Oswald Spengler – Der Untergang des Abendlandes

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Oswald Spengler   
‘Preußentum und Sozialismus’

Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler (29 May 1880 – 8 May 1936) was a German historian and philosopher of history whose interests included mathematics, science, and art.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

He is best known for his book ‘Der Untergang des Abendlandes’ – (The Decline of the West), published in 1918 and 1922, covering all of world history.

He proposed a new theory, according to which the lifespan of civilizations is limited and ultimately they decay.
He wrote extensively throughout World War I and the interwar period, and supported German hegemony in Europe.
As a precursor of National Socialism, in 1920 Spengler produced ‘Preußentum und Sozialismus’ (Prussia and Socialism), which argued for an organic, nationalist version of socialism and authoritarianism.

Biography
Blankenburg
Oswald Spengler
(29 May 1880 – 8 May 1936)

Oswald Spengler was born in 1880 in Blankenburg the eldest of four children, and the only boy.
His family was conservative German of the petite bourgeoisie.

His father, originally a mining technician, who came from a long line of mine-workers, was a post office bureaucrat.
His childhood home was emotionally reserved, and the young Spengler turned to books and the great cultural personalities for succor.
He had imperfect health, and suffered throughout his life from migraine headaches and from an anxiety complex.
At the age of ten, his family moved to the university city of Halle.
Halle Marktplatz

Here Spengler received a classical education at the local Gymnasium (academically oriented secondary school), studying Greek, Latin, mathematics and sciences.

Here, too, he developed his affinity for the arts – especially poetry, drama, and music – and came under the influence of the ideas of Goethe and Nietzsche.

Nietzsche
After his father’s death in 1901 Spengler attended several universities (Munich, Berlin, and Halle) as a private scholar, taking courses in a wide range of subjects. His private studies were undirected.
In 1904 he received his Ph.D.
He briefly served as a teacher in Saarbrücken and then in Düsseldorf.

Realgymnasium – Hamburg
From 1908 to 1911 he worked at a grammar school (Realgymnasium) in Hamburg, where he taught science, German history, and mathematics.
In 1911 he moved to Munich, where he would live until his death in 1936.
He lived as a cloistered scholar, supported by his modest inheritance.
He began work on the first volume of ‘Der Untergang des Abendlandes’ intending at first to focus on Germany within Europe, but the Agadir Crisis affected him deeply, and he widened the scope of his study.
The book was completed in 1914, but publishing was delayed by World War I.
Due to a congenital heart problem, he was not called up for military service.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
‘The Decline of the West’ is a two-volume work by Oswald Spengler, the first volume of which was published in the summer of 1918.
Spengler revised this volume in 1922 and published the second volume, subtitled ‘Perspektiven der Weltgeschichte’ – (Perspectives of World History), in 1923.
The book introduces itself as a “Copernican overturning”, and rejects the Euro-centric view of history, especially the division of history into the linear “ancient-medieval-modern” rubric.
According to Spengler, the meaningful units for history are not epochs but whole cultures which evolve as organisms.
He recognizes eight high cultures: Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican (Mayan/Aztec), Classical (Greek/Roman), Arabian, Western or “European-American.”
Cultures have a lifespan of about a thousand years.
The final stage of each culture is, in his word use, a ‘civilization’.
The book also presents the idea of Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as their Persian and Semitic forebears, being Magian; Mediterranean cultures of the antiquity such as Ancient Greece and Rome being Apollonian; and the modern Westerners being Faustian.
According to the theory, the Western world is actually ending and we are witnessing the last season – ‘Winterzeit’ – (winter time) — of the Faustian civilization.
In Spengler’s depiction, Western Man is a proud but tragic figure because, while he strives and creates, he secretly knows the actual goal will never be reached.

General Context

Spengler relates that he conceived the book sometime in 1911 and spent three years in writing the first draft.
At the start of World War I he began revising it and completed the first volume in 1917.
It was published the following year when Spengler was 38, and was his first work, apart from his doctoral thesis on Heraclitus.

Heraclitus of Ephesus

Heraclitus of Ephesus (Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος—Hērákleitos ho Ephésios; c. 535 – c. 475 BCE) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor.
Heraclitus is famous for his insistence on ever-present change in the universe, as stated in the famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. He believed in the unity of opposites, stating that “the path up and down are one and the same”, all existing entities being characterized by pairs of contrary properties.

The second volume was published in 1922.
The first volume is subtitled ‘Form und Aktualität’ – (Form and Actuality), the second volume is ‘Perspektiven der Weltgeschichte’ – (Perspectives of World-history).
Spengler’s own view of the aims and intentions of the work are sketched in the Prefaces and occasionally at other places.

The book received unfavorable reviews from most interested scholars even before the release of the second volume.
Spengler’s veering toward right-wing views in the second volume confirmed this reception, and the stream of criticisms continued for decades.
Nevertheless in Germany the book enjoyed popular success: by 1926 some 100,000 copies were sold.
A 1928 ‘Time’ magazine review of the second volume of ‘Der Untergang des Abendlandes’ described the immense influence and controversy Spengler’s ideas enjoyed in the 1920s:
When the first volume of The Decline of the West appeared in Germany a few years ago, thousands of copies were sold. Cultivated European discourse quickly became Spengler-saturated. Spenglerism spurted from the pens of countless disciples. It was imperative to read Spengler, to sympathize or revolt. It still remains so.”
Spengler presented a worldview that resonated with the post-WWI German mood  – a view of democracy as the type of government of the declining civilization.
He argued that democracy is driven by money-breeding, and therefore easily corruptible. Spengler supported the rise of a right wing, authoritarian government as the next phase after the failure of democracy.

Overview

Nietzsche
Goethe 

Spengler’s world-historical outlook is informed by many philosophers, Goethe and Nietzsche among them, and the former more than the latter.
He would later further explain the significance of these two German philosophers and their influence on his worldview in his lecture Nietzsche and His Century.
His analytical approach is that of “Analogy. By these means we are enabled to distinguish polarity and periodicity in the world.”

Morphology is a key part of Spengler’s philosophy of history, using a methodology which approached history and historical comparisons on the basis of civilizational forms and structure, without regard to function.
In a footnote, Spengler describes the essential core of his philosophical approach toward history, culture, and civilization:

Kant
Plato

‘Plato and Goethe stand for the philosophy of Becoming, – Aristotle and Kant the philosophy of Being… Goethe’s notes and verse.. must be regarded as the expression of a perfectly definite metaphysical doctrine. I would not have a single word changed of this: “The Godhead is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in the become and the set-fast; and therefore, similarly, the reason is concerned only to strive towards the divine through the becoming and the living, and the understanding only to make use of the become and the set-fast. This sentence comprises my entire philosophy.’

Sonnenuntergang – Sunset

Scholars now agree that the word “decline” more accurately renders the intended meaning of Spengler’s original German word “Untergang” (often translated as the more emphatic “downfall“; “Unter” being “under” and “gang” being “going”, it is also accurately rendered in English as the “going under” of the West).
Spengler explained that he did not mean to describe a catastrophic occurrence, but rather a protracted fall – a twilight or sunset. (Sonnenuntergang is German for sunset, and ‘Abendland’, his word for the West, literally means the “evening land“.)
Writing in 1921 Spengler observed that he might have used in his title the word Vollendung (which means ‘fulfillment’ or ‘consummation’) and saved a great deal of misunderstanding.
Nevertheless, “Untergang” can be interpreted in both ways and, after World War II, some critics and scholars chose to read it in the cataclysmic sense.


Spengler’s Cultures

The “Decline” is largely concerned with comparisons between the Classical and Western cultures, but some examples are taken from the Arabian, Chinese, and Egyptian formations. 
Each culture arises within a specific geographical area, and is defined by its internal coherence of style in terms of art, religious behaviour and psychological perspective.
Central to each one is its conception of space which is expressed by an “Ursymbol” (primeval symbol).
Although not amenable to a strictly logical examination, Spengler’s idea of the culture is, he claims, justifiable through the existence of recurrent patterns of development and decline across the 1,000 years of each culture’s active lifetime.
Spengler seems to ignore Southeast Asian and Peruvian (Incan, etc.) cultures, and he thinks the Russian culture is still defining itself.

The Meaning of History

Spengler distinguishes between ahistorical peoples, and peoples caught up in world-history. While he recognizes that all people are a part of history, he argues that only certain cultures imbue a wider sense of historical involvement.
Thus some people see themselves as part of a grand historical design or tradition, while others view themselves in a self-contained manner.
For the latter, there is no ‘Welt-Geschichtsbewusstsein’ – (world-historical consciousness).
For Spengler, a world-historical view points toward the meaning of history itself, by breaking the historian or observer out of his crude culturally-parochial classifications of history.
By learning about different courses taken by other civilizations, one can better understand his own culture and identity.
Those who still maintain a historical view of the world are the very same who continue to “make” history.
Spengler asserts that life and mankind as a whole have an ultimate aim.
However, he maintains a distinction between world-historical peoples, and ahistorical peoples – the former will have a historical destiny as part of a high Culture, the latter will have a merely zoological fate.
World-historical man’s destiny is self-fulfillment as a part of his Culture.
Further, Spengler asserts that not only is pre-Cultural man without history, he loses his historical weight as his Culture becomes exhausted and becomes a more and more defined Civilization.
For example, Spengler classifies Classical and Indian civilizations as ahistorical, whereas the Egyptian and Western civilizations developed conceptions of historical time.
He sees all cultures as necessarily placed on equal footing in the study of world-historical development.
From this idea flows a kind of historical relativism or dispensationalism.
Historical data, in Spengler’s mind, are an expression of their historical time, contingent upon and relative to that context.
Thus, the insights of one era are not unshakeable or valid in another time or culture – “there are no eternal truths.
Each man has a duty to look beyond his own Culture to see what men of other Cultures have with equal certainty created for themselves.
What is significant is not whether the past thinkers’ insights are relevant today, but whether they were exceptionally relevant to the great facts of their own time.

Culture and Civilization

Spengler adopts an organic conception of culture.
Primitive Culture is simply a collection, a sum, of its constituent and incoherent parts (individuals, tribes, clans, etc.).
Higher Culture, in its maturity and coherence, becomes an organism in its own right, according to Spengler.
The Culture is capable of sublimating the various customs, myths, techniques, arts, peoples, and classes into a single strong, undiffused historical tendency.
Spengler divides the concepts of culture and civilization, the former focused inward and growing, the latter outward and merely expanding, however, he sees Civilization as the destiny of every Culture.
The transition is not a matter of choice – it is not the conscious will of individuals, classes, or peoples that decides.
Whereas Cultures are ‘Dinge immer’ (things-becoming), Civilizations are the ‘Ding geworden’” (thing-become).
As the conclusion of a Culture’s arc of growth, Civilizations are outwardly focused, and in that sense artificial.

