Reichswehr

The Reichswehr, the German republican army, was always a state in the state and never a supporter of the democratic regime of the Weimar Republic.

When Germany signed the Armistice, her military force was virtually dismantled. As soldiers went home to a civilian life they hardly knew how to live, many kept together and in time formed military-like entities that were later known as Freikorps.

It is estimated that in the first years of the Weimar Republic, a number between 200 and 300 different Freikorps units spontaneously formed, ranging from small units to fully form military divisions which acted as a real German army — for example, in the Baltic and against the Poles. But most had free action in the republic itself and went violently about trying to stop the perceived communist invasion of Germany.

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Queer Culture

Berlin has been a queer-friendly city for well over a hundred year — except for the Nazi period, of course. The history of how the city became a safe haven for queer people started back in the nineteenth century.

German law wasn’t more liberal than any other law on the continent. At the unification of Germany under the Kaiserreich in 1871, an oppressive statute was imposed all over the country which criminalized bestiality as well as certain acts between men. This was never lifted and in fact in remained law of the land until as late as the 1960s.

By this law, someone could be convicted for sodomy only if he confessed or if a witness testified against him. Which made the law admittedly quite hard to enforce, since this wasn’t something people voluntarily confessed. As for witnesses, people had, of course, consensual relationships and intercourse in their private life. If someone was willing to denounce someone else, it was normally for shady reasons. The law seemed to encourage the practice of blackmailing, which finally prompted the creation of the Department of Blackmail and Homosexuality inside the police.

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The Problem of Détente

The late 1960s were a time of upheaval in the transatlantic relationship. Charles de Gaulle had withdrawn from NATO’s integrated military structure and was seeking equidistance for France between the Soviet Union and the United States. Willy Brandt, West Germany’s first center-left chancellor, was pursuing Ostpolitik. Britain had finally been admitted to the European Economic Community, which — in Washington — raised fears of a united Europe challenging American primacy in the West.

Mired and later defeated in Vietnam, America’s prestige was at a postwar low. The oil-producing countries of the Middle East were starting to use their economic power for political gain. Japan was emerging as a global powerhouse in the East. The Atlantic alliance looked divided and exhausted.

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Postwar Society

Over the whole nineteenth century, the Western world in its entirety had been moving in the same direction: away from the countryside into the cities. Away from a rural lifestyle into industrialization and generally into a more inclusive, if maybe more lonely, society. Germany had been inside that general flow.

The great shift, which had started in the nineteenth century with the Industrial Revolution, quickened its pace after the war. Although German society, like all other European societies, remained mostly rural, the move from the countryside to the cities accelerated. And it wasn’t just a move from one place to another, it didn’t just change people’s lifestyle, but also their minds. The way people understood life and the ideas they were willing to accept change dramatically as they moved from one environment to the other.

The divide between village and city was possibly at its highest at this time. Life still flew as it had for the past hundred years in the villages, but in the cities huge social changes were happening.

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Occultism

Occultism and spiritualism weren’t new on the scene of European society. They had been very popular in Victorian times, and when World War I broke out people again turned to these practices and beliefs in search of solace.

The spiritualist movement was founded in 1848 and supported the belief that the personality would survive after death and could be contacted by livings through séance.

The nineteenth century saw a great advancement in many sciences. Forces that were previously invisible and explained to some extent as “magic” or “supernatural”, like radiowaves and magnetism, gave rise to the idea that maybe more “magical events” could be explained scientifically. And the advent of the telegraph and the telephone, which allowed communication across distances that were previously considered insurmountable, arose the idea that maybe even the border between the living and the dead could be crossed and communication made possible.

Occultism and spiritualism then became hugely popular with Victorians, but at the end of the century the interest was waning.

That’s when the Great War occurred.

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NSDAP

Because of its prominence in the European history of the twentieth century, it’s tempting to consider the Nazionalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeitpartei (German National Socialist Workers Party) more powerful then all the other right-wing movements of its time. In fact, it was a very small, mostly regional, not very influential party for most of Weimar history. What really singled it out from all the other similar movements was its leader: Adolf Hitler.

The republican time saw the birth of a myriad of political entities with right inclinations, both parties and movements. In 1920 alone, at least 74 of these parties could be counted on the political scene and among them the NSDAP (with a different name at the time), which had been founded on January 5, 1919 in Munich.

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Memory

Life in the Weimar Republic, and more prominently in Berlin, seemed to be fast moving toward the future. Avant-garde movements of every kind were almost the norm. Social mores were evolving toward equality (between men and women, between minorities and the German population at large) and new ideas were quick to take root, then change once more.

World War I had been a dramatic caesura with the past. Young people no longer recognized the values and ways of life of their parents. They were reckless and ready to adopt new values and lifestyles.

But this picture, while true, might be misleading. Life in Berlin and a few other big cities was fast and furious, but the rest of the country was far slower to catch up. In large areas of the nation, people were far less receptive of change when they were not outright against it.

Besides, even in the big cities, “memory” was still a strong ideal. The strict Wilhelmine values and ways of life were still appreciated and followed. The modernistic art movements, the new behaviors of the youth, not to mention the shockingly free attitude of the new woman — all of this was destroying everything good and German and was therefore considered unpatriotic. The old values had led Germany to her greatness before the war. Those values would bring her back to prominence. This was certainly one of the great advantages the right had on the left: while the left tried to create a new, unknown future, the right was calling for a return to something people knew all too well.

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Left

When we think about the Weimar Republic, most likely we think about the time of right-wing power. Certainly, many authoritarian forces were at work in the republic, but this was also the time of a left government, one that shaped the social life of Germany profoundly.

The Weimar Republic was a relatively short experience in the history of Germany. It may even be true that the republic was too weak and unloved to ever be successful. But it was still the first democratic regime of Germany, the first time left ideas got out of the rooms of philosophers to get into the thick of everyday life.

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Kulturbolschewismus

The Weimar Republic is often considered one of the most remarkably energetic periods in the artistic history of humanity, a roaring surge of modernism in all fields of arts, where experimentation was the norm. For a glorious, if all too short, period over the “Golden 1920s” and the first part of the 1930s, while Germany went through one of the most troubling political and economic times in her history, Berlin was one of the most exciting places in Europe where an artist could be. Possibly in the world.

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Jews

The Weimar Republic’s relation with Jews was contradictory at best. On the one hand, the republic was a first time of full citizenship for the German Jewish people, who became a driving force in the political and cultural life of Weimar. But on the other, it was during the republic’s time that antisemitism rose to upsetting levels.

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