plan and US Loans
Stresemann (pictured right) realised Germany could not afford the repayments and managed to successfully renegotiate payments through the Dawes Plan, which was agreed in August 1924.
The Dawes Plan was named after the then US vice-president Charles Dawes who was crucial in its setup.
The plans main points were:
- Reparation payments would start at 1 billion marks for the first year and would increase over a period of 4 years up to 2.5 billion marks per year. These payments were more realistic and manageable based on Germany’s capacity to make repayments.
- The Ruhr area was to be evacuated by Allied occupation (which occurred in 1925).
- The German Reichsbank would be reorganised under Allied supervision
- The USA would provide loans to Germany to help its economic recovery.
The plan was accepted by Germany and the allies and became effective in September 1924.
The USA loaned Germany 800 million marks.
Over the next 6 years, USA companies and banks loaned Germany nearly $3000 million US dollars. This helped to boost the German economy but also enable them to make repayments for reparations.
Due to hyperinflation in 1923, the value of the German mark was destroyed.
In November 1923, Stresemann introduced a temporary currency called the Rentenmark to restore confidence in the German currency.
The Rentenmark was based on property values rather than gold reserves and was issued in limited amounts. Gradually it restored confidence in the German people and the following year, the Rentenmark was converted into the Reichsmark, a new currency backed by gold reserves.
The Young Plan
Germany was able to meet the reparations repayment schedule now thanks to the Dawes Plan however the Government regularly complained about the level of payments.
In 1929, the Allied Reparations Committee asked Owen Young, a US banker and industrialist to investigate and he devised a new plan for payments.
Owen Young also coauthored the original Dawes Plan.
The reparations amount was reduced from £6600 million to £1850 million.
The length of repayments was extended to 59 years with repayments at an average of 2.05 billion marks per year.
Although a considerable achievement by Stresemann, the Young Plan was criticised heavily by right-wing politicians such as Alfred Hugenberg and Adolf Hitler.
Hitler objected to any further reparation payments especially as they were extended and would now finish in 1988.
From 1924 to 1929, Germany saw greater political stability although no single party ever won a majority of the seats in the Reichstag.
Up to 1930, the Social Democrats won the most votes and the period between 1924-1929 saw less support for extremist groups such as the Nazi’s due to the economic recovery the country was experiencing.
The table below outlines the election results over 3 periods.
|Election Results 1924-1928||May 1924||Dec 1924||May 1928|
|National Party (DNVP)||95||103||73|
|Communist Party (KPD)||62||45||54|
|Nazi Party (NSDAP)||32||14||12|
Compared to the previous period of inflation and hyperinflation, the economy began to show signs of improvement thanks to the loans from the USA.
Hyperinflation resulted in many businesses being able to pay off their debts and industrial growth was reflected in public works schemes which saw the building of opera houses and stadiums.
Workers were also better off as wages increased and the average working day remained at 8 hours.
There were also fewer strikes between workers and their employers between 1924-29 with state arbitration taking a fairly middle line in disputes and often siding with workers.
Things actually looked to be improving for Germany.
The table below shows the industrial production of Germany between 1919-1930.
Criticisms of Weimars Economic Recovery
Although it seemed that at least for the years 1924-1929, the Republic appeared to recover, the recovery has been questioned particularly due to the heavy reliance on US loans. Stresemann said in a speech himself that:
“The economic position is only flourishing on the surface. Germany is, in fact, dancing on a volcano. If the short-term loans are called in by America, a large section of our economy would collapse”
So what did Stresemann mean by this? Why was the recovery so fragile? To understand this better we need to see how the money from the USA to Germany was actually being used (see picture below).
- Germany borrowed money from the USA to stimulate its economy but also help make repayments to Britain and France as part of the war reparations.
- Britain and France used this money to help repay the USA loans they had taken to finance the war.
- The USA then makes payments to Germany etc and the cycle continues.
Germany was effectively borrowing from one country to pay another and should the USA recall their loans, this placed them at great risk once again of defaulting on payments. Unfortunately, this is exactly what eventually happened as the US market crashed due to the Wall Street Crash which resulted in The Great Depression. The USA would recall their loans during this period which would once again create economic problems for Germany.
Another criticism is although Germany looked to be doing well during this period, unemployment was actually rising with it over 9% in 1926. The German economy may have been showing signs of recovery but it wasnt keeping up with the rising population. Sectors such as farming were in particular trouble throughout the 1920’s.
