Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht's Berlin

Weimar Politics and Society

The Weimar Republic was created after the massive mutiny and the abdication of the Kaiser that precipitated the end of the second Reich. Under the new constitution drafted by Hugo Preuss, the Weimar Republic established the first parliamentary democracy of Germany, which was an attempt to incorporate elements of both European parliamentary systems and the American presidential system. The constitution attempted a balanced division of power among the political agencies of the executive and legislative bodies. (Henig, 13) Citizens were given universal suffrage, as men and women twenty years of age and older were eligible to vote. A Chancellor who was chosen by the elected representatives in the Reichstag (parliament) was designated to be the head of the government. The directly elected president was meant to represent the state and was granted emergency power to override the Reichstag, which foreshadowed the detriment of the Weimar government later.

Additionally, the Weimar constitution protected the social rights of Germans. Every German had the right to work and the new state would provide for those citizens not able to find a job. Workers could not be dismissed on grounds of sex, religion or political persuasion.  The government offered its citizens its genuine promises of utmost liberties.
The beginning of Weimar Republic experienced a period of turbulence largely due to Germany’s defeat in WWI. Germany was viewed by the Allies as the primary instigator of the war. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to accept humiliating terms such as paying reparations of the war and ceding some of its territories, which underlay nationalists’ and militarists’ attacks on the republic. (Henig, 22) Domestically, the newly established government was threatened by a group of right-wing paramilitaries, such as the Kapp Putsch, which tried to overthrow the Weimar Republic. In the aftermath of a devastating period of hyper-inflation in which the German mark was eventually worth less than a trillionth of the US Dollar, the Weimar Republic entered a period of relative stability that lasted until 1929. In that year, the Great Depression caused an economic collapse and many people grew disappointed with the moderate parties that had been in charge of the German state. The voting share of extreme parties of both the left (Communists) and Right (Nazis) grew precipitously and by 1930, the Nazis, which had been a fringe party as late as 1928, became the largest party in the Reichstag. For years, Germany was ruled by a series of emergency decrees, and with the January 30, 1933, naming of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of the Republic, the Republic met its inglorious end.

In addition to the turbulent politics of the era, a series of social tensions prevailed in the Weimar Republic. Especially in the country’s capital of Berlin, former outsiders such as Jews, women, sexual minorities and others had greater visibility and rights than they ever had before. On the other hand, prejudices such as anti-Semitism became more visible as well.

The image of Neue Frau (new women) also presented a source of conflict in the Weimar Republic. During WWI males left for the battles, the remaining women at home started to take jobs that were previously occupied by men. A lot of females continued their works even after the war, in areas such as teaching, social work and secretarial work. As a result, women gained more status in the society and grew more inner independence. As Weimar entered its golden age, the New Woman appeared as a new social identity and became present in public places such as dance halls and cafés. They distanced themselves from the feminine image by cutting the fashionable “bob” hair and participating in “mannish sport” such as tennis and golf. (Herzog) During the golden twenties, the New Woman was typically portrayed as an elite lady smoking in the café. However, these women were taken as the scapegoat by some nationalists for the economic crisis of the Weimar Republic in late 1920s, as they were blamed for declining birthrate, which impaired the strength of the nation. Although the women in Weimar Republic enjoyed quite a great extent of freedom, their social receptions were dependent on the politically and economically unstable society.

Just like its constitution, the Weimar Republic was ambitious and complex, under a fragmented society with antagonized political parties. The government tried to create democracy that could consider the benefits of its citizens, or mostly the German people. It contained executive powers for resolving emergencies and tried to bear the responsibilities for all social and political crisis. Nevertheless, it was unlikely that the fragmented German society would become more unitary just because of the existence of a new constitution. Whether the German people were prepared for the sudden transition from monarchic and aristocratic rule to democracy was not yet clear. They grew gradually less interested in parties and politics than in more private activities, which exacerbated social divisions. This was finally resolved with the rise of the Nazis, which sought to solve national crises and unify the nation through eliminating democracy and dissent.
--Mo Chen

Henig, Ruth. The Weimar Republic. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Herzog, Susanne. “Die Neue Frau” Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin, Website: https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/weimarer-republik/alltagsleben/neue-frau.html

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