The Weimar Republic: Strengths, Weaknesses & Collapse

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  • 0:05 Weimar Germany
  • 0:34 Background and Early Republic
  • 2:13 Successes
  • 3:49 Failure and Nazism
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the Weimar Republic, the democratic government which governed Germany in between World War I and the rise of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler.

Weimar Germany

Often in history, periods and figures can get lost in the shuffle, especially if they are surrounded by even larger and more important events. Perhaps there is no better example of this than the Weimar Republic in Germany, which lasted from 1919 to 1933. Bookended by World War I and the rise of the Nazis and World War II, this lesson examines that curious time in Germany between the two most momentous wars of the previous century.

Background and Early Republic

Prior to World War I, Germany had been a relatively democratic federal republic, ruled by a triumvirate of the Kaiser, the Bundesrat, and an Imperial Diet that was elected via universal male suffrage. Unfortunately, defeat in World War I in 1918 and the terms imposed upon the German Empire by the victorious allies caused economic hardship in Germany and soon after, the collapse of the government.

For example, in order to pay the massive debt the allies imposed upon the German government, the German government resolved to simply print more money. This caused rampant hyperinflation, which made the German currency, the Deutschmark, virtually worthless, and horror stories emerged of men and women carrying wheelbarrows full of money to the store to simply buy a loaf of bread.

In the midst of the chaos, several factions vied for political power. For example, a strong communist movement named the Spartacists controlled Berlin, forcing the centrist German nationalists to declare the German Republic in Weimar, Germany, hence giving the period and the republic its name. The institution of the Weimar Republic in 1919 intended to create the best democracy possible in Germany.

It gave both men and women over the age of 20 the right to vote on a president and a representative assembly, named the Reichstag. Unfortunately, the nature of the voting system made the Reichstag home to an enormous number of political parties and platforms and very little could actually be achieved as a result. By 1923 Weimar Germany was nearing total collapse, as economic problems and rival political guerrilla movements persisted, all the while Germany's new democracy proved unable to achieve anything of substance.

Successes

In 1923, however, several events coalesced to give Weimar Germany its most prosperous period. In 1923, the German statesmen Gustav Stresemann amalgamated many of the centrist parties within the Reichstag to form the Great Coalition. Though the Coalition lasted less than a year, it was able to finally achieve several positive reforms to help the ailing German people and economy, including providing government funds to help the unemployed pay their bills and find new jobs. Unfortunately for Stresemann and Germany, the coalition was short-lived and the Reichstag returned to its prior intransigence soon after the Coalition collapsed.

While Stresemann could do his best to achieve reform in the Reichstag, there was little he could do about Germany's crippling war debt and the resultant economic problems. This required outside financial assistance, which Germany found in 1923 through Charles Dawes and the United States. Dawes was Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget, and after President Herbert Hoover appointed Dawes to the Allied Reparations Committee, he formulated a plan to help the ailing nation.

The program, now known as the Dawes Plan, aimed to help boost the German economy. Through his position on the committee Dawes called for Germany to recall the old Deutschmarks, burn the currency, and essentially start their monetary system from scratch. Additionally, he got allied governments to agree to lend approximately 200 million dollars to the German government, and also give Germany a longer period of time to repay its debt. The plan allowed the German economy to get back on its feet and gave the German government some breathing space when it came to reparation payments.

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