1918-1919 1924-1928

In the early years of the Weimar Republic, the SPD (Social Democratic Party) played a leading role.
Here, instead of the Germania symbolizing the Empire, working men (smith, miner, farmer) are depicted to symbolize the people (Republic).

Stamps of Bavaria and Württemberg, signs of German federalism, ceased to be used - here remainders overprinted DEUTSCHES REICH are shown. Princely federalism now converted into a democratic federalism.

Weimar Republic, 1919-1923

Administration . Foreign Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy . Demography . Cultural History

Administration . President 1919-1925 Friedrich Ebert (SPD). Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann (SPD) 1919, Gustav Bauer (SPD) 1919-1920, Hermann Müller (SPD) 1920, Konstantin Fehrenbach (Zentrum) 1920-1921, Joseph Karl Wirth (Zentrum) 1921-1922, Wilhelm Carl Joseph Cuno (non-party) 1922-1923, Gustav Stresemann (DVP) 1923. Capital Berlin.

Foreign Policy . Plebiscites were held in North Schleswig; Zone 1 voted for Denmark (Feb. 10 1920), Zone 2 for staying with Germany (March 14th 1920); in Zone 3, no plebiscite was held. In Allenstein and Marienwerder (July 11th 1920) the vast majority voted for remaining with Germany. On March 20th 1921, the plebiscite in Upper Silesia was 57 % for Germany and 40 % for Poland; the area was split, the larger, western part staying with Germany, the smaller, eastern part being ceded to Poland. During the time leading up to the plebiscite, the allies, in charge of supervising the affair, were not actually neutral, but supported the 'other' side. In Eupen-Malmedy, no actual plebiscite was held, but those opposing annexation into Belgium invited to enter a register at city hall; those who did risked being fired, losing their ration cards etc.; few registered and so annexation proceded unopposed. In Memel no plebiscite was held.
The German government had to worry about the fate of Germans living outside of the (new) borders of the German Empire. The Free Corps protected the German minority in the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia) until Entente pressure forced the German government to recall them in 1920, and in Upper Silesia, where Polish paramilitaries terrorized the German population majority; they were defeated in the Battle of Annaberg.
Internationally, Germany faced isolation. To break that isolation, and to circumvent military restrictions imposed on Germany, the country in 1922 signed the Treaty of Rapallo, with the RSFSR (soon to be USSR).
When France and Belgium proceeded with the occupation of the Rhineland in 1923, the U.S. and Britain distanced themselves from the action. Lithuania used the opportunity to annex the Memelland without plebiscite.

Stamps issued for Upper Silesia. CGHS = Commission de Gouvernement du Haute Silesie

On the Left :
Stamp issued for Allenstein

On the Right :
Stamp issued for Marienwerder

Stamps issued for northern Schleswig.
The left stamp was for the use in the entire area.
The right stamp, overprinted "1 ZONE", was to be used
in the northern area which had voted for integration
into Denmark.

Domestic Policy . The German Revolution suppressed in March 1919, the new constitution adapted in the city of Weimar, the Republic seemed secured. For the moment.
Yet it was far from so. The conditions of the Treaty of Versailles were known since January 1919, yet they were extremely harsh, the Entente demand that Germany was solely responsible for the war generally refused, the demands for territorial cessions and for reparations regarded very excessive, the demand to hand over all colonies because "the Germans had proven incapable of governing them" ridiculous, the demand that the entire fleet had to be handed over, the army to be reduced to 100.000 men an insult to German pride - the army had formed an integral part of German identity. Even the most peace-loving German democratic politicians, eager to finally take charge of politics after decades of sitting in a powerless parliament, had to make a heart- breaking decision, to sign a peace treaty Germany needed (the peace) but which their conscience declined; it was signed for raison d'etat in June 1919.
The Weimar Republic adopted Germany's democratic flag - Schwarz-Rot-Gold and replaced the Imperial National Anthem by the Song of the Germans, thus emphasizing the tradition of the democratic revolution of 1848. However, the state's name, Deutsches Reich (German Empire) was retained. The republic's constitution was the most liberal constitution Germany ever had. The franchise was extended to women; Universal Suffrage was given to all citizens over 21. Parliament was composed by elected representatives according to the principle of Proportional Representation, i.e. 34 % of the votes translated to 34 % of the seats in parliament. There was no hurdle for parties to cross; the system led to a multitude of parties represented. As no party acquired a majority of seats, Coalition Governments had to be formed. The position of President was powerful - laws became valid only by his signature, only he could declare war - but largely representative and ceremonial. In charge of active policy was the Chancellor (a pendant to the prime minister), who headed the cabinet. He was elected by parliament, then appointed by the president.
Germany's Emperor had abdicated, the country a new, Republican constitution. Yet many of Germany's ruling elite, in state administration, army, public service such as police, school, in the justice system still felt loyal if not to the Emperor so to the Empire. They regarded the new republic as a constitution imposed on Germany by the victorious Entente - for them perhaps the most humiliating of the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles. The song "Wir wollen unsern alten Kaiser Wilhelm wiederhab'n" (we want to have back our old Emperor Wilhelm) expressed just that feeling. However, everybody knew that the present government had to make decisions nobody wanted to take responsibility for - such as the signature on the Treaty of Versailles - and the republican ministers were, by the conservative Empire loyalists, for the time being, regarded useful idiots with whom they had to cooperate to suppress the German Revolution. The conservative vote was split over a number of parties.
The suppression of the revolution had resulted in a split of the hitherto large social democratic party (SPD). The left social democrats (the later communists), regarding the failed revolution a lost opportunity, from the start formed a stubborn opposition refusing the new constitution, striving for a socialist state.
The parties of the democratic center - SPD (center-left), Zentrum (Catholic), DDP (progressive liberals), DVP (national liberals), BVP (Bavarians) entered coalition governments of convenience; many of the liberals still held the SPD responsible for Germany's defeat in the war. The Dolchstoss Legend was cultivated, according to which Germany had not lost the war in the field, but because the socialist revolution had 'stabbed the front soldier in the back'.
The republic was resented by considerable segments of the population, both on the right and the left, waiting for an opportunity to overthrow it. Republican polititians became victims of political assassination - Matthias Erzberger (Zentrum, 1921; he was a German signatory of the Treaty of Versailles) and Walter Rathenau (DDP, 1922). In 1920 (Kapp) and 1923 (Küstrin) two coups d'etat were undertaken, peacefully defeated by General Strike. The Trade Unions thus saved the republic.
The French military administration of occupied regions of Germany supported separatist movements in the Rhineland and in Palatinate; the separatists enjoyed little support, and soon dissolved.