Practical Roman Civilization

Civilizations are what Cultures become when they are no longer creative and growing.
For example, Spengler points to the Greeks and Romans, saying that the imaginative Greek culture declined into wholly practical Roman ‘civilization’.

Spengler also compares the ‘Weltstadt’ (world-city) and province, as concepts analogous to civilization and culture respectively.
The city draws upon and collects the life of broad surrounding regions.
He contrasts the “true-type” rural born, with the nomadic, traditionless, irreligious, matter-of-fact, clever, unfruitful, and contemptuous-of-the-countryman city dweller.
In the cities he sees only the “mob“, not a ‘Volk’ (people), hostile to the traditions that represent Culture (in Spengler’s view these traditions are: nobility,  privileges, dynasties, convention in art, and limits on scientific knowledge).
City dwellers possess cold intelligence that confounds völkisch (peasant) wisdom, a new-fashioned naturalism in attitudes towards sex which are a return to primitive instincts, and a dying inner religiousness.
Further, Spengler sees in urban wage-disputes and a focus on lavish sport expenditures for entertainment the final aspects that signal the closing of Culture and the rise of the Civilization.
Spengler has a low opinion of Civilizations, even those that engaged in significant expansion, because that expansion was not actual growth.

Roman ‘Weltherrschaft
Roman ‘Weltherrschaft’
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

One of his principal examples is that of Roman ‘Weltherrschaft’ (world domination).
It was not an achievement because the Romans faced no significant resistance to their expansion.
Thus they did not so much conquer their empire, but rather simply took possession of that which lay open to everyone.
Spengler asserts that the Roman Empire did not come into existence because of the kind of Cultural energy that they had displayed in the Punic Wars.
After the Battle of Zama, Spengler believes that the Romans never waged, or even were capable of waging, a war against a competing great military power.

Races, Peoples and Cultures

Eine Rasse (a race), writes Spengler, has “roots,” just like a plant.
It is connected to a landscape.
If, in that home, the race cannot be found, this means the race has ceased to exist.
A race does not migrate.
Men migrate, and their successive generations are born in ever-changing landscapes; but the landscape exercises a secret force upon the extinction of the old and the appearance of the new one.
However, a race is not exactly like a plant.
Science has completely failed to note that race is not the same for rooted plants as it is for mobile animals, that with the micro-cosmic side of life a fresh group of characteristics appear and that for the animal world it is decisive.
Nor again has it perceived that a completely different significance must be attached to ‘races’ when the word denotes subdivisions within the integral race ‘Man.’
With its talk of casual concentration it sets up a soulless concentration of superficial characters, and blots out the fact that here the blood and there the power of the land over the blood are expressing themselves – secrets that cannot be inspected and measured, but only livingly experienced from eye to eye.
Nor are scientists at one as to the relative rank of these superficial characters“.
Spengler writes that,
Comradeship breeds races… Where a race-ideal exists, as it does, supremely, in the Early period of a culture… the yearning of a ruling class towards this ideal, its will to be just so and not otherwise, operates towards actualizing this idea and eventually achieves it.
He does not believe language is itself sufficient to breed races, and that “the mother tongue” signifies “deep ethical forces” in Late Civilizations rather than Early Cultures, when a race is still developing the language that fits its “race-ideal.”
Closely connected to race is Spengler’s definition of a ‘ein volk’ (people), which he defines as a unit of ‘die Seele’ (the soul).
The great events of history were not really achieved by peoples; they themselves created the peoples. Every act alters the soul of the doer.
Such events include migrations and wars.
For example, the American people did not migrate from Europe, but were formed by events such as the American Revolution and the U.S. Civil War.
It is not unity of speech that is decisive.”
What distinguishes a people from a population is “the inwardly lived experience of ‘we’,” which exists so long as a people’s soul lasts.
The name Roman in Hannibal’s day meant a people, in Trajan’s time nothing more than a population.
In his view,
Peoples are neither linguistic nor political, but spiritual units.”
“It is quite often justifiable to align peoples with races.
In race (Rasse haben) there is little material, but rather something cosmic and directional, the felt harmony of ‘ein Schicksal’ (a Destiny), the single cadence of the march of ‘geschichtliches Sein’ (historical Being).
To Spengler, ‘Völker’ (peoples) are formed from early prototypes during the Early phase of a Culture.
“Out of the people-shapes of the Carolingian Empire—the Saxons, Swabians, Franks, Visigoths, Lombards – arise suddenly the Germans.”
These peoples are products of the ‘geistlichen Rasse’ (spiritual race) of the great Cultures, and “people under a spell of a Culture are its products and not its authors.
These shapes in which humanity is seized and moulded possess style and style-history no less than kinds of art or mode of thought.
The people of Athens is a symbol not less than the Doric temple, the Englishman not less than modern physics.

“Man is a beast of prey.”

There are peoples of Apollinian, Magian, and Faustian cast… World history is the history of the great Cultures, and peoples are but the symbolic forms and vessels in which the men of these Cultures fulfill their Destinies.”

In attempts to tie race and culture together, Spengler is echoing ideas similar to those of Friedrich Ratzel and Rudolf Kjellén.
These ideas, which figure pro-eminently in the second volume of the book, were common throughout ‘Deutsch Kultur’ (German culture) at the time, and would be the most significant elements for the ‘völkischen Denker‘ and the National Socialists.
In his later works, such as ‘Mensch und Technik’ – (Man and Technics) and ‘Die Stunde der Entscheidung’ – (The Hour of Decision), Spengler expanded upon his ‘geistlichen’ – (spiritual) theory of race and tied it to his metaphysical notion of eternal war, and his belief that “Man is a beast of prey.

The State and Caesarism

Spengler sees a leader’s responsibility as only to a minority that possesses the proper breeding for statesmanship, and which represents the rest of the nation in its historical struggle. Most states, he argues, have only a single social stratum which, constitutionally or otherwise, leads politically.
That class represents the world-historical drive of a State, and within that stratum a skilled and self-contained minority actually holds the reins of power.
Spengler rejects Parliamentarianism as a distinct Civilizational stage, like the absolute Polis and the Baroque State.
Instead it represents a transitional period between the mature Late-Culture period and the age of state formlessness.
The transformation of a Culture into a Civilization he attributes partly to the bourgeoisie.
At the inflection point, he sees an independent and decisive bourgeois intervention in political affairs.
The bourgeois is hostile (often violently) toward the absolute state, which represents the traditional institutions, aristocrats, and cultural symbols.
Decline is also evidenced by a formlessness of political institutions within a state.
As the proper form dissolves, increasingly authoritarian leaders arise, signaling decline.
The first step toward formlessness Spengler designates Napoleonism.
A new leader assumes powers and creates a new state structure without reference to “self-evident” bases for governance.
The new regime is thus accidental rather than traditional and experienced, and relies not on a trained minority but on the chance of an adequate successor.
Spengler argues that those states with continuous traditions of governance have been immensely more successful than those that have rejected tradition.
Spengler posits a two-century or more transitional period between two states of decline: Napoleonism and Caesarism.

Caesarism

Caesarism is a form of political rule that emulates the rule of Roman dictator Julius Caesar over the Roman Republic, in that it is led by a charismatic strongman whose rule is based upon a cult of personality, whose rationale is the need to rule by force, establishing a violent social order, and being a regime involving prominence of the military in the government.
The most famous person who themselves espoused Caesarism, was Napoleon Bonaparte, who admired and emulated Caesar during his rule in France..

The formlessness introduced by the first contributes to the rise of the latter.

Spengler predicts that the permanent mass conscription armies will be replaced by smaller professional volunteer armies.
Army sizes will drop from millions to hundreds of thousands, however, the professional armies will not be for deterrence, but for waging war.
Spengler states that they will precipitate wars upon which whole continents – India, China, South Africa, Russia, Islam – will be staked.
The great powers will dispose of smaller states, which will come to be viewed merely as means to an end.
This period in Civilizational decline he labels the period of ‘Contending States’.
Caesarism is essentially the death of the spirit that originally animated a nation and its institutions.
It is marked by a government which is formless irrespective of its ‘de jure’ constitutional structure.
The antique forms are dead, despite the careful maintenance of the institutions; those institutions now have no meaning or weight.
The only aspect of governance is the personal power exercised by the Caesar.
This is the beginning of the ‘Imperial Age’.
Spengler notes the urge of a nation toward universalism, idealism, and imperialism in the wake of a major geopolitical enemy’s defeat.
He cites the example of Rome after the defeat of Hannibal – instead of forgoing the annexation of the East, Scipio’s party moved toward outright imperialism, in an attempt to bring their immediate world into one system, and thus prevent further wars.
Despite having fought wars for democracy and rights during the period of Contending States, the populace can no longer be moved to use those rights.
People cease to take part in elections, and the most-qualified people remove themselves from the political process.
This is the end of great politics.
Only private history, private politics, and private ambitions rule at this point.
The wars are private wars, “more fearful than any State wars because they are formless.”
The imperial peace involves private renunciation of war on the part of the immense majority, but conversely requires submission to that minority which has not renounced war.
The world peace that began in a wish for universal reconciliation, ends in passivity in the face of misfortune, as long as it only affects one’s neighbor.
In personal politics the struggle becomes not for principles but for executive power.
Even popular revolutions are no exception: the methods of governing are not significantly altered, the position of the governed remains the same, and the strong few determined to rule remain over top the rest of humanity.

Oswald Spengler – The Final years

When ‘Der Untergang des Abendlandes’ was published in the summer of 1918 it became a wild success.

Treaty of Versailles 
Treaty of Versailles 

The perceived national humiliation of the ‘Treaty of Versailles’ (1919) and later the economic depression around 1923 fueled by hyperinflation seemed to prove Spengler right.
It comforted Germans because it seemingly rationalized their downfall as part of larger world-historical processes.
The book met with wide success outside of Germany as well, and by 1919 had been translated into several other languages.

Max Weber
Thomas Mann

Spengler rejected a subsequent offer to become Professor of Philosophy at the University of Göttingen, saying he needed time to focus on writing.
The book was widely discussed, even by those who had not read it.
Thomas Mann compared reading Spengler’s book to reading Schopenhauer for the first time. Academics gave it a mixed reception.
Max Weber described Spengler as a “very ingenious and learned dilettante”, while Karl Popper, not surprisingly, described the thesis as “pointless“.
In 1931, he published ‘Der Mensch und die Technik’ – (Man and Technics), which warned against the dangers of technology and industrialism to culture.
The principle idea in this work is that many of the Western world’s great achievements may soon become spectacles for our descendants to marvel at, as we do with the pyramids of Egypt or the baths of Rome.
In Spengler’s mind, our culture will be destroyed from within by materialism, and destroyed by others through economic competition and warfare.

