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HI136 The History of Germany Lecture 8. Weimar Society and Culture. The Upper Classes. No fundamental change to the social & economic structure after 1918 – no redistribution of wealth, no nationalization of industry. But some social change:

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Hi136 the history of germany lecture 8 l.jpg

HI136 The History of GermanyLecture 8

Weimar Society

and Culture

The upper classes l.jpg
The Upper Classes

  • No fundamental change to the social & economic structure after 1918 – no redistribution of wealth, no nationalization of industry.

  • But some social change:

  • The aristocracy (at least temporarily) dislodged from their dominant position.

  • Aristocratic ranks and titles banned after 1918 – many families incorporate their titles into their surnames.

  • Nevertheless, industrialists and landowners still powerful and the old elites represented in the Reichstag by the DVP and DNVP.

  • The Officer Corps of the Reichswehr more aristocratic than the old Imperial Army:

    • 25% of regular officers came from old military families in 1913,

    • this number had risen to 67% by 1929.

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The Middle Classes

  • Small businesses struggled to survive in the difficult economic climate of the 1920s and early 30s.

  • Many middle class families continued to fear a loss of status and the threat of revolution and the extreme left.

  • Also a lack of identification with the new Republic.

  • Even those who came to accept it often had little love for it – they came to be known as Vernunftrepublikaner, ‘rational republicans’.

Family of the Lawyer Dr Fritz vonGlaser

(1920) by Otto Dix.

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The Stinnes-Legien Agreement 15 November, 1918

  • An agreement between labour (represented by the trade unionist Karl Legien) and capital (represented by industrialist Hugo Stinnes) reached on 15 November 1918.

  • The Unions agreed not to interfere with private ownership.

  • In return, they were granted them full legal recognition and an 8 hour working day.

  • Achieved long-standing aims of the labour movement.

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The Working Classes

  • Slow improvement in living standards after 1924.

  • Shorter working day, legal Union representation and higher wages.

  • SPD government in Prussia invested in public works – affordable housing, increased benefits, education etc.

  • Extension of adult education aimed at workers.

  • But curriculum designed to raise class consciousness, not improve employment prospects or provide re-training.

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  • Weimar Constitution: the state committed to providing free compulsory education.

  • Universities controlled by central government, primary and secondary schools the responsibility of state governments.

  • Hoped that education will create a sense of civic responsibility, foster a commitment to democracy and provide greater social mobility.

  • Attempts to reform secondary education in Prussia – more opportunities for girls, raised the age at which testing took place, and allowed for more movement between educational streams.

  • But resistance from the Centre Party and from within the educational establishment.

  • Many teachers and professors, recruited from the middle classes, remained hostile to the Republic and old educational methods – learning by rote etc. – remained standard.

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Gender I

  • New educational and employment opportunities for women.

  • Young middle-class women increasingly employed in secretarial and other ‘white collar’ jobs.

  • More disposable income & interaction with the outside world freed them from family influence.

  • Wages spent of consumer goods and entertainment – fashion, cosmetics, cinema etc.

  • Absence of young men brought about changes in sexual attitudes/behaviour.

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Marlene Dietrich (left),

Josephine Baker (right),

and Louise Brooks


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Gender II

  • All women over the age of 20 can vote after 1918.

  • 36 female Reichstag deputies by 1924 – more than in any other parliament in the world.

  • But these criticized for confining their activities to ‘women’s issues’ – child care, social policy, family issues etc.

  • Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine (BDF) = the largest women’s organization with over 900,000 members.

  • But a split in the women’s movement along age and class lines.

  • Debate over reproductive issues and the campaign to legalize abortion highlights these differences.

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‘Weimar was Berlin, Berlin Weimar’

  • Under the Weimar Republic Berlin became Germany’s premier cultural and social centre.

  • A hub for European travel.

  • 1924: Tempelhof Airport opened.

  • Berlin had a population of 4 million by 1925 & grew by 80-100,000 people a year.

  • By 1928 Berlin was the world’s 3rd largest city after London and New York.

  • 1926: Funkturm Radio Tower built.

  • 1928: Kempinski Haus Vaterland amusement park opened.

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Six-day bicycle races.

The Potsdammerplatz by night.

Patrons of the Eldorado, Berlin’s notorious transvestite bar.

Marlene Dietrich as the cabaret singer Lola Lola

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Crime & Policing

  • Chaotic conditions in the early and later years of the Republic a breeding ground for crime.

  • Prostitution – the police estimated that there were 25,000 full time prostitutes in Berlin in 1929.

  • Drugs.

  • Organized Crime – extortion, illegal gambling, protection rackets etc.

  • Murder:

    • Fritz Haarmann, the ‘Butcher of Hanover’, killed 24 tramps and male prostitutes between 1919 and 1924.

    • Karl Grossman murdered perhaps as many as 50 women before he was arrested in Berlin in 1921.

    • Peter Kürten, the ‘Vampire of Düsseldorf’, was convicted of 9 murders and 7 attempted murders in 1931.

  • By 1929 50,000 crimes being reported annually in Berlin alone.

  • Policing effective – the uniformed Schutzpolizei (Schupo) and the plain clothes Kriminalpolizei (Kripo).

  • Berlin police well trained and well educated, with a high success rate: 39 out of 40 reported murders solved in 1928, while culprits brought to trial in all 20 cases of attempted murder.

