Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Weimar Republic

The Zeppelin airship “Graf Zeppelin” flying over the Reichstag building in Berlin; October 1928


In 1928 the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin became the first commercial passenger transatlantic flight service in the world.

LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin (Deutsches Luftschiff Zeppelin #127; Registration: D-LZ 127) was a German-built and -operated, passenger-carrying, hydrogen-filled, rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a Count in the German nobility.

The ‘Graf Zeppelin’ is considered the finest airship ever built. It flew more miles than any airship had done to that time or would in the future. Its first flight was on September 18, 1928. In August 1929, it circled the globe. Its flight began with a trip from Friedrichshaften, Germany, to Lakehurst, New Jersey, allowing William Randolph Hearst, who had financed the trip in exchange for exclusive rights to the story, to claim that the voyage began from American soil.

Piloted by Eckener, the craft stopped only at Tokyo, Japan, Los Angeles, California, and Lakehurst. The trip took 12 days—less time than the ocean trip from Tokyo to San Francisco.

During the 10 years the Graf Zeppelin flew, it made 590 flights including 144 ocean crossings. It flew more than one million miles (1,609,344 kilometers), visited the United States, the Arctic, the Middle East, and South America, and carried 13,110 passengers.



Children playing with stacks of hyper-inflated currency in the Weimar Republic; ca. 1922


More information on that period and its effects here. This is often cited as one of the reasons that Hitler rose to power.

(It’s also why we used the tactic of the Marshall Plan after WWII.)

“Bismarckian Diplomacy”:


Otto von Bismarck was certainly a great politician, but you cannot place every single bit of German success squarely onto his shoulders. He created the final product, but he also had some great tools at his disposal.

Industrialization had finally begun to take off in the German speaking territories in the 1840’s to 1850’s, especially in his own Prussia. This gave him a strong economy. He also had the best military on the continent by far at his disposal. Albrecht von Roon successfully reformed and expanded the Prussian army.

Voltaire is thought to have said “Most states possess an Army, but the Prussian Army possess a state” which showcases the warrior culture of Prussia. Drawing on the support of the Junkers, who were the aristocratic warrior elite, and on the legacies of Frederick the Great, Roon was able to turn a good military into one that was probably the best in the world. This army was put into the hands of Helmuth von Moltke who was a brilliant strategist and reformer in his own right.

Bismarck’s brilliance came in his use of these tools to form a Prussian dominated German state. To do this, he basically had to do three things:

1.Begin to draw the German people together, awakening pan-German nationalism. He did this in the Second Schleswig War, by creating a conflict with Denmark. It’s more complicated than I would really want to get into here, but essentially Prussia and Austria jointly declared war on Denmark over a minor territorial dispute, which demonstrated Prussian strength and riled up the population to support unification.

2.His second step was to exclude Austria from the proposed German state. He did this by using disputes with Austria over annexed Danish territory. In the Austro-Prussian war Prussia’s new and improved army was led to a quick victory by Helmuth von Moltke. This is where Bismarck had a really good idea. Rather than push their luck, continue the war, and hope to gain more territory, Bismarck successfully pushed for a limited war. Prussia annexed Austrian Holstein and some Austrian allies, but more importantly, Austria agreed not to interfere in German affairs. This lead to the eventual creation of the North German Confederation.

3.Bismarck wanted to turn the strong but still loosely held together North German Confederation into a true empire. He also wanted to add the southern German kingdoms. He regarded war with France as a necessary prelude to German unification. He basically manufactured a political crisis involving a Prussian prince claiming the Spanish throne. The claim was withdrawn, but Bismarck managed to goad Napoleon the Third into declaring war by essentially insulting his envoy. The French declaration of war branded them as the aggressors in the eyes of all the Germans, not just the Prussians. The Bavarians, plus other south Germans, were drawn in on the side of the Prussians. The Prussian victory (brought about by that excellent Army) cemented their position as the center of Germany. The German Reich was declared in the immediate aftermath of war, creating a new continental power.

After Unification, Bismarck continued to act intelligently. In World politics, a balance of power does not always lead to peace, nor does an imbalance lead to war. After unification, Germany was universally regarded as the premier continental power.

Bismarck’s strategy was to isolate the only power with which they had poor relations, France. He managed to keep France basically without allies using his policies. He kept the League of the Three Emperors between Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany active as long as possible, and when that fell apart he signed the Reinsurance Treaty which assured neutrality between Russia and Germany. He also avoided challenging British naval supremacy, a policy not continued by his successors.

By not challenging Britain, they mostly maintained traditional British neutrality in continental affairs. But when what was clearly the strongest continental power began building a large fleet, the British lined up with France and Russia, setting up the alliance system that lead to World War 1. Bismarck knew that Germany’s limited coastline and numerous choke points would make challenging Britain directly difficult. When the new Emperor ordered a build up anyway, it led directly to a realignment of Britain on the side of France.

