Part One: The Relevance of the Weimar Republic and Setting the Scene
Observers of American politics have compared the current state of affairs in the United States with the Weimar republic (1919–1933). By this they mean a dysfunctional system, liberal in character, lacking the support of a large section of the population.
In some respects this is a perfectly valid comparison. The spirit of the Weimar Republic was liberal and the republic was not supported by large numbers of conservatives and right-wing extremists.
But the Weimar Republic, in contrast to many American institutions today, was not dysfunctional. By 1927, it was stable and the parliamentary system was functioning smoothly. This was due in large part to Gustav Stresemann, a wise and courageous statesman who, having overcome a strongly nationalistic past, made reconciliation with Germany’s former enemies the main goal of his policies.
There was reasonable grounds for believing that the worst was over. There had been an astounding economic recovery, so that the GDP had reached the 1914 level, in spite of the losses Germany had suffered at Versailles and the reparations it had to pay to the allies. The time of political murders (1919–1923) was over, and the currency had been stabilized after the debilitating inflation that had gravely weakened the middle class. The opposition was placated when in 1925 the venerable (nearly senile) military hero of World War One, Field Marshall von Hindenburg, was elected president of the republic. He was a monarchist, the very incarnation of Prussian militarism, a man who never accepted Germany’s military defeat in 1918. blaming a “stab in the back.” This election, perhaps more than any other event, symbolized a new stability and ended the dysfunctional first period of the Weimar Republic.
Germany was received as an equal by her former enemies at the Locarno conference and admitted to the League of Nations. Memories of Weimar’s origins in defeat and humiliation at Versailles were rapidly receding. A time of extraordinary creativity had begun. Much of what we think of as modern was inaugurated in those years. Berlin was the most exciting city in the world. It was the time of the Bauhaus, Marlene Dietrich, Bertold Brecht, and Cabaret.
In the summer of 1927, to celebrate the centenary of Beethoven’s death, the city of Frankfurt staged an international music exhibition and a series of concerts, many of them first performances of works now in the standard repertoire. This was the first occasion since 1914 when Germany again played a major role in European culture. Autographs by many famous composers, exotic instruments from Asia and Africa and treasures from innumerable private and public collections were exhibited. Thousands came, including Thomas Alva Edison and Jimmy Walker, mayor of New York.
The novel begins with a lively evocation of this happy time.
A series of videos about the Weimar Republic and The Weimar Triangle have been posted at YouTube.