Adolf Hitler and Paul von Hindenburg

He especially pointed to the tendency of Western technology to spread to hostile “Colored races” which would then use the weapons against the West.

This book contains the well-known Spengler quote ‘Optimismus ist Feigheit’ – (Optimism is cowardice).
Spengler voted for Hitler over Hindenburg in 1932, and met Hitler in 1933, and he became a member of the German Academy in the course of the year.
Spengler spent his final years in Munich, listening to Beethoven, reading Molière and Shakespeare, buying several thousand books, and collecting ancient Turkish, Persian and Hindu weapons.
He made occasional trips to the Harz mountains, and to Italy.
He died of a heart attack on May 8, 1936 in Munich, three weeks before his 56th birthday.

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Deutschland und der Erste Weltkrieg – First World War

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Deutschland und der Erste Weltkrieg
(Germany and the First World War)

Small Arms of theGerman Empire
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

During World War I, the German Empire was one of the Central Powers that ultimately lost the war.

It began participation with the conflict after the declaration of war against Serbia by its ally, Austria-Hungary.
German forces fought the Allies on both the eastern and western fronts, although German territory itself remained relatively safe from widespread invasion for most of the war, except for a brief period in 1914 when East Prussia was invaded.
A tight blockade imposed by the British Navy caused severe food shortages in the cities, especially in the winter of 1916-1917, known as the ‘Kohlrübenwinter’ (turnip winter)

.

The Sarajevo Crisis

Arms of the Kingdom of Serbia
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013


The causes of World War I, which began in central Europe in late July 1914, included intertwined factors, such as the conflicts and hostility of the four decades leading up to the war. Militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism played major roles in the conflict as well.

The immediate origins of the war, however, lay in the decisions taken by statesmen and generals during the Crisis of 1914, ‘casus belli‘ for which was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife by Gavrilo Princip, an irredentist Serb.
The crisis came after a long and difficult series of diplomatic clashes between the Great Powers (Italy, France, Germany, the British Empire, the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Russia) over European and colonial issues in the decade before 1914 that had left tensions high.
In turn these diplomatic clashes can be traced to changes in the balance of power in Europe since 1867.
The more immediate cause for the war was tensions over territory in the Balkans.
Austria-Hungary competed with Serbia and Russia for territory and influence in the region, and they pulled the rest of the Great Powers into the conflict through their various alliances and treaties.

Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand
Sarajevo

Wilhelm was a friend of Franz Ferdinand, Erzherzog von Österreich  and he was deeply shocked by his assassination on 28 June 1914.
Wilhelm offered to support Austria-Hungary in crushing the ‘Black Hand’, the secret organization that had plotted the killing, and even sanctioned the use of force by Austria against the perceived source of the movement – Serbia.

SMS Hohenzollern

He wanted to remain in Berlin until the crisis was resolved, but his courtiers persuaded him instead to go on his annual cruise of the North Sea on 6 July 1914.
Wilhelm made erratic attempts to stay on top of the crisis via telegram, and when the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was delivered to Serbia, he hurried back to Berlin.
He reached Berlin on 28 July, read a copy of the Serbian reply, and wrote on it:
‘A brilliant solution—and in barely 48 hours! This is more than could have been expected.
A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every pretext for war falls to the ground, and [the Ambassador] Giesl had better have stayed quietly at Belgrade.
On this document, I should never have given orders for mobilisation.’

Kaiser Franz Josef

Unknown to the Emperor, Austro-Hungarian ministers and generals had already convinced the 84-year-old Francis Joseph I of Austria to sign a declaration of war against Serbia.
As a direct consequence, Russia began a general mobilization to attack Austria in defense of Serbia.

On the night of 30 July, when handed a document stating that Russia would not cancel its mobilization, Wilhelm wrote a lengthy commentary containing these observations:
‘For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves—knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria—to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us… Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honourable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e., playing off all European States for her own benefit against us.’
 Helmuth von Moltke

When it became clear that Germany would experience a war on two fronts and that the United Kingdom would enter the war if Germany attacked France through neutral Belgium Wilhelm attempted to redirect the main attack against Russia.

When Helmuth von Moltke (the younger) (who had chosen the old plan from 1905, made by the former German general von Schlieffen for the possibility of German war on two fronts) told him that this was impossible, Wilhelm said: “Your uncle would have given me a different answer!
Wilhelm is also reported to have said, “To think that George and Nicky should have played me false! If my grandmother had been alive, she would never have allowed it.
In the original Schlieffen plan, Germany would attack the (supposed) weaker enemy first, meaning France.
The plan supposed that it would take a long time before Russia was ready for war.
Defeating France had been easy for Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.
At the 1914 border between France and Germany, an attack at this more southern part of France could be stopped by the French fortress along the border. However, Wilhelm II got von Moltke (the younger) to not also invade the Netherlands.


Overview


Geist von 1914 – Berlin

The German population responded to the outbreak of war in 1914 with a complex mix of emotions, in a similar way to the populations in other countries of Europe; often with enthusiasm known as the ‘Geist von 1914’ (Spirit of 1914).

The German government, dominated by the Junkers, thought of the war as a way to end Germany’s disputes with rivals France, Russia and Britain.


In Prussian history Junkers were members of the landed nobility in Prussia.
They owned great estates that were maintained and worked by Slavic peasants with few rights. They were a dominant factor in the Prussian and, after 1871, German military, political and diplomatic leadership. The most famous Junker was Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Geist von 1914 – Ausflug nach Paris

The beginning of war was presented in authoritarian Germany as the chance for the nation to secure ‘unseren Platz unter der Sonne’ – (our place under the sun) as the Foreign Minister Bernhard von Bulow had put it, which was readily supported by prevalent nationalism among the public.

The Kaiser and the German establishment hoped the war would unite the public behind the monarchy, and lessen the threat posed by the dramatic growth of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which had been the most vocal critic of the Kaiser in the Reichstag before the war. 

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Wilhelm II  (Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht von Preußen; English: 27 January 1859 – 4 June 1941) was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was a grandson of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe. Crowned in 1888, his ‘Neuer Kurs’ (New Course) in foreign affairs that culminated in his support for Austria-Hungary in the crisis of July 1914 that led to World War I. His generals dictated policy during World War I with little regard for the civilian government. Towards the end of the war he lost the support of the army, and abdicated in November 1918, and fled to exile in the Netherlands


Despite its membership in the Second International, the Social Democratic Party of Germany ended its differences with the Imperial government and abandoned its principles of internationalism to support the war effort.
It soon became apparent that Germany was not prepared for a war lasting more than a few months.
At first, little was done to regulate the economy for a wartime footing, and the German war economy would remain badly organized throughout the war.
Germany depended on imports of food and raw materials, which were stopped by the British naval blockade of Germany.
Food prices were first limited, then rationing was introduced.
The winter of 1916/17 was called “turnip winter” because the potato harvest was poor and people ate animal feed especially vile tasting turnips.
During the war from August 1914 to mid 1919, the excess deaths over peacetime caused by malnutrition and high rates of exhaustion and disease and despair came to about 474,000 civilians.

1914–15 

German Uhlans (Lancers) – 1914



All the armies, at the commencement of the war, imagined that the conflict would be conducted in the traditional manner, with fast moving’ mobile armies indulging in cavalry charges and set piece battles.
Briefly, that was the case, but soon the fighting slowed down, and eventually, for much of the conflict, became static.



Alfred Graf von Schlieffen
The German army opened the war on the Western Front with a modified version of the ‘Schlieffen Plan’, designed to quickly attack France through neutral Belgium before turning southwards to encircle the French army on the German border.
The Belgians fought back, and sabotaged their rail system to delay the Germans.
The Germans did not expect this and were delayed.
The plan called for the right flank of the German advance to converge on Paris and initially, the Germans were very successful, particularly in the Battle of the Frontiers (14–24 August).
By 12 September, the French with assistance from the British forces halted the German advance east of Paris at the First Battle of the Marne (5–12 September).
The last days of this battle signified the end of mobile warfare in the west.

French Cavalry Leave for the Front 1914

The French offensive into Germany launched on 7 August with the Battle of Mulhouse had limited success.

Imperial Russian Troops 1914

In the east, only one Field Army defended East Prussia and when Russia attacked in this region it diverted German forces intended for the Western Front.

Germany defeated Russia in a series of battles collectively known as the First Battle of Tannenberg (17 August – 2 September), but this diversion exacerbated problems of insufficient speed of advance from rail-heads not foreseen by the German General Staff.
The Central Powers

The Central Powers were thereby denied a quick victory and forced to fight a war on two fronts.
The German army had fought its way into a good defensive position inside France and had permanently incapacitated 230,000 more French and British troops than it had lost itself. 
Despite this, communications problems and questionable command decisions cost Germany the chance of obtaining an early victory.


German Zepplin Raids

Zepplin Command Cabin

The first Zeppelin raid on England took place in January 1915.

From then until the end of World War I the German Navy and Army Air Services mounted over 50 bombing raids on the United Kingdom. these were generally referred to as “Zeppelin raids”, although both Zeppelin and Schütte-Lanz airships were used.

From the beginning the airships had the advantage of flying at a higher altitude than could be reached by defending aircraft or anti-aircraft fire, and could carry a significant bomb-load; however, weather conditions and night flying conditions made navigation and therefore bombing accuracy difficult. Bombs could be dropped miles off target (one raid on London actually bombed Hull instead) and pin-point accuracy to hit military targets was impossible.

Zepplin LZ 32

The airships made 20 raids in 1915, mostly Navy, mostly Zeppelins, and dropped 37 tons of bombs, killing 181 and injuring another 455 people.

In 1916 improved defensive measures, including the introduction of incendiary bullets, made raids more hazardous, and several zeppelins were destroyed.

Newer classes of ships with improved ceilings restored the advantage, but led to further flying and navigation problems; oxygen was needed to fly at high altitude, and provision for an observation car, for bombing through clouds, reduced the bomb load.


German Gotha Bomber over London

Nevertheless, in 1916 23 raids dropped 125 tons of bombs, killing 293 and injuring 691 people.

In September 1916 the Army abandoned raids by airship in favour of developing a heavier than air alternative; in May 1917 saw the first ‘Gotha Raid’.


The Gotha G.V was a heavy bomber used by the Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Air Service) during World War I. Designed for long range service, the G V series was used principally as night bombers.

The Navy, under FK Peter Strasser, continued with airships, though there were only six in 1917 and four in 1918.

Peter Strasser (right) Ferdinand von Zeppelin (centre)
Hugo Eckener (left)
The last Zeppelin raid on Britain took place in August 1918 when four ships bombed targets in the Midlands and the North of England.

