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Democracy (Weimar Germany #AtoZChallenge)

Germany had been a Keiserriach – an Empire – for over fifty years. In this time, many rights had been extended to a larger population. It could be said that democracy had advanced, although the government responded to the Keiser rather than the Reichstang – the Parliament.

In the dramatic times at the end of WWI, in the hope to create a change that would please the Allies, Keiser Wilhelm gave the Chancellorship to Crown Prince Maximilian von Baden, who had always been of liberal feelings. After trying unsuccessfully to turn the Empire into a parliamentary monarchy, von Baden opened the Reichstag to the SPD. He immediately started to negotiate with the United States a possible peace but didn’t find the favour he was hoping for.

The sense that the war was ending and not favourably arose in the country. The rebellion spread all over Germany, picked up by the bigger personalities of the Communist party.
Hoping this would calm things down, removing the main connection between Germany and the war, Max von Baden resigned his Chancellorship in the hands of the SPD leader, Friederich Ebert and urged Whilhelm II to abdicate.

This happened on 9 November 1918. Trying to prevent the communists from proclaiming a socialist republic which would end up under the influence of Russia, one of Ebert’s fellow partymen, Philipp Scheidemann, proclaimed the Republic of Germany without any consultation.
Only afterwards, in the town of Weimar in Thuringia, away from the mess in Berlin, the democratic Reichstag wrote its own constitution.

Proclamation of the Weimar Republic in front of the Reichstag, 9. November 1918
Proclamation of the Weimar Republic in front of the Reichstag, 9. November 1918

For the short time it lived, the Weimar republic was indeed a beacon of democracy. It allowed large parts of the population to take part in the political life, a few for the first time ever – it was, in fact, the first German regime which granted the right to vote to women and full citizenship to Jews.

Engulfed, like all the Western world, in the dramatic social changes of the beginning of the XX century, the republic embraced it and made it its own.

Freedom of expression was widely recognised, giving rise to an extraordinary diversity of papers, magazines and publishing houses. Philosophy and literature flourished. Many artistic movements – Expressionism, Dadaism, the Neue Sachlichkeit to mention only a few – were at home in Germany and found there their highest form of expression. New ways of creating design, using new materials and new industrial processes arose (The Bauhaus).

In a society that had been extremely strict under the Empire and had known the rebellion after the war, sensuality and sexual impulses became an ever more common way of expression especially when meeting the sexual liberation common to all the Western world. It was in Germany that the first institute for the study of sexuality was founded by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who was an activist in the movement for the rights of homosexuals. The Reichstag even discussed the practice of abortion and contraception, which should have been available freely.

It has often been speculated that the republic – born in messy times and always moving on rocky ground – never really had a chance for success. #history #Berlin #Germany #Weimar #democracy Share on X
Weimar Reichstag and the republic's consitution

It has often been speculated that the republic – born in messy times and always moving on rocky ground – never really had a chance for success.
Socialists, social democrats and communists, who should have been the republic’s paladins, never supported it as much as they should (or could) have, disappointed as they were with what they considered only small improvements. They expected a lot more from democracy.
Besides the republic had many enemies who gladly pointed out its weaknesses.

One weakness was the political divisiveness. The republic parliamentary situation was always shaky. There was never a majority who could safely governe because even inside the same political areas, there was no agreement. Both the Left and the Right were divided into many smaller groups and entities that seldom came to an agreement. This created mistrust in the population, who generally believed politicians were corrupt and selfish. This mistrust was good soil for any kind of conspiracy theories. The most followed was the Dolchstosslegende – the stab in the back. It theorised that Germany was actually winning the war (Germans had firmly believed it to the end. Besides, they were led to believe so) and the November 1918 surrender was engineered by socialists, liberals and Jews in Germany’s civilian government. It wasn’t at all the result of military defeat or exhaustion. The fact that the new bourgeoisie government sighed the hated Treaty of Versailles and that the military generals didn’t even participate in the meeting made this belief even stronger. Many right-wing parties used this theory for gaining momentum, and none better than Hitler’s NSDAP.