Why did the Nazis pick the swastika as the symbol for their party?

Germany was late to unify. By the time Germany was “Germany” and not a collection of tiny kingdoms to be pillaged at semi-regular intervals by the armies of the great powers of Europe, most of the 19th century had already slipped away. The rush for overseas colonies was over and done with and Germany, though a great power in terms of her military and economy, didn’t feel much like a great power.

She lacked colonies, she lacked seniority in the international system, she was an upstart in a community of real powerbrokers.

 It took a war against France (the Franco Prussian War) to really galvanize Germany’s unification and while Bismark was able to build an elaborate and brilliant system of political fakes and double fakes to improve Germany’s position in Europe, that system suffered in that it needed Bismark (or someone as clever as Bismark) to run it.

And so, once Bismark had been kicked to the curb, it wasn’t too terribly long before his elaborate system was ruined by lesser statesmen and WWI broke out.

The problem with WWI was mobilization. The Germans had thought long and hard about how they would survive a two front war in Europe in which both France and Russia conspired against them (Bismark’s solution was to never allow Germany to stand with the minority of the five major European powers) and it depended upon Russia’s railways running East-To-West rather than North-To-South. Russia had trouble mobilizing its army and so the Germans figured they could thump the French (again) and turn around and sucker-punch the Russians before they could get their army into uniforms and deployed to the front.

To do that though, Germany had to jump the gun on war; the moment the Russians started their call to arms the Germans were on a clock and unless the French were prepared to pledge non-aggression, the German army was tempting fate every day Paris wasn’t on fire. The French knew this — everyone knew this — and so they’d fortified the heck out of the border between France and Germany and if this is all sounding rather a lot like how WWII went down that’s because it is.

In any case, Germany rolls through Belgium in order to get around the French defensive because they have to, the international community gets very very very upset with Germany over invading a neutral power (and will paint them as warmongers for the better part of the next 50 years) and the entire war gets blamed on them.

So now WWI is over and it was a long and horrible war. France, in particular, has been scared by the conflict and the experience only compounded their resentment towards Germany after the treaty which ended the Franco Prussian war (in fact, the Germans were forced to sign the treaty ending WWI in the same location they’d forced the French to sign the treaty ending the Franco Prussian War). The terms offered Germany are humiliating and debilitating – arms controls, war reparations, the Versailles treaty piles it all on. The result is that shortly after the war the German economy is in tatters and being kept afloat by the Daws Loans from the US which help to manage the war debt and keep the government solvent. Then, suddenly the floor drops out from under the world economy. The loans are recalled and Germany is thrust into the jaws of the Depression in a way that’s much much uglier than what happened in the USA.

The thing with everything up until this point is that it’s all big forces and sweeping changes which have driven Germany into its state of wretchedness. Even to very powerful and very influential members of the German government there seems very little that could have been done differently. Bismark’s system could not endure long without Bismark; shooting first in World War I was a strategic necessity for Germany; invading through Belgium was preferable to being smashed against France’s fortifications; and Germany was well and truly beaten on the field of battle — surrender was a real necessity. Yet in the midst of all this is this extremely eloquent and impassioned politician who keeps telling everyone that it wasn’t supposed to BE like this.

Germany  is great, he says. Germany is worthy, he says. Now anyone can look around and tell you that the German government has, worthy, great, or otherwise, taken some pretty hard knocks and that the German state has failed almost completely in almost every measure by which we might judge a country’s greatness. Still with no colonies to speak of, still an “upstart” power, now shamed with the guilt of a world war and millions dead, still suffering economically under the crushing burden of war debt Germany is far FAR from the great nation that it imagined itself, bright eyed, before the Great War.

So Hitler says that the German people are great, the German race is great. Screw the government – it’s been sabotaged from within by the Jews, he claims. Hitler takes the institution of the German government and lays its failures — the surrender in the war, the economy, everything — at the feet of the people who are not, in his view, of the German race: “Aryan.”

In this way Hitler takes all of the failures and catastrophes above and he pins them, not on Germany or Germans but on a group that he more or less makes up within German society. He draws a bright line between them and says that the folks on this side of the line — the Aryans — are good, honest, hardworking, nobel, superior people to whom the good things they deserve have been denied by the people on that side of the line — the Jews, Gypsies, undesirables, etc.

And that renders the German race – the Aryans – blameless in Germany’s fall.

Being Aryan was a big deal to the Germans because being Aryan meant that everything that had gone wrong in the last generation or so wasn’t their fault; it meant that there was someone to blame for the suffering of their nation, someone to fight, something to do. It took away helplessness and gave purpose to people who were serious need of it.

Being Aryan meant being, not part of Germany disgraced, but part of Germany ascendant, Germany reborn, and Germany triumphant.