Stresemann’s Achievements Abroad
Gustav Stresemann was the foreign secretary from 1923 to 1929 and also had several major achievements abroad which helped boost Germany’s economic recovery. In this next section, we will examine The Locarno Pact, The League of Nations, The Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Impact on domestic policies.
The Locarno Pact
Stresemann was determined to improve Germany’s relationship with France and Britain as he saw this as a means of regaining Germany’s prestige in the international community, but also because he saw this as a route to reducing the worst features of the Treaty of Versailles.
To achieve changes in the Treaty, he realised France needed to feel secure in order for them to cooperate and so in 1925, Germany signed the Locarno Pact with Britain, France Belgium and Italy.
In this agreement, the countries signed to keep existing borders between Germany, France and Belgium. The Locarno Pact signalled Germany’s return to the international scene in Europe and began a period of cooperation between Germany, France and Britain. This is sometimes referred to as the “Locarno Honeymoon”.
A picture of Gustav Stresemann, Austen Chamberlain and Aristide Briand during the Locarno Pact negotiations.
The League of Nations
The Treaty of Versailles denied Germany membership of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was an international organisation established in 1920 after The Great War to try and maintain peace.
For the Locarno Pact to come into effect, Germany had to become a member and in September 1926, Germany was given a permanent seat on the Council of the League of Nations.
This helped return Germany’s status as a great power and gained considerable prestige for Stresemann. It was considered a brave move as many German’s saw the organisation as responsible for the Versailles Treaty. Membership to the League would allow Germany’s position to bring about The Young Plan.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact
Germany signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, also known as the Pact of Paris, in 1928 along with 64 other nations. This peace pact stated the nations would keep their armies for self-defence and solve all international disputes “by peaceful means”.
The pact is named after US Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French Foreign minister Aristide Briand who both co-authored the pact. Both went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for this pact in 1929.
Germany’s inclusion as a signatory helped secure its position as one of the leading nations again and showed improved relationships with the US, France and other leading European nations.
The impact on domestic policies
Stresemann’s achievements in foreign policy with the Locarno and Kellogg-Briand Pact also translated into successes domestically helping the country recover.
The improved international relations thanks to both treaty’s helped Germany renegotiate the terms of the Treaty of Versailles reparations schedule. This meant for the first time, the amount paid and the timeframe for reparation payments
In 1927, Allied troops withdrew from the west bank of Rhine 5 years before the scheduled date of 1933. This resulted in increased morale in Germany and showed some relaxation in the terms of the Treaty of Versailles terms. This increased Stresemann’s popularity and support for his policies as it seemed to be restoring Germany’s prestige abroad.
Changes in society and the standard of living, 1924-29
The economic recovery led to a number of changes in the standard of living. These changes included changes to wages, housing and unemployment insurance.
There was also a greater debate on the status of women and we will examine their role in politics, employment and leisure.
Lastly, this section will also examine cultural changes under the Weimar Republic including developments in architecture, art and cinema.
During the period between 1924 to 1929, German workers benefitted from the increase in the value of real wages. By 1928, real wages had increased over 10% which meant Germany had some of the best-paid workers in Europe.
Unfortunately, not everyone benefitted from the rise in wages. The middle class were the worst affected and did not benefit from the increased prosperity as many were bankrupted from hyperinflation in 1923. They were also unable to claim many of the welfare benefits from the state either and many who worked in professions such as lawyers, civil servants and teachers experienced high levels of unemployment.
In 1928, almost 184’000 middle-class workers were unemployed and almost half of them did not qualify for unemployment relief from the state.
There was also a critical shortage of housing in many parts of Germany which the Weimar government tried to tackle. Architects and planners were hired to devise ways in which the housing shortages could be reduced. Through government investments, tax breaks, land grants and low-interest loans, the government was able to stimulate the building of new homes.
Between the period of 1924 to 1931 over 2 million new homes were built while over 200k were renovated or expanded. By 1929, the government had spent 33 times more on housing in 1913. By 1928, homelessness had been reduced by 60% and the lives of many Germans had improved considerably.
In the 1880s, the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, had introduced a number of reforms aimed at helping the sick and old which included health, accident and illness insurance schemes. The Weimar Republic extended this with an unemployment insurance law in 1927 that required workers to contribute to a national scheme for unemployment welfare. Other benefits were provided to war veterans as well as wives, dependents of those killed, and single mothers as well as the disabled.