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Ernst Gennat (1880-

1939), head of the

Homicide division of the

Berlin Kriminalpolizei

(1925-39) and originator

Of the term ‘serial killer’


Above: Peter Lorre as the child murder in

Fritz Lang’s M (1931)

Left: Peter Kürten (1883-1931), ‘the

Vampire of Düsseldorf’.

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Weimar Cinema

  • The war freed German cinema from foreign competition and provided a captive audience for home-grown products.

  • 1917: The German High Command force a merger of German production companies to form Universum Film A.G. (Ufa).

  • 1918: The state withdrew its stake in Ufa, which continued as a private concern and Germany’s largest production company.

  • Technological innovations, high production values and a strong aesthetic sense put Weimar cinema at the fore-front of the European avant-garde.

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Notable German Films, 1918-33

  • Der Golum (1920)

  • Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920)

  • Der müde Tod (1921)

  • Dr Mabuse, der Spieler – Ein Bild der Zeit (1922)

  • Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

  • Der letze mann (1924)

  • Die freundlose Gasse (1925)

  • Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (1926) – the world’s first feature length animated film.

  • Metropolis (1927)

  • Der blaue Engel (1930)

  • Westfront 1918 (1930)

  • Die Dreigroschenoper (1931)

  • M (1931)

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Fritz Lang

F. W. Murnau

G. W. Pabst

Ernst Lubitsch

Josef von Sternbeg

Billy Wilder

Walter Ruttmann

Paul Leni

Arnold Franck


Conrad Veidt

Emil Jannings

Rudolf Klein-Rogge

Marlene Dietrich

Peter Lorre

Max Schreck

Werner Krauss

Leni Reifenstahl

Notable Directors and Actors

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Expressionism is the tendency of an artist to distort reality for an emotional effect; it is a subjective art form.

Art movement very influential in Germany since the turn of the century (Die Brücke, der Blaue Reiter).

Wassily Kandinsky, Der blaue Reiter (1903)

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Expressionist Architecture

The Chilehaus in Hamburg (1922-24),

designed by Fritz Höger

The Einstein Tower in Potsdam (1919-20),

designed by Erich Mendelsohn

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Expressionist Film

Scenes from Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920)

Still from Nosferatu (1922), directed by F. W. Murnau

The ‘Tower of Babel’ from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

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Expressionist Theatre

  • Expressionist theatre was strident and hostile, “eccentric in plot, staging, speech, characters, acting, and direction.” (Peter Gay).

  • Ernst Toller, Die Wandlung (Transformation, 1919).

  • George Kaiser, Die Koralle (1917), Gas (1918) & Gas II (1920).

The director and impressario Max Reinhardt

(1873-1943) did much to popularize an Expressionist

aesthetic in the theatre of the Weimar Republic

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  • An international cultural movement founded in Zürich in 1916.

  • first and foremost a response to the madness of war.

  • To the Dadaists, progress (including reason and logic) had led to the disaster of world war.

  • They believed that the only way forward was through political anarchy, the natural emotions, the intuitive and the irrational.

  • A fore-runner of Surrealism.

Germany: A Winter’s Tale (1917-19)

by George Grosz

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Neue Sachlichkeit(New Objectivity)

  • An Outgrowth of and in opposition to expressionism.

  • A new naturalism in art, literature and cinema.

  • A style and aesthetic, rather than a movement.

  • Encompassed ‘Verists’ who used the style to comment critically on society and ‘Classicists’ who merely favoured a representation and realism over abstraction.

  • “What we are displaying here is distinguished by the – in itself purely external – characteristics of the objectivity with which the artists express themselves” (Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, 1923).

  • Rejection of sentimentality and emotional agitation of Expressionism.

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Großstadt (Metropolis) Triptych (1927-28) by Otto Dix

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Three Whores (1926) by Otto Dix

The Pillars of the Establishment (1926)

by George Grosz

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Satires of middle class family life:

Industriebauen (1920) by Georg Scholz and Deutsche Familie (1932) by Adolf Uzarski

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Neue Sachlichkeit Film

Posters for Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (1927) and Der Letze Mann (1924)

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Walter Gropius (1883-1969)

  • Director of the Bauhaus between 1919 and 1928.

  • His aim was to bring together all creative efforts into one whole, to reunify all the disciplines of practical art — painting, sculpture, handicrafts and the crafts. There should be no distinction between monumental and decorative art.

  • He believed that the student must know the crafts — each student had to work in the workshop to familiarise themselves with materials and construction in order to learn how to design properly.

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The Bauhaus

  • Established standards of excellence and workmanship.

  • Created products for mass production.

  • Chief aesthetic principle was to simplify the design of all objects.

  • The modernist palette tended to emphasize white and grey accented with black or primary colours.

  • Ornamentation had to be integral to the materials of construction.

  • Made use of the latest technologies.

  • Stressed lightness and transparency.

  • Art and technology were fused in an effort to improve overall quality of design.

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The Bauhaus

Cantilever “Cesca” Chair by Marcel Breuer.

The Bauhuas building in Dessau (1925-26)

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  • No redistribution of wealth or nationalization of industry, but still a great deal of social change under the Weimar Republic:

    • Shorter working week, legal recognition of trade unions.

    • State authorities in Prussia tied to provide better living and working conditions, raise social mobility through educational reform.

    • New opportunities for women.

  • Growth of Berlin & identification with Weimar culture.

  • New styles and media:

    • Expressionism, Dada, New Objectivity.

    • Film & Radio.

  • But many Germans still feel alienated from the Republic and its culture.