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A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png This a Useful Notes page. A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png

Germany was having trouble, what a sad, sad story...


If you're ever on QI and Stephen Fry asks you what Germany was called in 1930 (he hasn't done it yet, but it's bound to come up at some point), don't say "The Weimar Republic". That name is an invention of historians and was not used at the time (like The Bonn Republic). The correct term is "Deutsches Reich" (German Realm).

Weimar (so called because that's where the constitution was written - Berlin remained the capital[1]) was the government that ran Germany from the end of World War I until Those Wacky Nazis gained power.

Ironically Friedrich Ebert, the chief founder and first president of the Weimar Republic had not wanted to establish a republic at all. Though a social democrat, he was also a monarchist and wanted to keep the Hohenzollerns (albeit reduced to figurehead status as in Britain); the declaration of the republic was only a desperate move by a member of his cabinet to stop the communists declaring one instead. Technically, it failed in that - the Communists declared a Council Republic a few hours later. Very few people cared about the second declaration. After that there was no going back, even if the monarchists wished so.

Structurally, the Republic wasn't actually terribly different from the Hohenzollern Empire. Rather than an Emperor, there was a directly-elected Reichspräsident (Reich President), who on account of his level of power was called (only half-jokingly) the Ersatzkaiser ("Fake/Replacement Emperor"). Other than that, there were only a few other changes, the requirement that the Chancellor have the support of the Reichstag and the extensive emergency powers of the President (Article 48) being the most important. Their new constitution was supposed to be the Best Constitution Ever, thus uniting the best things (considered) from the constitutions of the most successful western democracies: A strong president as in the US of A, a strong parliament as in the (Third) French republic, and direct democracy / plesbiscites as in Switzerland. All of these backfired spectacularly: The strength of the president became a problem when a half-senile, easily influenced Hindenburg had almost-dictatorial powers; the strong parliament, which could kick out every government they didn't like, made governing first difficult and finally impossible, when The Nazis and The Commies got more than 50% of the votes; and the plebiscites were welcome opportunities for agitators from both left and right to spread their propaganda.

The first few years (and for that matter the last few years) of the Weimar Republic was a time of enormous political instability. Between 1918 and 1923 there was an attempted coup by either the far right or the far left every year. The last one in 1923, the Munich Beer Putsch, was actually led by Adolf Hitler. He got a year in jail and wrote Mein Kampf.

Culturally, the Weimar Republic was very productive. Most notably, it contained the Cabaret culture (which produced Marlene Dietrich), Bauhaus architecture and director Fritz Lang, who probably created the Robot Girl trope (and others) in Metropolis. Even Alfred Hitchcock made some British-German coproductions during this time. Then there were lots and lots of famous writers and intellectuals: Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Tucholsky, Erich Maria Remarque, Erich Kästner, brothers Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Elias Canetti, Lion Feuchtwanger, Ödön von Horváth, Robert Musil, and so on.

Economically, though... well, the Mark became Funny Money, thousands of people lost any money that wasn't saved as gold or silver, and when things looked as if they had somewhat stabilized, the economical crisis of 1929 struck. Germany became so ruined that people didn't even hesitate to give their vote for Adolf Hitler after he promised them economic prosperity. The Nazis beating up their opponents also contributed, though the violence was entirely mutual.

In fact, in the Language of the Third Reich one of the characters, an old Jewish doctor, mentions that it was possible to see who won the last street brawl just by the injuries alone: if there were mostly crushed skulls and blunt trauma from beer bottles, chair legs or just plain old clubs—that was the Communists beating Nazis, and if the wounds were mostly by the knife—then vice versa, such was the political climate of the time.

It's important to note, however, that the Nazi party never won a majority of votes—in the March 1933 election with Hitler already chancellor, the National Socialist party gained 43.9% of the vote,[2] and because of proportional representation, 43% of the seats in the Reichstag,[3] and had to resort to arm-twisting the smaller conservative parties into accepting his "reforms". Even during the time of the one-party state, most Germans only supported the Nazis out of necessity.

Mostly, though people was just concerned with economical hardships and crushed national pride, and manipulating these two sore points was what allowed Nazis to eventually gain control over the society.

Films made in this era:
Works of fiction set in this era:
  1. but when the constitution was made, there was too much unrest there (again), so the delegates, fearing for their lives, moved to the much-quieter city of Weimar
  2. Even with voter intimidation and persecution of leftists. Their previous election result in November 1932 was 33%, a result that panicked them and convinced them to seize power before a worse decline.
  3. There's anecdotal evidence that Goebbels argued that proportional representation actually staved off the Nazification of Germany for a couple years.