The social and cultural life in Germany changed dramatically from 1923 to 1933, seeing Germany through three distinctive periods in history. The years of instability from 1918 to 1923, the ‘golden years’ from 1924 to 1929 and the depression years and rise of the Nazi party from 1929 to 1933.
The beginning of 1923 was a time of great social, cultural, political and economic unrest for Germany. As a result of the war and the treaty of Versailles, Germany had given up its key industrial resources in an attempt to pay back crippling war reparations and, in turn, had little capacity for economic recovery. Due to the weak government at the time being vulnerable to pressures from the left and right, they did not consider the necessary economic reforms because they would have added to the suffering of the people. So, to counteract Germany’s financial struggle they opted to print more money. This lead to hyperinflation and by November 1923, at the height of inflation, German marks were practically worthless. Social hardship increased as unemployment rates raised severely and many Germans lost their savings or found their fixed incomes worthless.
In August 1923, the German government finally fell after losing control of the economy. Gustav Stresemann formed a new government. An ‘enabling act’ was passed, giving the Stresemann government special emergency powers to deal with problems facing the country. Two days after this act was passed, the Stresemann government created a new currency called the rentenmark to work against hyperinflation. Stremanns government did not stay in power, but it saw Germany out of crisis. This restored the German peoples trust in democracy. The German economy began to recover and was leant 800 million marks from the USA through the Dawes plan to invest in industry and commerce. This rise is economic well-being saw the beginning of the ‘golden years’.
The German constitution was introduced which changed Germany from a military autocracy to a parliamentary democracy. It allowed all Germans their basic freedoms, gave the president many very real powers including emergency powers and gave universal suffrage. Under the German constitution, German cultural life flourished. With the freedom of speech written into the constitution, Germany became the European centre of creative expression in music, film, art, architecture and literature. Within the creative arts the expressionist movement was the most influential, where artists, writers and film-makers sought to convey experiences and emotions in their work. New objectivity was also a major break though in arts in which artists depicted the horrors of war, social hypocrisy, moral decadents, the plight of the poor and the rise of Nazism with artist such as Otto Dix and George Grosz. The Bauhaus movement in architecture was also very influential.
The community also became much more socially accepting through the constitution with the freedom of religion, freedom of association and all Germans being equal before the law all being a part of the constitution. Racial, religious and political tolerance grew.
This period is also frequently cited as one of those with the highest level of intellectual production in human history. Germany had the most educated population in Europe and so, many scientific and technological advances were made throughout the ‘golden years’ as well as producing many well known scientists including Albert Einstein. A modern radio system was developed, new roads and railways were built and the motor industry flourished.
Socially women’s rights and position in Germany society were advancing. Under the constitution women had been given absolute equality with men. Women were allowed to vote and hold public office. The employment rate in Germany was 400% higher then in the United States and Germany had more female members of parliament then any other European country.
Germany also joined the League of Nations in 1926, which is seen as Germany’s acceptance back into the wider community. It gave Germany an added voice in world affairs and a forum from which Germany could seek to settle other German grievances.
However, this period of ease and social and cultural well-being did not last. In 1929, Germany entered the depression. This came as a result of Germany using short-term loans to fund long-term projects. As a result of the depression, by late 1932, nearly six million people were unemployed. The social impact of the depression was great and it effected most classes in the German society, resulting in nearly six million people being unemployed by late 1932. The political, social and economic instability caused by the depression, resulted in the downfall of the Weimar Republic and democracy. Due to differing opinions on how to deal with the depression the Muller government became divided and in March 1930, the government fell. Between 1930 and 1933 was a period of political confusion, with a revolving door of chancellors who could not find a solution to the mass unemployment of the great depression. The simplistic solutions of the nationalistic demagoguery of Hitler’s Nazi party became increasingly attractive to the desperate German populous and in 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor and Nazi party came into power. There would be no more free elections until the German cities were in rubble with Germany sundered in two at the conclusion of world war two.
In conclusion, the social and cultural life in Germany took a parabolic arc. On either side of a period of unprecedented economic and cultural blossoming, German democracy faced two periods of struggle and external pressure. It rode through the first successfully, the second one it failed abysmally and the world paid the price.