Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht's Berlin


As Germany exited World War One, it entered what would become a nearly twenty-year-long crisis of pride. Germany’s defeat in the war, and the humiliating reparations it was forced to pay, destroyed many Germans’ belief that their country was still a major world power. The humiliations of the war led to a general loss of pride, and art and writing of the time often expressed disappointment in what Germany had become. It seemed that the country was fractured into a thousand political parties, each touting a different ideal.

Indeed, for many observers, Germans’ lack of pride was the crisis—that it was the main obstacle to progress, regardless of what form the crisis might take. The right wing believed that a lack of pride had inevitably led to Germany’s defeat in the war. Meanwhile, the centrists who governed for most of the Weimar era constantly struggled with their inability to instill a sense of pride in the Republic and its social democratic vision. Observing the German Reichstag in 1924, writer Joseph Roth notes mockingly that the assembly has “no sense of overall decorum…The eyes of America, France, and Italy are directed at the representatives of of the German people. And what do they see? The goose-stepping of the nationalists. Wrangling among the communists.” (Roth 2004, 196). It is noteworthy that Roth identifies prideful groups, not individuals. This may have been a function of the fact that pride and shame were as much a group phenomena as ones located in the psychology of individuals in these years.

Pride and shame left their marks on German bodies in the Weimar era. The horrors of the war left many disfigured. Furthermore, the female silhouette became a focus of a great deal of attention, both the slim and boyish body of the so-called New Woman, and the sexualized body  associated with the sex trade. Artists like Otto Dix depicted prostitutes and war cripples, showing the physical humiliation of once-proud Germans. Meanwhile, cabaret culture, and the women who partook in it, became a focus of intense concern and criticism, markers of the shame of all Germans, as the Thomas Wehrling and Joseph Goebbels pieces in this exhibit attest to. and the rise of the sex trade in Berlin placed a great deal of focus on the female body.

To complement, this exhibit includes a piece by a Berlin nudist group, which focused on a utopian future through acceptance of the body and of nudity, despite deformity. They worried that, “the world war and its results have caused a disturbance in our spiritual and physical dispositions,” but proposed to solve the disturbance by “cultivat[ing] a natural nakedness and a free feeling for the body”(Kaes et al. 1994, 676) And yet even here, their calls for pride in the human body became caught in the very contradictions they sought to transcend.

In 1933, the complex cultural and political society of Weimar Germany would be replaced by the Nazis, who would offer a new vision for recapturing German pride.

--Maeve Greising, Oliver Kwapis, and Harper Watson


Koch, Adolf. “The Truth About the Berlin Nudist Groups.” In The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg, 676. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.  
Roth, Joseph. What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920-1933 Trans. Michael Hofmann. New York: Norton, 2004.

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