The Weimar Republic -- Doomed to Fail
The Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was born in the aftermath of the defeat of Germany in World War I. Not only was this a fall from grace, it was a resounding crash that shattered Germany's belief that they were the superior undefeatable race. Following the destruction of the old totalitarian German Empire, a new democratic republic was put into place. The question was, could Germany, splintered into groups of socialists, communists and the extreme right, unify into one democratic country? The Treaty of Versailles, signed after the war in June 1919, stripped Germany of its pre-war power and its position in the world as one of the great empires. The Treaty forced Germany to return Alsace-Lorraine to France, West Prussia was restored to Poland and Germany's overseas colonies were relinquished. In addition, the coal rich Saar region and the coal mines of Upper Silesia were turned over to the League of Nations. Furthermore, the Treaty guaranteed that the formidable German military would be destroyed reducing its army and navy to 100,000 men. The reduction of Germany's battleships, the prohibition against producing submarines and the dissolution of the German General Staff insured that henceforth Germany would be a weakened nation. To oversee and insure that these orders would be carried out, the Allies occupied the Rhineland. But perhaps the most severe economically crippling punishment were the huge reparations that Germany was ordered to pay to the victorious Allied countries; an amount of close to 32 billion gold dollars! A disastrous situation resulted that led to the impoverishment of the German people, creating further chaos, bitterness and divisiveness. On August 11, 1919, in the city of Weimar, a new constitution was drawn up creating a democratic German republic. A president was elected with the power to nominate a chancellor. The Reichstag and Reichsrat parliament was composed of delegates elected by universal sufferage. Still, Germans, traditionally used to authoritarian leadership, supported by a powerful military and industrial complex, were unsure of the new experimental government. In addition, by 1920, the escalating rate of inflation eventually destroyed the German mark. A loaf of bread, for example, cost 5,000,000 marks. Thousands of people were without jobs, forced to beg in the streets for money to put food on the table. Nontheless, in spite of the ruin of Germany's economy and the suffering of its people, Germany during Weimar was witness to an amazing burst of artistic energy. In art, architecture, theatre, literature, poetry, music and the new medium, film, a renaissance was flowering. In the cafes and cabarets of the cities of Germany, and particularly in Berlin, comics satirized the new government and its leaders. Within the atmosphere of total creative freedom, modernism entered every area of the arts replacing old traditional values. Conservative academic art was displaced by raw expressionism, mirroring the confusion and fear in the country. In the Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, modern concepts of architectural and interior design, painting, sculpture and crafts were taught. Gropius believed that since the old world had been destroyed by World War I, a new environment, a new art must be created that would change the world for the better. The composer Kurt Weill in collaboration with the poet Bertolt Brecht created the bitter and satiric musical, "The Threepenny Opera." Kurt Jooss choreographed the equally satiric and brilliant expressionist ballet, "The Green Table." A "golden age" of film in Germany was in full bloom making it possible for the director Robert Wiene to produce the brilliant, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." Amidst darkly shadowed scenes that were claustrophobic and disorienting, Wiene portrayed a terrifying world of insanity and murder. Drawings and etchings by Max Beckmann portrayed the returned war veterans without arms and legs, their...
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