Weakness was the inclination of the republic to come to terms and compromise with forces that were their natural opponents. For example, in the revolutionary times, the government had to compromise with the army in order to bring back low and orders, in spite of the Reichwehr be one of its strongest enemies.

Today, though, historians tend to agree that the SPD had very little choice. The compromises they accepted were not out of weakness or indecision. If they hadn’t accepted them, the republic’s life would probably have been even shorter.

But maybe the ultimate weakness of the republic was the exceptional power the constitution gave to the president. In times of crisis, he could jump the Reichstag and take his own decisions, as the old Emperor would.

This constitutional provision is widely considered one of the main causes that would eventually allow the Third Rich to rise to power.


Contitutional Rights Foundation – The German Weimar Republic: Why Democracy Failed?
Alpha History – Why the Weimar Republic Failed
Review in History – Rethinking the Weimar Republic: Authority and Authoritarianism, 1916-1936

Walter Laqueur, Weimar, A Cultural History 1918-1933. Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd. London, 1971

AtoZ Challenge 2018 - Democracy - It has often been speculated that the Weimar republic – born in messy times and always moving on rocky ground – never really had a chance for success. And still it was a becon of democracy for its short life.


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 01:37

    What an interesting discussion! I find it fascinating that, even though the Weimar government failed, there were those years where so many aspects of life flourished. I wonder if, for some people, it was too much, too soon?

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2018 at 09:53

      Historians have argued that the Weimar Republic failed also because people were not used to democracy. I’m not sure whether it was too much too soon, but certainly it was shocking.
      On the other hand, while up to a couple decades ago the Weimar Republic was always considere as destined to failure, in recent years the attitude of historians seems to have shifted.

    Posted April 4, 2018 at 01:42

    Thanks for another succinct essay, Sarah. And the video and photos. I’m intrigued by the contrast between the Reichstag’s old and new domes.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2018 at 09:55

      Me to. I think the old dome was probably damaged during the war. But I’ll have to look into it 😉

      • JOHN T. SHEA
        Posted April 5, 2018 at 02:23

        The Reichstag was largely destroyed in the controversial 1933 fire, further damaged in the War, partly rebuilt after, and completely rebuilt with a new dome after Germany was reunified and the Federal Government moved back to Berlin. British architect Norman Foster designed the new dome.

        • Post Author
          Posted April 5, 2018 at 07:14

          Thanks for the info, John 🙂 Somehow, I figured the war might at least in part responsible.

  • Lillian Csernica
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 02:54

    Wow! That must have been an intense time to be alive!

  • Leanne |
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 08:29

    Look at all those people in the street! I am still amazed when there are large public gatherings like that today – I avoid them like the plague but others seem drawn to the need to be part of something bigger than themselves. I was thinking about the President having too much power and how that equates to Russia and the US these days – scary stuff!

    Leanne |
    D for Don’t Give Up

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2018 at 09:57

      The exceeding power the president had in his hands is often regarded as one of the main reasons that brought the Third Reich to power.
      Yeah, I think we should be aware of that.

  • Sue Bursztynski
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 09:57

    It must have been quite a time to be alive. A pity it didn’t last. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’d want to be living there while you needed a barrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2018 at 14:47

      LOL! Actually, I think our times have a lot in common with the 1920s. I have no difficulty relating to them.

  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 11:40

    I suppose the problem with true democracy is that everyone does have a say and that leads to many, many voices.

    Some of the other comments have mentioned this, but when you wrote about the power of the president, I couldn’t help think about USA and Russia, and also a lot of other countries which seem to be going the same way.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2018 at 14:50

      When the power concentrate in just one institution or person, it’s always a ricky situation.
      As for myself, I relate more on the dispute between nations. Here in Europe, we know we need to work together, but the many recent crises have indeed arose nationalism the same way it did back then. Sometimes, when I research 1920s Germany, I have a very very strange feeling of knowing exactly what was going on.

  • Shalini
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 20:13

    That’s a well-researched article! How lovely a time to be alive!

