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Weimar Republic 101: Germany before and after World War I


Before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Germany experienced its ‘roaring 20s’ through a parliamentary democratic system—the Weimar Republic. Weimar Republic 101 article series aims to introduce some of the key themes and debates in the historiography of the Weimar Republic, from its inception in 1918 to its death in 1933.

Weimar Republic 101 is divided into six chapters:

  1. Weimar Republic 101: Germany before and after World War I

  2. Weimar Republic 101: The Great Inflation 1923

  3. Weimar Republic 101: DADA Art and Weimar Culture

  4. Weimar Republic 101: The ‘New Woman’ in Post-War Germany

  5. Weimar Republic 101: The Great Depression 1929-1933

  6. Weimar Republic 101: The collapse of a democracy

Bain News Service. (1915–1920). Reichstag, Berlin [Image]. Library of Congress.

For the fifteen years of its existence, the Weimar Republic would fight for Germany’s survival in the aftermath of World War I. The armistice, signed on November 11, 1918, meant the war was over. However, for Germany, a new battle would begin. The armistice terms, the Treaty of Versailles, was resented by the German people, perceived as the reason for Germany’s precarious economic and social position in the 1920s. To understand how and why the Weimar Republic came into being, it is important to understand two things: Germany’s political constitution before World War I, and the impact of World War I on German society, particularly how the Treaty of Versailles shaped the German public’s opinion on the new democracy.

The Weimar Republic is important to study because of its potent political symbolism. As Storer (2013, p. 1) recognises, Germany’s fledgling democracy in the interwar years has become a “byword for instability”. The Weimar image is significant today as it is representative of an age of social and economic uncertainty, as well as pronounced political polarisation (Storer 2013, p. 1). Important questions to consider when studying the Weimar Republic are to what extent the new government itself was responsible for Germany’s instability, or whether it was the case of any new political system being imposed on a fragile economic and social order struggling with the aftermath of war. As well as being representative of uncertainty and upheaval, the Weimar image is also invoked to represent a “postwar identity structure” (Simon 2004, p. 302). This explains the prominence of Weimar