Germany, seats in the Reichstag, 1920-1924
after the election of June 9th 1920

Independent Social Democrats and Communists
Social Democrats
Centre (Catholics)
Germ. Nat'l People's Party (nationalistic)
German People's Party (national liberal)
German Democratic Party (progessive liberal)
Bavarian people's party (regional, nat'l liberal)
smaller parties

The Economy . Hundreds of thousands of returning soldiers had to be integrated into an economy which had to be retransformed into a competitive peacetime economy. As compared to the pre-war economy, there were some changes : the 8-Hour-Workday had been introduced. The first rates of Reparations payments had to be made. There was money, but demand far outweighed supply, inflation became a serious concern. German governments changed frequently; in order to maintain social stability, the printing of money was continued; political disruption (coups, communist revolts) only exacerbated the situation. The government chose inaction in face of inflation to indicate to the rest of the world the impossibility of living up to the expected reparations payments. Then, in January 1923, French and Belgian troops, already occupying the Rhineland as a pawn to secure the payment of reparations, on the occasion of a late shipment of telegraph poles - because of the accelerating inflation, reparations were paid mostly in goods - occupied the Ruhrgebiet.

On the left : German stamp overprinted with surcharge to aid the families resisting the French occupation of the Ruhr area.
On the right : German Stamps issued in 1925 to stress Germany's claim on the French-occupied Rheinland; German eagle in background

That did it. The German government forbade German public servants, both on the Ruhr and Rhine, to cooperate with the occupants. The Trade Union called for a general strike. The steel mills and coal mines on the Ruhr stood still. Strikers and non-cooperators risked their lives - the occupants summarily shot citizens who refused collaboration on several occasions. However, the occupation of the Ruhr proved to be a huge blunder, a loss in economic terms and political prestige. The campaign of Non-Violent Resistance was, politically, successful. The international media reported, sympathizing with the German side.
However, the German economy now had to additionally feed the families of millions of striking workers on the Ruhr and Rhine. The result was inflation going through the roof. Prices doubled on a daily basis. The Reichsbank was not able to print enough money, every municipality, in the later stage every business was permitted to issue it's own money (there were pubs printing money). Workers collected their wage in bags (to store all that paper money), spending it immediately for tomorrow it would have lost half it's value. Housewives fed their stoves with stacks of banknotes.

A banknote issued by the Directorate of Germany's Railways, over 100 Milliard Reichsmark (= 100,000,000,000 RM), in 1923.
Courtesy Ron Wise, whose World Paper Money webpage offers an extensive collection of 20th century paper money.

Stamps showing the progress of the German inflation : face value 10 Mark, 100,000 Mark; then the govt. printing agency could no more keep up with the pace of inflation and used overprints instead.

Exchange rates, US Dollar to Mark, 1918-1923
Source : Gerald D. Feldman, The Great Disorder, Oxford : UP 1997, p.5
Jan. 1918
Jan. 1919
Jan. 1920
Jan. 1921
Jan. 1922
April 1922
July 1922
Oct. 1922
Jan. 1923
Feb. 1923
Mar. 1923
Apr. 1923
May 1923
June 1923
July 1923
Aug. 1923
Sept. 1923
Oct. 1923
Nov. 1923
Dec. 1923

In November 1923 the government finally stepped in. The general strike on Rhine and Ruhr was called off - it could not be financed any more. A Currency Reform was carried through. The new Rentenmark proved very stable, beginning the tradition of the Mark as a hard currency. But immediately, unemployment figures took off.