Zepplin L70

The raid also a saw the loss of Strasser when L70 was shot down in flames over the North Sea.

Zeppelins performed about 51 strategic bombing raids during World War I.

These raids caused numerous civilian casualties, killing 557 and injuring another 1,358 people. More than 5,000 bombs were dropped on towns across Britain, causing £1.5 million in damage. 84 airships took part, of these 30 were lost, either shot down by enemy action or lost in accident.
The raids, though disconcerting to civilian morale, were militarily ineffective.

1916

1916 was characterized by two great battles on the Western front, at Verdun and Somme.

They each lasted most of the year, achieved minimal gains, and drained away the best soldiers of both sides.
Verdun became the iconic symbol of the murderous power of modern defensive weapons, with 280,000 German casualties, and 315,000 French.
At Somme, there were over 600,000 German casualties, against over 400,000 British, and nearly 200,000 French.
At Verdun, the Germans attacked what they considered to be a weak French salient which nevertheless the French would defend for reasons of national pride.
The Somme was part of a multinational plan of the Allies to attack on different fronts simultaneously.
The Battle marked the point at which German morale began a permanent decline and the strategic initiative was lost, along with irreplaceable veterans and confidence.

1917

Enthusiasm faded with the enormous numbers of casualties, the dwindling supply of manpower, the mounting difficulties on the home-front, and the never-ending flow of casualty reports.
A grimmer and grimmer attitude began to prevail among the general population.
Morale was helped by victories against Serbia, Greece, Italy, and Russia which made great gains for the Central Powers.
Morale was at its greatest since 1914 at the end of 1917 and beginning of 1918 with the defeat of Russia following her rise into revolution, and the German people braced for what Ludendorff said would be the ‘Friedensoffensive’ (Peace Offensive) in the West.

1918

In spring 1918, Germany realized that time was running out.
It prepared for the decisive strike with new armies and new tactics, expecting to win the war on the Western front before millions of American soldiers appeared in battle
General Erich von Ludendorff and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg had full control of the army, they had a large supply of reinforcements moved him from the Eastern front, and they trained storm troopers with new tactics that raced through the trenches and attacked the enemy’s command and communications centers.
The new tactics would indeed restore mobility to the Western front, but the German army was too optimistic.
During the winter of 1917-18 it was “quiet” on the Western Front – British casualties averaged “only” 3,000 a week.
Serious attacks were impossible in the winter because of the deep mud.
Quietly the Germans brought in their best soldiers from the eastern front, selected elite ‘storm troops’, and trained them all winter in the new tactics.
With stopwatch timing, the German artillery would lay down a sudden, fearsome barrage just ahead of its advancing infantry.
Moving in small units, firing light machine guns, the storm troopers would bypass enemy strong-points, and head directly for critical bridges, command posts, supply dumps and, above all, artillery parks.
By cutting enemy communications they would paralyze response in the critical first half hour. By silencing the artillery they would break the enemy’s firepower.
Rigid schedules sent in two more waves of infantry to mop up the strong points that had been bypassed.
The ‘shock troops’ always frightened and disoriented the first line of defenders, who would flee in panic.
In one instance an easy-going Allied regiment broke and fled; reinforcements rushed in on bicycles.
The panicky men seized the bikes and beat an even faster retreat.
The storm-trooper tactics provided mobility, but not increased firepower.
Eventually – in 1939 and 1940 – the formula would be perfected with the aid of dive bombers and tanks, but in 1918 the Germans lacked both.

Erich von Ludendorff

Ludendorff erred by attacking the British first in 1918, instead of the French.

He mistakenly thought the British to be too uninspired to respond rapidly to the new tactics.
The exhausted, dispirited French perhaps might have folded.
The German assaults on the British were ferocious – the largest of the entire war
At the Somme River in March, 63 divisions attacked in a blinding fog.
No matter, the German lieutenants had memorized their maps and their orders.
The British lost 270,000 men, fell back 40 miles, and then held.
They quickly learned how to handle the new German tactics: fall back, abandon the trenches, let the attackers overextend themselves, and then counterattack.
They gained an advantage in firepower from their artillery and from tanks used as mobile pillboxes that could retreat and counterattack at will.
In April Ludendorff hit the British again, inflicting 305,000 casualties – but he lacked the reserves to follow up.
Ludendorf launched five great attacks between March and July, inflicting a million British and French casualties.
The Western Front now had opened up – trenches were still there but the importance of mobility now reasserted itself.
The Allies held.
The Germans suffered as many casualties as they inflicted, including most of their precious storm-troopers.
The new German replacements were under-aged youth or embittered middle-aged family men in poor condition.
They were not inspired by the elan of 1914, nor thrilled with battle – they hated it, and some began talking of revolution.
Ludendorff could not replace his losses, nor could he devise a new method that might somehow snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The British likewise were bringing in boys and men aged 50, but since their home-front was in good condition, and since they could see the Americans pouring in, their morale was stiff.
The great German spring offensive was a race against time, for everyone could see the Americans were training millions of fresh young man would eventually arrive on the Western Front.
The attrition warfare now caught up to both sides.
Germany had used up all the good fighters they had, and still had not conquered much territory. The British were out of fresh manpower, the French nearly so.
Berlin had calculated it would take months for the Americans to ship all their men and supplies – but the Americans came much sooner, for they left their supplies behind, and relied on British and French artillery, tanks, airplanes, trucks and equipment.
Berlin also assumed that Americans were fat, undisciplined and unaccustomed to hardship and severe fighting.
They soon discovered these supposedly soft, materialistic Americans really could fight.
The Germans reported that “The qualities of the Americans individually may be described as remarkable.They are physically well set up, their attitude is good… They lack at present only training and experience to make formidable adversaries. The men are in fine spirits and are filled with naive assurance.
By September 1918, the Central Powers were exhausted from fighting, and the American forces were pouring into France at 10,000 a day.

A7V ‘Sturmpanzer’ Heavy Tank

In contrast to World War II, Germany fielded very few tanks during World War I, with only 20 of the A7V type being produced during the war.
The first tank versus tank action took place on 24 April 1918 at the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, France, when three British Mark IVs met three German A7Vs. Captured British Mk IVs formed the bulk of Germany’s tank forces during World War I; about 35 were in service at any one time. Plans to expand the tank programme were under way when the War ended.

A7V ‘Sturmpanzer’ Heavy Tank

The A7V tank was introduced by Germany in 1918, near the end of World War I. One hundred vehicles were ordered during the spring of 1918, but only 20 were delivered. They were used in action from March to October of that year, and were the only tanks produced by Germany in World War I to be used in operations.
The A7V was 7.34 metres (24.1 ft) long, 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide, and the maximum height was 3.3 metres (11 ft). The tank had 20 mm of steel plate at the sides, 30 mm at the front and 10 mm for the roof.

The crew normally consisted of up to seventeen soldiers and one officer: commander (officer, typically a lieutenant), driver, mechanic, mechanic/signaller, twelve infantrymen (six machine gunners, six loaders), and two artillerymen (main gunner and loader).

Wappen der Weimarer Republik
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

The decisive Allied counteroffensive, known as the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’, began on 8 August 1918 – what Ludendorff called the ‘Schwarzer Tag der deutschen Armee’ (Black Day of the German army).

The Allied armies advanced steadily as German defenses faltered.
Although German armies were still on enemy soil as the war ended, the generals, the civilian leadership – and indeed the soldiers and the people – knew all was hopeless.
They started looking for scapegoats.
The hunger and popular dissatisfaction with the war precipitated revolution throughout Germany.
By 11 November Germany had virtually surrendered, the Kaiser and all the royal families had abdicated, and the Empire had been replaced by the Weimar Republic.


The German Home Front

Germany had no plans for mobilizing its civilian economy for the war effort, and no stockpiles of food or critical supplies had been made.
Germany had to improvise rapidly.
All major political sectors supported the war at least at first, including the Socialists.
The “spirit of 1914” was the overwhelming, enthusiastic support of all elements of the population for war in 1914.
In the Reichstag, the vote for credits was unanimous, with all the Socialist joining in.
One professor testified to a “great single feeling of moral elevation of soaring of religious sentiment, in short, the ascent of a whole people to the heights.”
At the same time, there was a level of anxiety; most commentators predicted the short victorious war – but that hope was dashed in a matter of weeks, as the invasion of Belgium bogged down and the French Army held in front of Paris.
The Western Front became a killing machine, as neither army moved more than a few hundred yards at a time. 
Industry In late 1914 was in chaos, unemployment soared while it took months to reconvert to munitions productions.
In 1916, the ‘Hindenburg Program’ called for the mobilization of all economic resources to produce artillery, shells, and machine guns.
Church bells and copper roofs were ripped out and melted down.
The German economy was severely handicapped by the British blockade, that cut off food supplies
The mobilization of so many farmers – and horses – steadily reduce the food supply.
Supplies that had once come in from Russia and Austria were cut off.
The concept of ‘totalen Krieg’ (total war) in World War I, meant that supplies had to be redirected towards the armed forces and, with German commerce being stopped by the British blockade, German civilians were forced to live in increasingly meager conditions.
Food prices were first controlled.
Bread rationing was introduced in 1915 but apart from Berlin it never worked well.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians died from malnutrition – usually from a typhus, or a disease their weakened body could not resist. (Starvation itself rarely caused death.)
Conditions deteriorated rapidly on the home front, with severe food shortages reported in all urban areas.
The causes involved the transfer of so many farmers and food workers into the military, combined with the overburdened railroad system, shortages of coal, and the British blockade that cut off imports from abroad.
The winter of 1916-1917 was known as the “turnip winter,” because that hardly-edible vegetable, usually fed to livestock, was used by people as a substitute for potatoes and meat, which were increasingly scarce.
Thousands of soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry people, who grumbled that the farmers were keeping the food for themselves.
Even the army had to cut the rations for soldiers.
Morale of both civilians and soldiers continued to sink.
The drafting of miners reduced the main energy source, coal.
The textile factories produced Army uniforms, and warm clothing for civilians ran short.
The device of using ‘ersatz’ materials, such as paper and cardboard for cloth and leather proved unsatisfactory.
Soap was in short supply, as was hot water.
All the cities reduced tram services, cut back on street lighting, and close down theaters and cabarets.
The food supply increasingly focused on potatoes and bread, it was harder and harder to buy meat.
The meat ration in late 1916 was only 31% of peacetime, and it fell to 12% in late 1918.
The fish ration was 51% in 1916, and none at all by late 1917.
The rations for cheese, butter, rice, cereals, eggs and lard were less than 20% of peacetime levels.
In 1917 the harvest was poor, and the potato supply ran short, and Germans substituted almost inedible turnips; the “turnip winter” of 1917–18 was remembered with bitter distaste for generations.
German women were not employed in the Army, but large numbers took paid employment in industry and factories, and even larger numbers engaged in volunteer services.
Housewives were taught how to cook without milk, eggs or fat; agencies helped widows find work.
Banks, insurance companies and government offices for the first time hired women for clerical positions.
Factories hired them for unskilled labor – by December 1917, half the workers in chemicals, metals, and machine tools were women.
Laws protecting women in the workplace were relaxed, and factories set up canteens to provide food for their workers, lest their productivity fall off.
The food situation in 1918 was better, because the harvest was better, but serious shortages continued, with high prices, and a complete lack of condiments and fresh fruit.
Many migrants had flocked into cities to work in industry, which made for overcrowded housing. Reduced coal supplies left everyone in the cold.
Daily life involved long working hours, poor health, and little or no recreation, an increasing fears for the safety of loved ones in the Army and in prisoner of war camp.
The men who returned from the front were those who had been permanently crippled; wounded soldiers who had recovered were sent back to the trenches.

