Weimar Germany, 1918 - 1933


This topic is useful both for Paper 3, where there could be a question dealing with this directly, or for Paper 2, as the essential background to Hitler's RTP and/or the impact of WW1 on Germany.

Past Questions:

Paper 3
  • Why was the Weimar Republic in Germany able to survive the crisis years between 1919 and 1923 but not those between 1929 and 1933? (specimen)
  • Why was the Weimar Republic so short-lived? (May 2007)
  • Analyse the reasons for the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the establishment of a Nazi dictatorship in the period 1929 to 1934. (Nov 2006)
  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of Weimar Germany between 1919 and 1932. (May 2005)


Key dates:

Context of the birth of the Republic: the impact of WW1 on Germany


  • Over 2.5 million Germans had died in the war and approx- 4 million wounded.
  • By the end of Allid blockade in July 1919, 250,000 people had died of starvation.
  • The German people saw the TOV as a diktat that had been froced upon Germany and Germans were outrged by the loss of colonies, territory and population.
  • Germans felt that the principle of self-determination had been ignored and that the War Giult Clause was unjust.
  • One effect of the treaty was the immidiate lack of confidence in the politicians who had signed it (practically allof them were the new leaders of the republic).


  • The Kaiser abdicated and sent to exilein Holland- leader of Social Democrats- Ebert- prolaimed a new republic whose first action was sign an armistice with the Allies. Many saw this as an actof terason (including Hitler) and the men who surrendered came to be kown as the "November criminals".
  • Moderate politicians were eager to put the war aside and its international consequences to instead create a democracy.
  • However, opposed by two main groups; right-wingers who loathed the idea of a democracy and agitated for the restoration of monarchy (the Kaiser's restoration!), and left-wingers who saw this as an ideal time for the establishment of a Communist or Socialist regime.
  • Even before the constitution was drawn up there was a major rebellion- the Spartacus Revolt in January 1919- many hoped to see a Russian style revolution in Germany. The left-wing revolt led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebkhnecht began in Berlin and the government had to flee the city.
  • The defence minister used the army and "Freikorps" (ex-soldiers) to crush the revolt. The Freikorps were strongly anti-communist and took brutal steps to restore order; the leaders of the Spartacus were executed. Political violence had marred the foundation of the new state!!!


  • After WW1, Germanywas broken and starved and not until July 1919 that Allied blockade was lifted (upon the signing of TOV).
  • The 1918 harvesthad been disastrous-forcing prices up sevenfold compared with 1914.
  • The peace treaties derived Germany of 3/4 of its iron resources, 1/4 of coal and 15% of arable land.
  • Reparations Commissionfixed the total amount of reparations to be payed by Germany in April 1921 at 132 million gold marks!

Constitution and aims of the new Republic

  • Despite the Spartacus revolt, the new domecratic republic won the votes of the majority of the German people in January 1919- the major politicalparties in the repiblic were; SPD, liberal DDP and Catholic Center Party.
  • The Constituent Assembly met at Weimar in Febraury 1919 and Ebert elected president,
  • The parliament (Reichstag) was to be elected every four years with a system of proportional respresentation so that it would be impossible for one party to get overall majority.
  • The president was to be elected every seven years under Article 48 he had the power to, under a stateof emergency, rule by decree (a dictator!!) and pass any veto laws.

Surviving the 'crisis years': 1918 - 1923. How did the WR survive threats from the left and right?
Spartacus Revolt:
  • January 1919,the Republic hiredthe Freikorps to eliminate the threat.

Kapp Putsch:
  • The right-wing dissatisfaction with the new government worsened by the decsision to disband the Freikorps units.
  • The nationalist politician Wolfgang Kapp led a revolt in Berlin backed by the Freikorps and the miltary commander in Berlin.
  • The regular army refused to crush the revolt and government had to flee the city!
  • However the putsch collapsed and at the same time a communist revolt in Ruhr was crushed with over a thousand dead.

French Occupation of Ruhr:
  • In 1921 the Allied Reparations Commission agreed on the total sum of war reparations to be payed by Germany, however Germany could not pay the amount owned and over Christmas and New years 1922-23 they defaulted on their payments- 70,000 French and Belgian troops invaded the Ruhrto use the prodcuce of Germany's industrial heartland as a type of reparations.
  • The German government began a policy of passive resistance and called a general strike but the French reacted brutally and shot over a hundred people.
  • The occupation had catasrophic consequences on the economy as the loss of producion in the Ruhr caused a fall in prodcution elsewhere and the unemployment rose from 2% to 23%.
  • Prices rose out of control as tax revenues collapsed and the government responded b printing money- hyperinflation!!

The 'golden years' under Streseman. What allowed this recovery and boom? Was it superficial, or did it have the basis of long-term prosperity?

Gustav Streseman was appointed Chancellor in August 1923 and policies helped transform the fortunes of the Republic.