It’s a very powerful trap.

“The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed! Long live the new; long live the German republic!” Declaration of the “Weimar Republic” by Philipp Scheidemann on a balcony of the Reichstag; November 19th, 1918.


Listen to a recording of the speech [Recited afterwards by Scheidemann]

„Arbeiter und Soldaten! Furchtbar waren die vier Kriegsjahre. Grauenhaft waren die Opfer, die das Volk an Gut und Blut hat bringen müssen. Der unglückselige Krieg ist zu Ende; das Morden ist vorbei. Die Folgen des Kriegs, Not und Elend, werden noch viele Jahre lang auf uns lasten. Die Niederlage, die wir unter allen Umständen verhüten wollten, ist uns nicht erspart geblieben. Unsere Verständigungsvorschläge wurden sabotiert, wir selbst wurden verhöhnt und verleumdet. Die Feinde des werktätigen Volkes, die wirklichen inneren Feinde, die Deutschlands Zusammenbruch verschuldet haben, sind still und unsichtbar geworden. Das waren die Daheimkrieger, die ihre Eroberungsforderungen bis zum gestrigen Tage ebenso aufrechterhielten, wie sie den verbissensten Kampf gegen jede Reform der Verfassung und besonders des schändlichen preußischen Wahlsystems geführt haben. Diese Volksfeinde sind hoffentlich für immer erledigt. Der Kaiser hat abgedankt; er und seine Freunde sind verschwunden. Über sie alle hat das Volk auf der ganzen Linie gesiegt! Prinz Max von Baden hat sein Reichskanzleramt dem Abgeordneten Ebert übergeben. Unser Freund wird eine Arbeiterregierung bilden, der alle sozialistischen Parteien angehören werden. Die neue Regierung darf nicht gestört werden in ihrer Arbeit für den Frieden und der Sorge um Arbeit und Brot. Arbeiter und Soldaten! Seid euch der geschichtlichen Bedeutung dieses Tages bewußt. Unerhörtes ist geschehen! Große und unübersehbare Arbeit steht uns bevor. Alles für das Volk, alles durch das Volk! Nichts darf geschehen, was der Arbeiterbewegung zur Unehre gereicht. Seid einig, treu und pflichtbewußt! Das Alte und Morsche, die Monarchie ist zusammengebrochen. Es lebe das Neue; es lebe die deutsche Republik!

Workers and soldiers! Terrible the four years of war have been. Gruesome have been the sacrifices that the people had to make in all facets of life. The horrible war is over, the murdering is over. The results of the war, misery and suffering, will keep on haunting us for years to come. The defeat that we tried to avoid under all circumstances, we were not able to. Our reconciliation-efforts were sabotaged, we ourselves were ridiculed and defamed. The enemies of the working people, the real enemies at home that are responsible for Germany’s collapse have become quiet and invisible. Those were the armchair generals that kept up their demands for annexations until yesterday. Just like they fought a bitter fight against any reform of the constitution and especially the shameful Prussian electoral system. These enemies of the people hopefully are dealt with forever.The Kaiser has abdicated, he and his friends have vanished. Against them the people have won a total victory! Prince Max von Baden has turned over the position of Reich Chancellor to the MP [Friedrich] Ebert. Our friend will construct a worker’s government of which all socialist parties will be a part. The new government shall not be disturbed in its work for peace and its care for work and food. Workers and soldiers! Be aware of the historic meaning of this day. Incredible things have happened! Immense and immeasurable work lays before us. Everything for the people, everything through/by the people! Nothing shall happen that may dishonour the worker’s movement. Be united, loyal and dutiful! The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed. Long live he new; long live the German Republic!

Spectators standing upon couches, tables and chairs to get even a glimpse of the Versailles Treaty being signed, France, 1919

I like the guy on the far left. Keeping it classy with that cane.

I like the guy on the far left. Keeping it classy with that cane.

Here’s Sir James Headlam-Morley’s account on the signing:

“There was very little ceremony or dignity. The plenipotentiaries all walked in casually with the crowd… When they were all seated, the German delegates were brought in; they passed close to me; they looked like prisoners being brought in for sentence… The Gernabs signed first and then all the other delegates… When the signing was finished, the session was closed, and the Germans were escorted out again like prisoners who had received their sentence. Nobody got up or took any notice of them, and there was no suggestion that, the peace having been signed, any change of attitude was to be begun. Looking back, the whole impression seems to me, from a political point of view, to be disastrous… As a matter of fact, what was really being done was not merely to make peace with germany, but to sign the Covenant of the Leage of Nations, but of this no one seemed to think… Just the necessary note of reconciliation, of hope, of a change of view, was entirely wanting.”

Source: Osiander, A. (1995). The States System of Europe, 1640-1990: Peacekeeping and the Conditions of International Stability. New York: Oxford University Press. Page 304.