Defeat and Socialist Revolution 

German Troops Returning Through the Brandenburg Gate 1918

Many Germans wanted an end to the war and increasing numbers of Germans began to associate with the political left, such as the Social Democratic Party and the more radical Independent Social Democratic Party which demanded an end to the war.

The third reason was the entry of the United States into the war in April 1917, which changed the long-run balance of power in favor of the Allies.
The end of October 1918, in Kiel, in northern Germany, saw the beginning of the German Revolution of 1918–19.
Civilian dock workers led a revolt and convinced many sailors to join them; the revolt quickly spread to other cities.

Generalfeldmarschall
Paul von Hindenburg

Meanwhile, Hindenburg and the senior generals lost confidence in the Kaiser and his government.

In November 1918, with internal revolution, a stalemated war, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire suing for peace, Austria-Hungary falling apart from multiple ethnic tensions, and pressure from the German high command, the Kaiser and all German ruling princes abdicated.
On 9 November 1918, the Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a Republic, in cooperation with the business and middle classes, not the revolting workers.
The new government led by the German Social Democrats called for and received an armistice on 11 November 1918; in practice it was a surrender, and the Allies kept up the food blockade to guarantee an upper hand.
The war was over; the history books closed on the German Empire
It was succeeded by the democratic, yet flawed, Weimar Republic.
Seven million soldiers and sailors were quickly demobilized, and they became a conservative voice that drowned out the radical left in cities such as Kiel and Berlin.
The radicals formed the ‘Spartakusbund’ and later the ‘Communist Party of Germany’ (KPD).
Germany lost the war because it was decisively defeated by a stronger military power; it was out of soldiers and ideas, and was losing ground every day by October 1918.
Nevertheless it was still in France when the war ended on Nov. 11 giving die-hard nationalists the chance to blame the civilians back home for betraying the army and surrendering.
This was the ‘Dolchstoß in den Rücken Legende’ (Stab-in-the-back legend) that re-emerged in German politics in the 1920s, and caused a distrust of democracy and the Weimar government.


Kaiser Wilhelm II and the ‘Grosse Krieg’

Paul von Hindenburg – General Ludendorff
and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Wilhelm’s role in wartime was of ever-decreasing power as he increasingly handled awards ceremonies and honorific duties.

The high command foolishly continued with its strategy even when it was clear that the Schlieffen plan had failed.
By 1916 the Empire had effectively become a military dictatorship under the control of Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff.
Paul von Hindenburg

Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, known universally as Paul von Hindenburg –  (2 October 1847 – 2 August 1934) was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934.
Hindenburg enjoyed a long career in the Prussian Army, retiring in 1911. He was recalled at the outbreak of World War I, and first came to national attention, at the age of 66, as the victor at Tannenberg in 1914. As Germany’s Chief of the General Staff from 1916, he and his deputy, Erich Ludendorff, rose in the German public’s esteem until Hindenburg came to eclipse the Kaiser himself.
Hindenburg retired again in 1919, but returned to public life one more time in 1925 to be elected as the second President of Germany.



Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (sometimes referred to as von Ludendorff) (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916 his appointment as Quartermaster general made him joint head (with Paul von Hindenburg), and chief engineer behind the management of Germany’s effort in World War I until his resignation in October 1918.
After the war, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist leader who was convinced that the German Army had been betrayed by Marxists and Republicans in the Versailles Treaty. He took part in the unsuccessful coups d’état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the Beer Hall Putsch of Adolf Hitler in 1923, and in 1925 he ran for president against his former colleague, Paul von Hindenburg,


Increasingly cut off from reality and the political decision-making process, Wilhelm vacillated between defeatism and dreams of victory, depending upon the fortunes of his armies. Nevertheless, Wilhelm still retained the ultimate authority in matters of political appointment, and it was only after his consent had been gained that major changes to the high command could be effected.

Helmuth von Moltke
Prinz Ruprecht and Wilhelm II
Wilhelm was in favour of the dismissal of Helmuth von Moltke the Younger in September 1914 and his replacement by Erich von Falkenhayn.

Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke (23 May 1848, Biendorf – 18 June 1916), also known as Moltke the Younger, was a nephew of Field Marshal Count Moltke and served as the Chief of the German General Staff from 1906 to 1914. The two are often differentiated as Moltke the Elder and Moltke the Younger. Moltke the Younger’s role in the development of German war plans and the instigation of the First World War is extremely controversial.



Erich von Falkenhayn

Erich von Falkenhayn (11 September 1861 – 8 April 1922) was a German soldier and Chief of the General Staff during World War I. He became a military writer after World War I.

Falkenhayn succeeded Moltke as Chief of the General Staff of the German Army after the Battle of the Marne on 14 September 1914. Confronted with the failure of the Schlieffen Plan due to Moltke’s interference, he attempted to outflank the British and French in the “Race to the Sea”, a series of engagements throughout northern France and Belgium in which each side tried to turn the other’s flank until they reached the coastline. The British and French eventually stopped the Germans at the First Battle of Ypres (October–November 1914).
Falkenhayn preferred an offensive strategy on the Western Front while conducting a limited campaign in the east: he hoped that Russia would accept a separate armistice more easily if it had not been humiliated too much. This brought him into conflict with Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who favored massive offensives in the east. Eventually – either in the hope that a massive slaughter would lead Europe’s political leaders to consider ending the war, or that losses would in the end be less harmful for Germany than for France – Falkenhayn staged a massive battle of attrition, as claimed in his post-war memoires, at Verdun in early 1916. Although more than a quarter of a million soldiers eventually died – for which Falkenhayn was sometimes called “the Blood-Miller of Verdun” – neither side’s resolve was lessened, because, contrary to Falkenhayn’s assumptions, the Entente was able to replace their dead. 
After the failure at Verdun, coupled with several reverses in the east and incessant lobbying by Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of Staff by Hindenburg.

Georg Michaelis
In 1917, Hindenburg and Ludendorff decided that Bethman-Hollweg was no longer acceptable to them as Chancellor and called upon the Kaiser to appoint somebody else.
When asked whom they would accept, Ludendorff recommended Georg Michaelis, a nonentity he barely knew.
The Kaiser did not know Michaelis, but accepted the suggestion.
The Kaiser’s support collapsed completely in October–November 1918 in the army, in the civilian government, and in German public opinion, as President Woodrow Wilson made clear the Kaiser could no longer be a party to peace negotiations.
That year Wilhelm also became seriously ill during the worldwide 1918 flu pandemic, though he survived.


Abdication

Wilhelm was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium, when the uprisings in Berlin and other centres took him by surprise in late 1918.

The Kiel Mutiny – 1918

Mutiny among the ranks of his beloved Kaiserliche Marine, the imperial navy, profoundly shocked him.

The Kiel mutiny was a major revolt by sailors of the German High Seas Fleet on 3 November 1918. The revolt triggered the German revolution which was to sweep aside the monarchy within a few days. It ultimately led to the end of the German Empire and to the establishment of the Weimar Republic.
On 7 November, the revolution had spread as far south as München, causing Ludwig III of Bavaria to flee.

After the outbreak of the German Revolution, Wilhelm could not make up his mind whether or not to abdicate.
Up to that point, he was confident that even if he were obliged to vacate the German throne, he would still retain the Prussian kingship.

Socialist Revolution – Berlin – 1919
Maximillian Prinz von Baden

The unreality of this belief was revealed when, in the hope of preserving the monarchy in the face of growing revolutionary unrest, Wilhelm’s abdication both as German Emperor and King of Prussia was abruptly announced by the Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, on 9 November 1918.
Prince Max himself was forced to resign later the same day, when it became clear that only Friedrich Ebert, leader of the SPD could effectively exert control.
Wilhelm consented to the abdication only after Ludendorff’s replacement, General Wilhelm Groener, had informed him that the officers and men of the army would march back in good order under Paul von Hindenburg’s command, but would certainly not fight for Wilhelm’s throne on the home front.
The monarchy’s last and strongest support had been broken, and finally even Hindenburg, himself a lifelong royalist, was obliged, with some embarrassment, to advise the Emperor to give up the crown, thus ending the Hohenzollern dynasty’s five-century rule.
The fact that the High Command might one day abandon the Kaiser had been foreseen in December 1897, when Wilhelm had visited Otto von Bismarck for the last time.
Bismarck had again warned the Kaiser about the increasing influence of militarists, especially of the admirals who were pushing for the construction of a battle fleet.
Bismarck’s last warning had been:
‘Your Majesty, so long as you have this present officer corps, you can do as you please. But when this is no longer the case, it will be very different for you.’
Subsequently, Bismarck had predicted accurately:
Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great; the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this” – a prophecy fulfilled almost to the month.
On November 10, Wilhelm Hohenzollern crossed the border by train, as a private citizen, and went into exile in the Netherlands, which had remained neutral throughout the war.
Upon the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles in early 1919, Article 227 expressly provided for the prosecution of Wilhelm “for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties“, but Queen Wilhelmina refused to extradite him, despite appeals from the Allies.
King-Emperor George V wrote that he looked on his cousin as “the greatest criminal in history (?)“, but opposed Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s proposal to “hang the Kaiser“.
President Wilson rejected extradition, arguing that punishing Wilhelm for waging war would destabilize international order and lose the peace.

Wilhelm after his Abdication

The erstwhile Emperor first settled in Amerongen, where on 28 November he issued a formal statement of abdication.

He subsequently purchased a country house in the municipality of Doorn on 16 August 1919 and moved in on 15 May 1920.
This was to be his home for the remainder of his life.
From this residence, ‘Huis Doorn’, Wilhelm absolved his officers and servants of their oath of loyalty to him; however, he himself never formally relinquished his titles, and hoped to return to Germany in the future.
The Weimar Republic allowed Wilhelm to remove twenty-three railway wagons of furniture, twenty-seven containing packages of all sorts, one bearing a car and another a boat, from the New Palace at Potsdam.


