Nervous Conditions After World War

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

The economic separation of the Ruhr from the Reich led to hyper-inflation. Wages had to be paid with baskets full of banknotes and the value of the mark fell hourly. People partly reacted to the inflation's trauma by looking for emblematic characters that could help them with making sense of the increasingly destructive maelstrom. In Central Germany, there was an attempted Communist uprising; in Bavaria right-wing extremists, led by Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist party, tried to seize power.

This serious inflationary problem significantly impacted the mental and emotional state of the German people, says Widdig in Culture and Inflation in Weimar Germany,11 a book that focuses on the years when extreme chaos and creativity existed side-by-side -- the period of the Great Inflation between 1919 and 1923. He lists the most critical factors of the inflationary scenario as the changing perceptions of money, paradigmatic characters of the inflationary period, and the plight of intellectuals and the role of women.

As a whole, the Weimar Republic's culture was cold and impersonal. In addition, feelings of isolation arose from the revolutionary sense of belonging to a huge community, whether this was the masses, the proletariat or the Communist Party" 12.. This alienation combined with a fear of being powerless.

As a result, even entertainment was gloomy. Many of the films were similar to "film noir" that occurred later in the U.S. -- about tragic and evil characters. For example, "Dr. Mabuse" depicts the evil plots of a criminal with superhuman powers who manipulate people psychologically. He plans rollercoaster moves of the stock market, forges bank notes, cheats at games, and ruins the lives of various attractive German women. Such movie villain-heroes helped moviegoers reduce their sense of helplessness in a highly uncertain world. Furthermore, in his classic book From Caligari to Hitler, Kracauer argued that Dr. Mabuse reflected a growing inclination towards authoritarian solutions.13

Fortunately for Germany, things started changing for the better. Attempts by both the left and the right to overthrow the republic failed, and the introduction of a stable currency began the process of economic recovery. The Dawes Plan was negotiated in 1924 to help with reparations. The French occupation of the Ruhr ended in 1925, and the Locarno Treaty created a greater sense of stability in Europe.

In the 1920s, often called the "Golden Years" of Weimar, the arts flourished, with names that are still famous today. Poet, playwright, and theatrical reformer Bertolt Brecht used alienation effects (A Effekts) and hoped to encourage audiences to think and identify with the characters rather than become too emotionally involved in the story. He also developed a form of drama called epic theatre, where ideas or didactic lessons are important.

In order to produce A Effects the actor has to discard whatever means he has learned of persuading the audience to identify itself with the characters which he plays. Aiming not to put his audience into a trance, he must not go into a trance himself. His muscles must remain loose, for a turn of the head, e.g., with tautened neck muscles, will "magically" lead the spectators' eyes and even their heads to turn with it, and this can only detract from any speculation or reaction which the gestures may bring about. His way of speaking has to be free from ecclesiastical singsong and from all those cadences which lull the spectator so that the sense gets lost.14

This impersonal feeling is conveyed in much of the art forms of the period. For example, George Grosz rarely even used the human form in his works. Similarly, Iwan Goll's farces, Oskar Schlemmer's ballets and Vseveold Meyerhold's mechanical and robot-like actors emphasized the nonhuman, almost puppet-like side of individuals.15

The author Wolfradt, in a critique of Willi Baumeister's paintings of athletes, explains that the concept of impersonality was "no ephemeral slogan but a phenomenon of the reality of our time, no intellectually posed demand, capable at once of being intellectually contradicted, but the result of technical and sociological processes."16

The technical side of artwork portrayed itself in new forms of building and design that also highlighted this period. For example, Walter Gropius, an advocate of the classical, geometric style, achieved his fame in the Bauhaus17. He opened this building in 1919 in Weimar, merged two older schools -- an academy of art and a school of applied arts-- and dedicated his institution to the development to artistic unity.

Artwork, Gropius said, is not just crafts. Nor is it limited to the functional or practical of industry. Rather, it is "explicitly an aesthetic philosophy resting on psychological investigations"18. The range of the Bauhaus school was impressive, creative and versatile. Products included typography, furniture design, lamps, rugs, pottery, bookbinding and dance. Each of the pieces of artwork was created with enormous freedom, and many of them are still considered the best ever produced.

The city of Berlin had 40 theatres and numerous orchestra concerts that were conducted by individuals such as Wilhelm Klemperer and Wilhelm Furtwangler. They drew people from throughout Weimer Germany. The capitol's 120 newspapers fulfilled the needs of the diverse political and socio-economic thought of the German citizens 19 The area was also the hub for intellectuals, such as scientists Albert Einstein and Max Planck who were working on quantum theory.

During this time, there was an ongoing exchange of information and culture between America and Germany. As the ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev noted in 1926: "Already her (America's) influence is to be felt everywhere -- in painting, the theatre, and music -- composers have picked up the jazz idiom, and America has had her say even in the old and conservative institution of ballet."

The American culture quickly gained a foothold in German society. For example, American jazz was commonly heard in German clubs. The music of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday became more and more popular, and the images of flappers and other carefree youth were abundant. Similarly, German movie houses began showing American films.

Less noticeable, but more important, were the marked changes occurring in the mass production of culture. Previous to the war, German considered it had a high culture, created and enjoyed almost exclusively by the elite. It consisted of singly produced paintings, orchestral arrangements, and unique theatrical presentations thought by many to exhibit an inherent worth as works of art.

However, in the American mold, culture during the era of the Weimar Republic began to move down to the average person on the street more and more frequently. Means of mass-producing photographs, movies, recordings of theater and music, and the development of sheet music began to duplicate culture. Art could now be mass-produced, and for the first time, a true market began flourishing in the areas of art and culture. As art critic and theorist Theodor Adorno wrote:

What might be called use value in the reception of cultural commodities is replaced by exchange value. Everything is looked at from only one aspect: that it can be used for something else, however vague that notion of this use may be. No object has an inherent value; it is valuable only to the extent that it can be exchanged.

In 1925, change came once again to all of Germany when President Ebert died after postponing an appendicitis operation for too long in order to fight a libel action against the editor of a nationalist publication that had called him a traitor in World War I. The court, showing a political right-wing bias like many others during this time, only sentenced the editor to a small fine. This was because Ebert has indeed been guilty of treason, since he had been connected with the strikes of 1918 as a trade union leader 20 Many people say that it was suicide or stress that ended his life, because of the shame he felt after this article ran.

When Ebert died, the nationalists convinced Paul Von Hindenburg, one of the top heroes of World War I, to run for office. He was not an obvious choice, since he did not support republics and was a monarchist at heart. However, he was persuaded that his country needed an authoritative person to build on the growth that Weimar Germany experienced from 1924 on. There was still a belief among many people that the army had not lost the war but had been let down by incompetent and greedy politicians. Von Hindenburg won the 1925 presidential election, though not by a large margin, and was re-elected in 1931. At that point, he was already close to senility.

Historians such as Delmer recognize the import of this vote, despite the fact that Von Hindenburg did not win by much. He received 14,600,000 votes against the 13,700,000 cast for Wilhelm Marx, candidate of the original coalition of Social Democrats, Democrats and the Roman Catholic Center Party21

The world could not have been given a clearer signal of which way Germany was about to go. Hindenburg's election demonstrated what had already been shown…