Here stamps from just before and just after the currency reform. The face values drop from 20 Milliard Mark (in US figures : 20 Billion = 20,000,000,000) to 3 pfennig (= 0.03 Mark).

Demography . The census of 1919 counted a population of 60.3 million; J. Lahmeyer gives an estimate of 61.5 million for 1923, the latter figure including the population of those areas reintegrated into Germany after the plebiscite.

Cultural History . In 1922, Oswald Spengler published Kulturgeschichte des Abendlandes (Decline of the West). Germans Johannes Stark (1919), Albert Einstein (1921) were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, Walter Nernst the Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1920, O.F. Meyerhof the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1922.
German athletes did not participate in the Summer Olympics in Antwerp 1920.
The final game(s) of the German football championship in 1922, between title holder 1.FC Nürnberg (Nuremberg) and challengers Hamburger SV, were of a particular nature. The first game, score 1-1 after 90 munites, went into overtime. At that time overtime was not regulated; the referee ended the game after 189 minutes (!), score 2-2, because darkness set in. A repeat game saw the score being 1-1 after 90 minutes; again overtime. When one team (Nürnberg) was reduced to 7 players (2 down because of injuries, 2 sent off) the referee decided to terminate the game without a winner having been decided. The German Football Federation declared the challenger (Hamburg) champion, arguing that the title defender (Nürnberg) had failed to defend the title. Hamburg refused to accept, arguing that the team had not won. Thus there was no champion in 1922.

Articles from Wikipedia : Weimar Constitution, Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann, Gustav Bauer, Hermann Müller, Konstantin Fehrenbach, Joseph Wirth, Wilhelm Cuno, Gustav Stresemann, Walther Rathenau, Matthias Erzberger, Treaty of Versailles, Schleswig Plebiscites, Upper Silesia Plebiscite, Silesian Uprisings, Freikorps, Stab-in-the-back Legend (Dolchstoss Legend), Rhineland : Following the First World War, Rhenish Republic, Kapp Putsch, Beer Hall Putsch (March on the Feldherrnhalle), Treaty of Rapallo, 1922, German Papiermark, 1920 in Germany, 1921 in Germany, 1922 in Germany, 1923 in Germany, Category : Political Parties in Weimar Germany, Elections in Germany : Weimar Republic Elections, Nobel Laureates by Country : Germany
Articles from Wikipedia, German language edition : Autonome Pfalz (Palatine Autonomy Movement), Hamburger Aufstand (Hamburg Uprising 1923), Deutscher Meister 1921-1922 (German Football Championship 1921-1922); Eupen-Malmedy : Die Eingliederung nach Belgien (Eupen-Malmedy : Integration into the Belgian State)
Values of the most important German Banknotes of the Inflation Period, 1920-23, from Sammler.com, with a table of exchange rates Mark-Dollar 1920-23 and with illustrations
Notgeld (Emergency Currency), from Chicago Coin Club, essay by Courtney Coffing, 1986
Armseliges Deutschland : War Defeat, Reparations, Inflation, and the Year 1923 in German History, by Robert A. Selig, from German Life
Norbert Paddags, The German Railways : The Economic and Political Feasibility of Fiscal Reforms during the Inflation of the Early 1920s (1997)
N.H. Dimsdale, N. Horsewood and A. van Riel, Umemployment and Real Wages in Weimar Germany (2004)
DOCUMENTS German banknotes issued 1920-1923, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
1,000,000,000 Mark voucher (local banknote), Hamburg 1923 , 20,000,000,000 Mark replacement banknote Hamburg 1923, both posted at this site (courtesy Peter Doerling)
German Inflationary Notgeld 1922-1923, posted by Richard Holmes, many images
Weimar documents in German Original, in English translation, from psm-data
Weimar documents, from Document Archiv, in German
Germany : World War I and Weimar Republic, from Eurodocs, collection of links
REFERENCE Gerald D. Feldman, The Great Disorder. Politics, Economics, and Society in the German Inflation, 1914-1924, Oxford : UP 1997, 1011 pp.
Weimarer Republik, Informationen zur politischen Bildung 261, revised edition 2003 [G]
Bernd Widdig, Culture and Inflation in Weimar Germany, Berkeley : University of California Press 2001, KMLA Lib.Sign. 332.41 W638c
Frederic V. Grunfeld, The Hitler File. A Social History of Germany and the Nazis, 1918-1945, NY : Random House 1974 [G; actually a pictorial history]
Article : Germany, in : New International Year Book 1920 pp.277-285, 1921 pp.276-287, 1923 pp.282-293 [G]
John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of Peace (1920), posted online by Gutenberg Library Online
Stephen Graham, Europe - Whither Bound ? Being Letters of Travel from the Capitals of Europe in the Year 1921 (Toronto 1922), chapters XI, XII. XIII : Munich, Berlin, posted online by Gutenberg Library Online

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on March 27th 2008

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