Aftermath

Out of a population of 65 million, Germany suffered 2.1 million military deaths and 430,000 civilian deaths due to wartime causes (especially the food blockade), plus about 17,000 killed in Africa and the other overseas colonies.
The Allied blockade continued until July 1919, causing severe additional hardships.

Die Weimarer Republik

 
Die Weimarer Republik

The (Weimarer Republik) Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the federal republic and parliamentary representative democracy established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government.

Schiller Haus – Weimar 1920
It was named after Weimar, the city where the constitutional assembly took place.
Its official name was the Deutsches Reich (German Reich).
Following World War I, the republic emerged from the German Revolution in November 1918.
In 1919, a national assembly was convened in Weimar, where a new constitution for the German Reich was written, then adopted on 11 August of that same year.
The ensuing period of liberal democracy lapsed in the early 1930s, leading to the ascent of the nascent National Socialist Party and Adolf Hitler in 1933.
The legal measures taken by the National Socialist government in February and March 1933, commonly known as Gleichschaltung (“coordination”) meant that the government could legislate contrary to the constitution.
Oddly enough the republic nominally continued to exist until 1945, as the constitution was never formally repealed, however, the measures taken by the National Socialists in the early part of their rule rendered the constitution irrelevant, thus 1933 is usually seen as the end of the Weimar Republic and the beginning of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Charles Gates Dawes
Signing the Young Plan

In its 14 years the Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremists (with paramilitaries – both left and right wing), and hostility from the victors of World War I, who tried twice to restructure Germany’s reparations payments through the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan, however, it overcame many of the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles (Germany eventually repaid a reduced amount of the reparations required of the treaty, with the last payment being made on 3 October 2010), reformed the currency, and unified tax politics and the railway system, as well as having a unique cultural impact with its art, music and cinema.

Germany continued to lead the world in science and technology during this period.
Despite its political form, the new republic was still known as Deutsches Reich in German. This phrase was commonly translated into English as German Empire, although the German word Reich has a broader range of connotations than the English “empire”, so the name is most often translated to the German Reich in English.

The English word “realm” captures broadly the same meaning.
The common short form in English remained Germany.
The Weimar Republic was named for the location where the assembly met.
The assembly met in Weimar, Germany from February 6, 1919 to August 11, 1919.

The November Revolution

Berlin – November Revolution

In October 1918, the constitution of the German Empire was reformed to introduce a parliamentary system similar to the British, but this soon became obsolete.

On 29 October, rebellion broke out in Kiel among sailors.
There, sailors, soldiers and workers began electing worker and soldier councils (Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte) modeled after the soviets of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
The revolution spread throughout Germany, and participants seized military and civil powers in individual cities.
The power takeover was achieved everywhere without loss of life and control was firmly in the hands of the largest political party, the social democrats, nevertheless, the rebellion caused great fear in the establishment and in the middle classes because of the Soviet Russia connotation of the councils.
For the supporters of a monarchy, the country seemed to be on the verge of a communist revolution.
Ludwig III von Bayern
On 7 November, the revolution had reached Munich, causing King Ludwig III of Bavaria to flee.

On 12 November 1918, Prime Minister Dandl went to Schloss Anif, near Salzburg, to see the King and obtain what is known as the ‘Anifer Erklärung’ (Anif declaration) in which the King released all government officials, soldiers and civil officers from their oath to him, but made no declaration of abdication. The newly-formed republican government of Kurt Eisner interpreted this as an abdication. The declaration was published by the Eisner government when Dandl returned to Munich the next day, interpreting it, somewhat ambiguously, as the end to Wittelsbacher rule.

Wilhelm Groener
Groener, a self-appointed military expert in the MSPD was sent to Kiel to prevent any further unrest and took on the task of controlling the mutinous sailors and their supporters in the Kiel barracks.
The sailors and soldiers, inexperienced in matters of revolutionary combat, welcomed Groener as an experienced politician and allowed him to negotiate a settlement, thus defusing the initial anger of the revolutionaries in uniform.
At the time, the traditional political representation of the working class, the Social Democratic Party was divided into two major factions: one group, the Independent Social Democrats called for immediate peace negotiations and favoured a socialist system of industrial control.
Kaiser Wilhelm II 

To keep their influence, the remaining Majority Social Democrats (MSPD), who supported the war efforts and a parliamentary system, decided to make use of their support at grass roots and put themselves at the front of the movement, and on 7 November, demanded that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicate.

When he refused, Prince Max of Baden simply announced that he had done so and frantically attempted to establish a regency under another member of the House of Hohenzollern.

Wilhelm II or William II (German: Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert; English: Frederick William Victor Albert) (27 January 1859 – 4 June 1941) was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was a grandson of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe. Crowned in 1888, he dismissed the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, in 1890 and launched Germany on a bellicose “New Course” in foreign affairs that culminated in his support for Austria-Hungary in the crisis of July 1914 that led to World War I. Bombastic and impetuous, he sometimes made tactless pronouncements on sensitive topics without consulting his ministers, culminating in a disastrous Daily Telegraph interview that cost him most of his power in 1908. His generals dictated policy during World War I with little regard for the civilian government. An ineffective war leader, he lost the support of the army, abdicated in November 1918, and fled to exile in the Netherlands.

On 9 November 1918, the “German Republic” was proclaimed by MSPD member Philipp Scheidemann at the Reichstag building in Berlin, to the fury of Friedrich Ebert and James Mitchell, the leaders of the MSPD, who thought that the question of monarchy or republic should be answered by a national assembly.

Rosa Luxemburg
Karl Liebknecht

Two hours later, a “Free Socialist Republic” was proclaimed, 2 km (1.2 mi) away, at the Berliner Stadtschloss.

The proclamation was issued by Karl Liebknecht, co-leader (with Rosa Luxemburg) of the communist Spartakusbund (Spartacist League), a group of a few hundred supporters of the Russian revolution that had allied itself with the USPD in 1917.

Karl Liebknecht (13 August 1871, Leipzig, Saxony, Germany – 15 January 1919, Berlin, Germany) was a German Jewish socialist and a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany.
He is best known for his opposition to World War I in the Reichstag and his role in the Spartacist uprising of 1919. The uprising was crushed by the social democrat government and the Freikorps (paramilitary units formed of World War I veterans) and Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered.

Rosa Luxemburg (5 March 1871, Zamość, Vistula Land, Russia – 15 January 1919, Berlin, Germany) was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist of Polish Jewish descent who became a naturalized German citizen. She was successively a member of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
In 1915, after the SPD supported German involvement in World War I, she and Karl Liebknecht co-founded the anti-war Spartakusbund (Spartacist League) which eventually became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). During the German Revolution she founded the Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), the central organ of the Spartacist movement.


Friedrich Ebert
Reichskanzler
Prinz Max von Baden

On 9 November, in a legally questionable act, Reichskanzler Prinz Max von Baden transferred his powers to Friedrich Ebert, who, shattered by the monarchy’s fall, reluctantly accepted.
In view of the mass support for more radical reforms among the workers’s councils a coalition government called Rat der Volksbeauftragten (Council of People’s Commissioners) was established, consisting of three MSPD and three USPD members.
Led by Ebert for the MSPD and Hugo Haase for the USPD it sought to act as a provisional cabinet of ministers, but the power question was unanswered.
Although the new government was confirmed by the Berlin worker and soldier council, it was opposed by the Spartacist League.
Ebert called for a National Congress of Councils, which took place from 16 to 20 December 1918, and in which the MSPD had the majority.
Thus, Ebert was able to institute elections for a provisional National Assembly that would be given the task of writing a democratic constitution for parliamentary government, marginalizing the movement that called for a socialist republic (see below).

Compiègne Armistice

On 11 November, an armistice was signed at Compiègne by German representatives. It effectively ended military operations between the Allies and Germany.
It amounted to German capitulation, without any concessions by the Allies; the naval blockade would continue until complete peace terms were agreed.
From November 1918 to January 1919, Germany was governed by the Council of People’s Commissioners, under the leadership of Ebert and Haase.
It issued a large number of decrees that radically shifted German policies.
It introduced the eight-hour workday, domestic labour reform, works councils, agricultural labour reform, right of civil-service associations, local municipality social welfare relief (split between Reich and States) and important national health insurance, re-instatement of demobilised workers, protection from arbitrary dismissal with appeal as a right, regulated wage agreement, and universal suffrage from 20 years of age in all types of elections—local and national.
To ensure his fledgling government maintained control over the country, Ebert made an agreement with the OHL (supreme army command), now led by Ludendorff’s successor General Wilhelm Groener.
The ‘Ebert–Groener pact’ stipulated that the government would not attempt to reform the army so long as the army swore to protect the state.
On the one hand, this agreement symbolised the acceptance of the new government by the military, assuaging concern among the middle classes; on the other hand, it was thought contrary to working-class interests by left wing social democrats and communists, and was also opposed by the far right who believed democracy would make Germany weaker.

Reichwehr 1930

The new Reichswehr armed forces, limited by the Treaty of Versailles to 100,000 army soldiers and 15,000 sailors, remained fully under the control of the German Officer Class despite its nominal re-organisation.
As in other countries, it came to the permanent split in the social democratic movement, into the democratic SPD and the Communists.
There was no revolution because the right wing of the socialist movement, led by Ebert and Scheideman, supported the republic they had brought into being.
Combined action on the part of the socialists was not possible without action from the millions of workers who stood midway between the parliamentarians and the revolutionaries wanted to strengthen the powers of the workers’ councils.
The rift between the two socialist parties became final after Ebert called upon the OHL for troops to put down another Berlin army mutiny on 23 November 1918, in which soldiers had captured the city’s garrison commander and closed off the Reichskanzlei where the Council of People’s Commissioners was situated.
The ensuing street fighting left several dead and injured on both sides.
The USPD leaders were outraged by what they believed was treachery by the MSPD, which, in their view, had joined with the anti-communist military to suppress the revolution, thus the USPD left the Council of People’s Commissioners after only seven weeks.

Communist Party of Germany (KPD)

In December, the split deepened when the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was formed out of a number of radical left-wing groups, including the left wing of the USPD and the “Spartacist League” group.
In January, the Spartacist League and others in the streets of Berlin made more armed attempts to establish communism, known as the Spartacist uprising.
Those attempts were put down by paramilitary Freikorps units consisting of volunteer soldiers.
Bloody street fights culminated in the beating and shooting deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht after their arrests on 15 January.
With the affirmation of Ebert, those responsible were not tried before a court martial, leading to lenient sentences, which made Ebert unpopular among radical leftists.

