August 11th, 1919 – The Birth of the Weimar Republic

Today-In-History

On August 11th, 1919 the imperial form of government came to an official end in Germany with the adoption of the constitution of the Weimar Republic. Named by historians after Weimar, the city where the constitutional assembly took place, it was a period in which Germany was a federal republic and semi-presidential representative democracy. This period of Germany’s history is most famously portrayed in the musical Cabaret which captures the spirit of decadence often associated with this time.

Cabaret Poster 680

In its fourteen years, the Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremists (with paramilitaries – both left and right wing) and continuing contentious relationships with the victors of the First World War. However, the Weimar Republic successfully reformed the currency, unified tax policies and the railway system and it did eliminate most of the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles. 

Weimar Money

The hyperinflation of 1919-1923 made Weimar Republic money virtually worthless.

Between 1924 and 1929, the Weimar Republic experienced a period of prosperity often referred to as the Goldene Zwanziger (“Golden Twenties“). During this time Germany saw a remarkable cultural renaissance as German literature, cinema, theatre and musical works entered a phase of great creativity. Innovative street theatre brought plays to the public, and the cabaret scene and jazz band became very popular.

According to the cliché, modern young women were Americanized, wearing makeup, short hair, smoking and breaking with traditional mores. The euphoria surrounding Josephine Baker in the metropolis of Berlin for instance, where she was declared an “erotic goddess” and in many ways admired and respected, kindled further “ultramodern” sensations in the minds of the German public. Art and a new type of architecture taught at “Bauhaus” schools reflected the new ideas of the time.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker, the “erotic goddess” of the Weimar Republic.

This ensuing period of liberal democracy felt the shock of the 1929 Wall Street Crash and lapsed by 1930, when President Hindenburg assumed emergency powers to back the administrations of Chancellors Heinrich Brüning, Franz von Papen and General Kurt von Schleicher. Between 1930 and 1933 the Great Depression, even worsened by Brüning’s policy of deflation, led to a surge in unemployment.

Hitler and Hindenburg

Hindenburg reluctantly appoints Hitler as the new Chancellor.

The economic troubles led to the appointment Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of a coalition government in 1933. The Reichstag Fire Decree, signed by Hindenburg less than a month later, declared a state of emergency – the presumed start of a Communist revolution – and wiped out Constitutional civil liberties at a stroke. This, combined with the passage by the legislature in March of the Enabling Act of 1933, allowed the Chancellor – Hitler – to govern by decree without the involvement of the legislature. These two events were commonly known by the Nazi Party as the Machtergreifung (“seizure of power”), and brought the Weimar Republic to an end. The constitution became irrelevant, a democratically-elected legislature was disbanded, and a single-party state was created. The end of the Weimar Republic is marked as the beginning of Nazi Germany.


 

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