The position of women under the Weimar Republic
The next topic will examine the role of women under the Weimar Republic. The areas we will examine are the role of women in politics, employment and leisure.
In 1919, with the drafting of the new constitution, women over the age of 20 years old were given the opportunity to vote and took a greater interest in politics. The constitution also introduced equality in education, equal opportunity in civil service appointments and equal pay in professions.
By the end of this era, German women had some of the most advanced legal rights in any country within Europe. By 1926, there were also 32 women deputies in the Reichstag (parliament), which was a higher proportion when compared to Britain and the USA.
The proportion of women who took up employment under the Weimar Republic stayed the same for the most part. The biggest change saw more women in public employment such as the civil service, social work, working in shops or even the assembly line. The women who worked in the civil service, due to legislative changes, were now earning the same as men. By 1933, over 100k women were teachers and 3k had become doctors.
This did raise the issue of what type of women would be suitable for particular jobs. For example, a large number of women worked in a heavy industry in what was typically known as men’s work. After the war, however, the better-paid jobs were taken back by men and married women who worked were often criticised for neglecting their homes.
Under the Republic, women enjoyed much more freedoms than they did before. They were able to go out unescorted, drink alcohol and smoke publicly and even able to be more fashion conscious often wearing short skirts, make-up and even shorter hair.
Cultural changes under the Weimar Republic
From 1918 to 1929, Germany saw the emergence of some of the most exciting art in Europe. The strict pre-war censorship had been removed and throughout the 1920s, Berlin challenged Paris as the cultural capital of Europe. Germany significant developments in painting, cinema, architecture, literature and theatre.
This did bring great criticism too with right-wing politicians accusing artists of undermining traditional German values. Politicians such as Hitler would later call these cultural changes un-German and immoral.
Art under the Weimar Republic
Prior to the war, most German arts had been detached from everyday life however under Weimar, artists were trying to portray everyday life. They did this in an attempt to be understood by ordinary people as the art scene felt art should comment on society at that time.
This new approach was known as Neue Sachlichkeit, which means new objectivity. This is because artists tried to portray society in an objective way.
Architecture under the Weimar Republic
The architecture in Germany also flourished under the Weimar Republic and saw radical departures from the designs that came before. The Bauhaus style was a design that combined crafts and fine art and literally translates as “building
The Bauhaus style has since gone on to become one of the most influential currents in modern design having a profound influence on art, architecture, graphic design, interior design as well as industrial design and typography.
Schools for the Bauhaus movement existed in the cities of Weimar (1919-1925), Dessau (1925-1932) and Berlin (1932-1933). The school was eventually closed due to pressure from the Nazi’s and Walter Gropius eventually had to leave Germany. Gropius settled in the USA where he became a professor for architecture at Harvard University.
Theatre under the Weimar Republic
Theatre under the Weimar Republic also saw the emergence of new operas and plays. These were called Zeittheater and Zeitoper, which means theatre and opera “of the time” and featured greater realism.
Theatre director and producer Erwin Piscator was one of the foremost exponents of epic theatre, a form that emphasises the socio-political content of drama rather than through emotional manipulation as was common.
In one theatre production, the heroine sings in a bathtub while Erwin Piscator’s The Salesman of Berlin, the street cleaners sweep away the worst years after 1918, including a pile of money (hyperinflation) and a defeated German soldier’s body and helmet.
Another production saw the protagonist deliver a criticism of Germany while sitting on a toilet.
Cinema during the Weimar Republic
This era was also seen as the golden age of cinema for Germany. The country’s best-known director Fritz Lang produced the film Metropolis, which is generally acclaimed and regarded as one of the most technically advanced films of the decade.
German actress Marlene Dietrich also became one of the most popular
One of the most popular films during this era was The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, a horror film although the underlying message was anti-war and anti-military.
Literature during the Weimar Republic
Literature during the Weimar Republic saw contributions from both the left and right-wing of politics.
On the right side of politics, writers such as Arthur Moeller and Oswald Spengler were highly critical of German democracy and glorified the experiences of the First World War.
Writers on the left such as Erich Remarque and Ludwig Renn were very anti-war. Remarque wrote a moving anti-war novel called All Quiet on the Western Front which describes the horrors of the First War. Within the first 3 months, this was turned into a successful film.
The Weimar Republic also saw the publication of the worlds first openly gay literature. This came from authors such as Klaus Mann, Anna Elisabet Weirauch, Christa Winsloe, Erich Ebermayer, and Max René Hesse.