In the 1920s, the role of women in society shifted dramatically. Women liberated themselves. They started working outside the house, engaging in activities previously reserved to men, they discovered their sexuality and sensuality and uncovered their body.
This was a common occurrence throughout the Western World — with reaches outside of it — but it had peculiar characteristics in every single nation.
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Veterans were a strong public presence in the Weimar Republic. A total of 1.4 million disabled veterans came back from the war, and the republic provided them with occupational training, free medical care and pensions. For the severely disabled, particular jobs were granted special protection.
Still, the republic was ill-rewarded for the care it offered, above all because expectations kept rising as the economic situation kept worsening and there was only a certain amount of money that could be devoted to this cause. Veterans normally didn’t support the republic.
By 1919, veterans were represented by seven different organizations, of which the Reichsbund der Kriegsbeschädigten und ehemaligen Kriegsteilnehmer (National Association of Disabled Soldiers and Veterans) was the most numerous with its 600,000 members and ties with the Social Democrats.
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One of the most speculated matters in the history of the Weimar Republic is whether it would have weathered the hard crises of the Great Depression, and so resist the rise of the Nazis, if all forces had been more united. Disunity — both true and perceived — was indeed a characteristic of the Weimar Republic.
The most apparent disunity was the one in the parliament itself. Throughout the republican history, the Reichstag was made up of many small political forces which seem to have a hard time getting along. There were a few bigger parties, of course, most notably the Social Democrats and the Zentrum, but none of these ever won the absolute majority of the parliament. The republic had to rely on coalitions governments which were unstable at best, leading to frequent crises and reorganization of the Reichstag.
This disunity and instability ill-suited German people, whose culture had been prompted to an authoritarian, decisive, military efficiency. The people saw the endless parliamentary discussions as weakness rather than democratic discussion by Germans who, slowly, lost faith in the ability of the republic to solve its citizens’ problems.
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It is sometimes said that just like World War I was the war to end all wars, the Treaty of Versailles was the peace to end all peace.
Often described as punitive to Germany, which was cast as the villain and the loser of Europe, the treaty failed to create the basis for solid peace and ended up laying down the groundwork for precisely what all nations didn’t what to ever happen again.
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The Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland (Social Democratic Party of Germany) was founded in 1875 by August Bebel on largely Marxist ideals and for most of the Weimar Republic time was the largest political party in the nation.
Although it was born as a workers’ party, the SPD often embraced a number of causes beyond the conditions of workers, calling for equal rights for women (finally realized by the republic) and a stop to the killing of natives in German colonies in the nineteenth century.
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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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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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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 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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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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