The National Assembly elections took place on 19 January 1919.
In this time, the radical left-wing parties, including the USPD and KPD, were barely able to get themselves organized, leading to a solid majority of seats for the MSPD moderate forces.
To avoid the ongoing fights in Berlin, the National Assembly convened in the city of Weimar, giving the future Republic its unofficial name.
The Weimar Constitution created a republic under a parliamentary republic system with the Reichstag elected by proportional representation.
The democratic parties obtained a solid 80% of the vote.
During the debates in Weimar, fighting continued.

Munich Soviet Republic

A Soviet republic was declared in Munich, but was quickly put down by Freikorps and remnants of the regular army.

The fall of the Munich Soviet Republic to these units, many of which were situated on the extreme right, resulted in the growth of far-right movements and organizations in Bavaria, including Organisation Consul, the NSDAP, and societies of exiled Russian Monarchists. Sporadic fighting continued to flare up around the country.
In eastern provinces, forces loyal to Germany’s fallen Monarchy fought the republic, while militias of Polish nationalists fought for independence: Great Poland Uprising in Provinz Posen and three Silesian Uprisings in Upper Silesia.
Germany lost the war because the country ran out of allies and its economic resources were running out; support among the population began to crumble in 1916 and by mid-1918 there was support for the war only among the die-hard monarchists and conservatives.
The decisive blow came with the entry of the United States into the conflict, which made the vast industrial resources available to the beleaguered allies, nevertheless, the German armies were still on French and Belgian territory when the war ended on 11 November.
In a hearing on the reasons for Germany’s defeat in 1920, Hindenburg claimed that it was the defeatism of the civilian population that had made defeat inevitable.
The die-hard nationalists then blamed the civilians for betraying the army and the surrender.
This was the Dolchstoßlegende (Stab in the back myth) that was unceasingly propagated by the right in the 1920s and ensured that the monarchists and conservatives would never support the government of the “November criminals”.
The Treaty of Versailles

The growing postwar economic crisis was a result of lost pre-war industrial exports, the loss of supplies in raw materials and foodstuffs from Alsace-Lorraine, Polish districts and the colonies, along with worsening debt balances, but above all, the result of an exorbitant issue of promissory notes raising money to pay for the war.

Military-industrial activity had almost ceased, although controlled demobilisation kept unemployment at around one million.
The fact that the Allies continued to blockade Germany until after the Treaty of Versailles did not help matters, either.
The allies permitted only low import levels of goods that most Germans could not afford.
After four years of war and famine, many German workers were exhausted, physically impaired and discouraged.
Millions were disenchanted with capitalism and hoping for a new era. Meanwhile, the currency depreciated.
The currency would continue to depreciate following the French invasion of the Ruhr.
The German peace delegation in France signed the Treaty of Versailles, accepting mass reductions of the German military, the prospect of substantial war reparations payments to the victorious allies, and the controversial “War Guilt Clause”.
Adolf Hitler later blamed the republic and its democracy for the oppressive terms of this treaty.
The Republic’s first Reichspräsident (“Reich President”), Friedrich Ebert of the SPD, signed the new German constitution into law on 11 August 1919.
The new post-World War I Germany, stripped of all colonies, became 13.3% smaller in its European territory than its imperial predecessor.
Of these losses, a large proportion consisted of provinces that were originally Polish and Alsace-Lorraine, seized by Germany in 1870, where Germans constituted only part or a minority of local populations despite nationalist outrage at the fragmentation of Germany.

Years of Crisis (1919–1923)

The Republic was soon under attack from both left- and right-wing sources.
The radical left accused the ruling Social Democrats of having betrayed the ideals of the workers’ movement by preventing a communist revolution.
Various right-wing sources opposed any democratic system, preferring an authoritarian state like the 1871 Empire.
To further undermine the Republic’s credibility, some right-wingers (especially certain members of the former officer corps) also blamed an alleged conspiracy of Socialists and Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I.
In the next five years, the central government, assured of the support of the Reichswehr dealt severely with the occasional outbreaks of violence in Germany’s large cities.
The left claimed that the Social Democrats had betrayed the ideals of the revolution, while the army and the government-financed Freikorps committed hundreds of acts of gratuitous violence against striking workers.
The first challenge to the Weimar Republic came when a group of communists and anarchists took over the Bavarian government in Munich and declared the creation of the Bavarian Soviet Republic.

Kapp-Putsch Freikorps Roßbach

The uprising was brutally attacked by Freikorps, which consisted mainly of ex-soldiers dismissed from the army and who were well-paid to kill the most active supporters of a democratic Germany.
The Freikorps was an army outside the control of the government, but they were in close contact with their allies in the Reichswehr.
The Kapp-Luttwitz Putsch took place on 13 March 1920: 5000 Freikorps soldiers occupied Berlin and installed Wolfgang Kapp (a right-wing journalist) as chancellor.
The national government fled to Stuttgart and called for a general strike against the putsch. The strike meant that no “official” pronouncements could be published, and with the civil service out on strike, the Kapp government collapsed after only four days on 17 March.
Inspired by the general strikes, a workers’ uprising began in the Ruhr region when 50,000 people formed a “Red Army” and took control of the province.
The regular army and the Freikorps ended the uprising on their own authority.
The rebels were campaigning for an extension of the plans to nationalise major industries and supported the national government, but the S.P.D. leaders did not want to lend support to the growing USPD, who favoured the establishment of a socialist regime.
The repression of an uprising of S.P.D. supporters by the reactionary forces in the Freikorps on the instructions of the S.P.D. ministers was to become a major source of conflict within the socialist movement and thus contributed to the weakening of the only movement that could have withstood the National Socialist movement.
Other rebellions were put down in March 1921 in Saxony and Hamburg.

Walther Rathenau
Treaty of Rapallo

In 1922, Germany signed the Treaty of Rapallo with the Soviet Union, which allowed Germany to train military personnel in exchange for giving Russia military technology.
This was against the Treaty of Versailles, which limited Germany to 100,000 soldiers and no conscription, naval forces of 15,000 men, twelve destroyers, six battleships, and six cruisers, no submarines or aircraft, however, Russia had pulled out of World War I against the Germans as a result of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and was excluded from the League of Nations, thus Germany seized the chance to make an ally.
Walther Rathenau, the Jewish Foreign Minister who signed the treaty, was assassinated two months later by two ultra-nationalist army officers.

Hyperinflation

In the early postwar years, inflation was growing at an alarming rate, but the government simply printed more and more banknotes to pay the bills.
By 1923, the Republic claimed it could no longer afford the reparations payments required by the Versailles Treaty, and the government defaulted on some payments.
In response, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr region, Germany’s most productive industrial region at the time, taking control of most mining and manufacturing companies in January 1923.
Strikes were called, and passive resistance was encouraged.
These strikes lasted eight months, further damaging the economy and the social life.
The strike prevented some goods from being produced, but one industrialist, Hugo Stinnes, was able to create a vast empire out of bankrupt companies.
Because the production costs in Germany were falling almost hourly, the prices for German products were unbeatable.
Stinnes made sure that he was paid in dollars, which meant that by mid-1923, his industrial empire was worth more than the entire German economy.
By the end of the year, over two hundred factories were working full-time to produce paper for the spiralling bank note production.
Stinnes’ empire collapsed when the government-sponsored inflation was stopped in November 1923.
In 1919 one loaf of bread cost 1 mark; by 1923 the same loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks.
Since striking workers were paid benefits by the state, much additional currency was printed, fueling a period of hyperinflation.
The 1920s German inflation started when Germany had no goods to trade.

The government printed money to deal with the crisis; this meant payments within Germany were made with worthless paper money, and helped formerly great industrialists to pay back their own loans.
This also led to pay raises for workers and for businessmen who wanted to profit from it. Circulation of money rocketed, and soon banknotes were being overprinted to a thousand times their nominal value and every town produced its own promissory notes.

The value of the Papiermark had declined from 4.2 per U.S. dollar at the outbreak of World War I to 1 million per dollar by August 1923.

This led to further criticism of the Republic. On 15 November 1923, a new currency, the Rentenmark, was introduced at the rate of 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) Papiermark for one Rentenmark, an action known as a monetary reset.
At that time, one U.S. dollar was equal to 4.2 Rentenmark.
Reparation payments resumed, and the Ruhr was returned to Germany under the Locarno Pact, which defined a border between Germany, France and Belgium.

Further pressure from the right came in 1923 with the Beer Hall Putsch, also called the Munich Putsch, staged by the NSDAP under Adolf Hitler in Munich.
In 1920, the German Workers’ Party had become the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), and would become a driving force in the collapse of Weimar.
Hitler named himself chairman of the party in July 1921.
On 8 November 1923, the Kampfbund, in a pact with Erich Ludendorff, took over a meeting by Bavarian prime minister Gustav von Kahr at a beer hall in Munich.



Adolf Hitler in Landsberg
Mein Kampf

Ludendorff and Hitler declared that the Weimar government was deposed and that they were planning to take control of Munich the following day.
The 3,000 rebels were thwarted by the Bavarian authorities.
Hitler was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for high treason, a minimum sentence for the charge.
In the event, he served less than eight months in a comfortable cell in Festung Lansberg, receiving a daily stream of visitors before his release on 20 December 1924.
While in jail, Hitler dictated Mein Kampf, which laid out his ideas and future policies. Hitler now decided to focus on legal methods of gaining power.

Das goldene Zeitalter (1924–1929)

Gustav Stresemann was Reichskanzler for 100 days in 1923, and served as foreign minister from 1923–1929, a period of relative stability for the Weimar Republic, known in Germany as Goldene Zwanziger (“Golden Twenties”).
(click on the link above for more information about Wiemar Culture)

Prominent features of this period were a growing economy and a consequent decrease in civil unrest.
Once civil stability had been restored, Stresemann began stabilising the German currency, which promoted confidence in the German economy and helped the recovery that was so ardently needed for the German nation to keep up with their reparation repayments, while at the same time feeding and supplying the nation.
Once the economic situation had stabilised, Stresemann could begin putting a permanent currency in place, called the Rentenmark (1924), which again contributed to the growing level of international confidence in the German economy.
Christmas broadcast of Wilhelm Marx in December 1923.
Marx was the longest serving chancellor of the republic.
To help Germany meet reparation obligations, the Dawes Plan (1924) was created.
This was an agreement between American banks and the German government in which the American banks lent money to German banks with German assets as collateral to help it pay reparations.
The German railways, the National Bank and many industries were therefore mortgaged as securities for the stable currency and the loans.
Shortly after, the French and Germans agreed that the borders between their countries would not be changed by force, which meant that the Treaty of Versailles was being diluted by the signing countries.
Other foreign achievements were the evacuation of the Ruhr in 1925 and the 1925 Treaty of Berlin, which reinforced the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922 and improved relations between the Soviet Union and Germany.
In 1926, Germany was admitted to the League of Nations as a permanent member, improving her international standing and giving her the ability to veto League of Nations legislation, however, this progress was funded by overseas loans, increasing the nation’s debts, while overall trade increased and unemployment fell.
Stresemann’s reforms did not relieve the underlying weaknesses of Weimar but gave the appearance of a stable democracy.
The major weakness in constitutional terms was the inherent instability of the coalitions. The growing dependence on American finance was to prove dangerous, and Germany was one of the worst hit nations in the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
The 1920s saw what some considered to be a remarkable cultural renaissance in Germany.
During the worst phase of hyperinflation in 1923, the clubs and bars were full of speculators who spent their daily profits so they wouldn’t lose the value the following day.
Berlin intellectuals responded by condemning the excesses of capitalism, and demand revolutionary changes on the cultural scenery.