The Dawes Plan 1924:
  • His first act was to call of the strikes in Ruhr as he thought the occupation led to political instability and a severe strain the the German economy.
  • He issued the new Rentemark to stabilize the inflation and negotiated with the Reparations Commission about payments of reparations.
  • In April 1924, a committee formulated a new plan for reparation payments under American banker, Carles Dawes. The plan left the total sum undecided but it gave Germany two years of delay on the reparations (moratorium) and laid down the instrument of "graded instalement" which increased Germany's capacity to pay.
  • International loans were also granted to speed up Germany's recovery and make it possble to speed up the rate of payments.

- It is important to keep in miind that the recovery after the Dawes Plan and "the Golden Years" were dependent upon foreign loans and investment which made it very fagile. The main source of aid came from the USA and at any time they could withdraw the aid and demand that Germany pay back the debts- Germany's economy would then againthe devastated (Wall Street Crash!!!)

The Young Plan 1929:
  • The Germans complained that the payments were too excessive and an international commission led by Owen Young, reduced Germany's reparation payments to 1,850 million pounds which ahd to bepayed within 59 years.
  • However many Germans were discontent with the Young Plan as they were still reuired to pay an annual sum of 30million to the Allies up to 1988. The Nazi launhed a violent campaign against the Young Plan.
  • Before the plan came into action, the world was hit by the Great Depressio and Germany was agai unable to pay.

Weimar culture - to what extent did it undermine support for the regime?

  • The Republic saw a greater sexual freedom and tolerance and the development of mass culture.
  • Street theatre developed to take political drama to a mass audience ; "a threatre that makes no contact with the public is nonsense"- Brecht.
  • Some women broke the traditional norms by smoking, having short hair stryles and campaigned for sexual liberation- accompanied by expansio of employment opportunities for women in the growing pofessional and seive sectors.
  • In 1920s, the cinema developed as a form of mass entertainment as a symbol for the democratic age.

Germans' reaction:
  • The Nazis organised a disruption of performances of "unpatriotic" films and the prominence of Jews during this cultural thaw was seen by the Right as proof of the harm the Weimar Democracy was creating in Germany.
  • Many Germans welcomed the atmosphere of optimism and experimenttation but for many other, the social and cultural change only reinforced their fears that Germany was collapsing- blamed on the Republic!
  • There are several indications of growing reaction to the Wimar culture- reports of audiences "booing" experimental plays and concerts and local governments chose to focus on more popular productions instead.
  • Many conservatives blamed the government for allowing traditional German culture to be undermined and it was not only right-wing which opposed but also some left-wing parties as they were attracted to more dynamic communism.
  • Abroad however, Germany's culture became well known and attracted many from across the world- improved Germany's reputation abroad!
  • The experimentation was largely limited to the cities.
  • The culture itself did not undermine the republic but instead it seemed that many Germans symbolised all that was wrong with Germany to the Weimar.

Strengths and weaknesses of the WR in 1929 (i.e. before the Wall Street Crash in October)

Signs of weaknesses:

- The Election of a new President:
  • After the death of Ebert in 1925, the new presidential elections were held.
  • Hindenburg won the electionsbut was unsuited for the post as he was a right-wing politician who ahd little respect for a democratic government.
  • Him winning the elections in 1925 were largely ue to the Germans wated a war-hero to revive the national glory of Germany- The Rebulic lacked this strong leadership!

- Dangers to the economic prosperity:
  • By 1929, the production was well over pre-war levels but it was dependent upon foreign loans,especially from America which could be withdrawn at any moment.
  • The economic prosperity depended on export trade and not an expansion in the home market. Any change in overseas trade would lead to devestating economy.
  • Unemployment in Germny never fell bloew 1 million.

Signs of strength:
- Greatly approved economy as seen in Dawes Plan and Young Plan- managed to buy some time for germany to recover and also greatly reduced reparation payments.

How did the Great Depression lead to the collapse of the Republic?

  • There was no growth in industrial production in 1928-29 and unemployment rose to 2.5 million.
  • The American demands for imports collapsed and so the German economy as it was greatly dependent upon exports.
  • American banks started calling back their short-term loans which had enabled germany to recover for the past 5 years.
  • Industrial production fell and by 1932 it was 40% of the 1929 level.
  • Unemployment rose to 6.12 million in February 1932 and huge slumps were created in the industrial cities in which people lived on the streets.
  • Crime and suicide rates rose sharply and people deserted the democratic parties and turned either to Communists or Nazis in search for hope and a change.
  • The new Chancellor Bruning (1930-32) followed a policy of economic austerity in which government spending was cut in order to keep the inflation under control and German exports competitive. Increases taxes and reduced unemployment assistance!!
  • Given the unpopularity of Bruning's policies, he found it very difficult to get majority in parliament and instead relied on Article 48 and completely ignored the democracy!
  • Bruning was replaced with Von Papen (equally unpopular) and finally in January 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor in an attempt by Hindenburg to crush the democracy- The Weimar Republic was now completely abolished.

Historiography: to what extent was the republic doomed to fail?


Wonderful website on this topic: http://www.historyhome.co.uk/europe/weimar.htm

Excellent site: http://www.funfront.net/hist/total/n-german.htm