  • Birgit
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 20:51

    This was very well written and easy to follow. I almost wonder if the Weimar Republic was the right way but at the wrong time. They had so many forward thinking ideas but many people had trouble seeing this and just looked at that blasted Treaty. I actually would have loved to be in my 20s during this time in Berlin…and then leave in 1933 like so many others did. At this time in my grandparents life, they were busy having kids. My grandfather was a bookbinder who restored the very old books in libraries, monasteries etc.. but he made little money to support his family. It shows that, despite his family, the arts were alive and well during this time. That president had way too many knackwurst:) his whole face looked pushed in

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 09:23

      That’s a good question, if it was the right way at the wrong time. But I wonder: is there ever a right time for such dramatic changes? The Concert of Europe had kept peace for one hundred years in Europe, but that situation had become artificial over time and that’s possibly why WWI was so devastating. So… I don’t know.

      Your grandfather restored ancient books?? What a charming profession.
      My grandfather learned to bind books as a craft when he was very little. Yeah, it must have been aroudn the 1920s too.

      • Birgit
        Posted April 10, 2018 at 05:57

        I have to admit that I was thinking of the original Star Trek episode where Kirk & Spock must go back in time to stop McCoy from doing something that changes the course of history. You find out that McCoy saves a woman and the woman must die. You find out she was one of peace and was able to try to bring peace but this makes it possible formHitler to seize power and win the war.

  • Kristin
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 21:37

    Your topic instigated a discussion of Germany after WWW1 between my daughter, granddaughter and husband and me (who brought it up) My granddaughter seemed to know more about it than the other two.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 09:26

      Well, I’m flattered. I’m so happy. Thanks for telling me 🙂

  • Hilary
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 00:57

    Hi Sarah – I think the latter part of the Weimar Republic mirrored to some extent the Red Russian Revolution 1917 – 32 in Russia … but so interesting to see and read this – thanks – Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted April 7, 2018 at 09:31

      I don’t know enough of the Russian Revolution to make a comparison. But it’s interesting that you say this. The German government was very eager to AVOID what had happen in Russia to happen in Germany.

  • Roland R Clarke
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 20:50

    Another fascinating and educational post, Sarah. I look forward to learning so much more.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 3, 2018 at 09:14

      Hi roland, and sorry for the late reply. April has been crazy. I’m trying to catch up with all the comments and the blogs now. But it’s nice, it’s like the challenge is not over yet 😉

  • Jamie Lyn Weigt
    Posted April 13, 2018 at 03:24

    Very very interesting. I’m loving this series, sorry I can’t keep up on time but I’ll definitely be reading the whole thing as time permits!
    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Theme: Odds and Ends Dragons | Writing Dragons

    • Post Author
      Posted May 3, 2018 at 09:15

      I totally understand, Jamie. I’ve fallen so behind in keeping up with blogs and even my own posts, I’ll need the whole of May to catch up.
      Loved your theme about dragons, though. It was different from any others I’ve seen so far on the challenge 🙂

  • Mandibelle16
    Posted April 20, 2018 at 19:37

    Seems more like the the constitutional monarchy, but with an elected President, after the T of Versailles, and the Keisars abdication, or despite his abdication. You can understand the reactions of young people in the 1920’s, there lavish and sexual lifestyles. I wonder if many places in the world has this the ‘Roaring 20’s” flapper like attitude, due to WWI, & such political unrest. It seemed like democracy and freedoms had a great start, but that the Weimar Republic, was too unstable such a brand-new, life altering society. Freedom for the Jews too,must have been a concept thru we’re thankful for, at least until Hitler and the Writings on the Wall appeared. Cheers

    • Post Author
      Posted May 3, 2018 at 09:19

      Indeed the 1920s were a time of great change all over the Western World, yeah, in part due to the upeaval of WWI.
      While in america these felp mostly positive, kind of sliding onward, here in Europe it was much more traumatic, because we had to cope with the aftermath of WWI. Nationalism rose everywhere, for the same reasons it happened in Germany.
      But any angle you watch at it, the 1920s were such an interesting time 🙂

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