Influenced by the brief cultural explosion in the Soviet Union, German literature, cinema, theatre and music worlds entered a phase of great creativity.

Innovative street theatre brought plays to the public, the cabaret scene and jazz band became very popular.
Many young women German women of the time were Americanised, wearing makeup, short hair, smoking and breaking with traditional mores.
The euphoria surrounding Josephine Baker in the metropolis Berlin for instance, declared “erotic goddess” and in many ways admired and respected, kindled further “ultramodern” sensations in the minds of the German public.
Bauhaus
A new type of architecture taught at “Bauhaus” schools, and Art reflected the new ideas of the time, with artists such as George Grosz being fined for defaming the military and for blasphemy.
Artists in Berlin were influenced by other contemporary progressive cultural movements, such as the Impressionist and Expressionist painters in Paris, as well as the Cubists. Likewise, American progressive architects were admired. Many of the new buildings built during this era followed a straight-lined, geometrical style.
Examples of the new architecture include the Bauhaus Building by Gropius, Grosses Schauspielhaus, and the Einstein Tower.
Not everyone, however, was happy with the changes taking place in Weimar culture. Conservatives and reactionaries feared that Germany was betraying her traditional values by adopting popular styles from abroad, particularly the U.S. Hollywood popularised American film, while New York became the global capital of fashion.
Germany was more susceptible to Americanisation, because of the close economic links brought about by the Dawes plan.
In 1929, three years after receiving the 1926 Nobel Peace Prize, Stresemann died of a heart attack at age 51.
When stocks on the New York Stock Exchange crashed in October, the inevitable knock-on effects on the German economy brought the “Golden Twenties” to an abrupt end.

Decline (1930–1933)

n 1929, the onset of the depression in the United States of America produced a severe shock wave in Germany.
The economy was supported by the granting of loans through the Dawes Plan (1924) and the Young Plan (1929).
When American banks withdrew their loans to German companies the onset of severe unemployment could not be stopped by conventional economic measures.
Unemployment grew rapidly and in September 1930 a political earthquake shook the republic to its foundations.

Reichstag

The NSDAP entered the Reichstag with 19% of the popular vote and made the fragile coalition system by which every chancellor had governed, unworkable.
The last years of the Weimar Republic were stamped by even more political instability than in the previous years.
The administrations of Chancellors Brüning, Papen, Schleicher and Hitler (from 30 January to 23 March 1933) governed through presidential decree, rather than through consultation with the Reichstag (the German parliament).

Heinrich Brüning
Hindenburg

The finance expert Heinrich Brüning was appointed as successor of Chancellor Müller by Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg on 29 March 1930, after months of political lobbying by General Kurt von Schleicher on behalf of the military.
The new government was expected to lead a political shift towards conservatism, based on the emergency powers granted to the Reichspräsident by the constitution, since it had no majority support in the Reichstag.
After a bill to reform the Reich’s finances was opposed by the Reichstag, Hindenburg established the bill as an emergency decree based on Article 48 of the constitution.
On 18 July, the bill was again invalidated by a slim majority in the Reichstag with the support of the SPD, KPD, the (then small) NSDAP and DNVP.
Immediately afterwards, Brüning submitted to the Reichstag the president’s decree that it would be dissolved.
The Reichstag general elections on 14 September resulted in an enormous political shift: 18.3% of the vote went to the NSDAP, five times the percentage compared to 1928.
It was no longer possible to form a pro-republican majority in the Reichstag, not even a Grand Coalition of all major parties except the KPD, NSDAP and DNVP.
This encouraged the supporters of the Nazis to force their claim to power by increasing organization of public demonstrations and paramilitary violence against rival paramilitary groups.
From 1930–1932, Brüning tried to reform the devastated state without a majority in Parliament, governing with the help of the President’s emergency decrees.
During that time, the Great Depression reached its low point. In line with conservative economic theory that less government spending would spur economic growth, Brüning drastically cut state expenditures, including in the social sector.
He expected and accepted that the economic crisis would, for a while, deteriorate before things would improve.
Among others, the Reich completely halted all public grants to the obligatory unemployment insurance (which had been introduced only in 1927), which resulted in higher contributions by the workers and fewer benefits for the unemployed.
The bulk of German capitalists and land-owners originally supported the conservative experiment: not from any personal liking for Brüning, but believing the conservatives would best serve their interests.

Alfred Hugenberg 

But as the mass of the working class and middle classes turned against Brüning, more of the great capitalists and landowners declared themselves in favour of his opponents—Hitler and Hugenberg.
By late 1931, conservatism as a movement was dead, and the time was coming when Hindenburg and the Reichswehr would drop Brüning and come to terms with Hugenberg and Hitler.
Although Hindenburg disliked Hugenberg and despised Hitler, he was no less a supporter of the sort of anti-democratic counter-revolution represented by the DNVP and NSDAP.
On 30 May 1932, Brüning resigned after no longer having Hindenburg’s support.
Five weeks earlier, Hindenburg had been re-elected Reichspräsident with Brüning’s active support, running against Hitler (the president was directly elected by the people while the Reichskanzler was not).

The Von Papen Deal

Reichskanzler Franz von Papen
Hindenburg then appointed Franz von Papen as new Reichskanzler.
Von Papen lifted the ban on the NSDAP’s SA paramilitary, imposed after the street riots, in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the backing of Hitler.
Von Papen was closely associated with the industrialist and land-owning classes, and pursued an extreme Conservative policy along Hindenburg’s lines.
He appointed as Reichswehr Minister Kurt von Schleicher, and all the members of the new cabinet were of the same political opinion as Hindenburg.
This government was expected to assure itself of the co-operation of Hitler.
Since the Republicans were not yet ready to take action, the Communists did not want to support the republic, and the Conservatives had shot their political bolt, Hitler and Hugenberg were certain to achieve power.

Elections of July 1932

Harzburger Front of 1931, a coalition of nationalist conservatives and the extreme right
Because most parties opposed the new government, von Papen had the Reichstag dissolved and called for new elections.
The general elections on 31 July 1932 yielded major gains for the KPD and the NSDAP, who won 37.2% of the vote, supplanting the Social Democrats as the largest party in the Reichstag.
The new question was what part the now immense National Socialist Party would play in the Government of the country.
The NSDAP owed its huge increase to growing support from middle-class people, whose traditional parties were swallowed up by the National Socialists.
The millions of radical adherents at first forced the Party towards the Left.
They wanted a renewed Germany and a new organisation of German society.
The left of the NSDAP strove desperately against any drift into the train of such capitalist and feudal reactionaries, therefore Hitler refused ministry under Papen, and demanded the chancellorship for himself, but was rejected by Hindenburg on 13 August 1932.
There was still no majority in the Reichstag for any government; as a result, the Reichstag was dissolved and elections took place once more in the hope that a stable majority would result.

Reichskanzler
General Kurt von Schleicher 

The 6 November 1932 elections yielded 33.1% for the NSDAP, two million voters fewer than in the previous election.
Franz von Papen stepped down and was succeeded by General Kurt von Schleicher as Reichskanzler on 3 December.
Schleicher, a political army officer, had developed in an atmosphere of semi-obscurity and intrigue that encompassed the Republican military policy.
He had for years been in the camp of those supporting the Conservative counter-revolution.
Schleicher’s bold and unsuccessful plan was to build a majority in the Reichstag by uniting the trade unionist left wings in the various parties, including that of the National Socialists led by Gregor Strasser.
This did not prove successful either.
In this brief Presidential Dictatorship entr’acte, Schleicher took the role of ‘Socialist General’, and entered into relations with the Christian Trade Unions, the left-wing members of the NSDAP and even with the Social Democrats.
Schleicher planned for a sort of labour government under his Generalship.
But the Reichswehr officers were not prepared for this, the working class had a natural distrust of their future allies, and great capitalists and landowners did not like the plans. The SPD and KPD could have achieved success building on a Berlin transport strike.
Hitler learned from von Papen that the general had no authority to abolish the Reichstag parliament, whereas any majority of seats did.
The cabinet (under a previous interpretation of Article 48) ruled without a sitting Reichstag, which could vote only for its own dissolution.
Hitler also learned that all past crippling Nazi debts were to be relieved by German big business.
On 22 January, Hitler’s efforts to persuade Oskar von Hindenburg (the President’s son) included threats to bring criminal charges over estate taxation irregularities at the President’s Neudeck estate (although 5,000 acres (20 km2) extra were soon allotted to Hindenburg’s property).
Outmaneuvered by von Papen and Hitler on plans for the new cabinet, and having lost Hindenburg’s confidence, Schleicher asked for new elections.
On 28 January, von Papen described Hitler to Paul von Hindenburg as only a minority part of an alternative, von Papen-arranged government.
The four great political movements, the SPD, KPD, Centre, and the NSDAP were in opposition.

On 29 January, Hitler and von Papen thwarted a last-minute threat of an officially sanctioned Reichswehr takeover, and on 30 January 1933 Hindenburg accepted the new Papen-Nationalist-Hitler coalition with the Nazis holding only three of 11 Cabinet seats. Later that day, the first cabinet meeting was attended by only two political parties, representing a minority in the Reichstag: The NSDAP and the DNVP led by Alfred Hugenberg (196 + 52 seats).
Eyeing the Catholic Centre Party’s 70 (+ 20 BVP) seats, Hitler refused their leader’s demands for constitutional “concessions” (amounting to protection) and planned for dissolution of the Reichstag.

Machtergreifung

Hindenburg, despite his misgivings about the National Socialist’s goals and about Hitler as a person, reluctantly agreed to Papen’s theory that, with NSDAP popular support on the wane, Hitler could now be controlled as chancellor.
This date, dubbed by the National Socialists as the Machtergreifung (seizure of power), is commonly seen as the beginning of the Third Reich, however, the phase of German history in which the democratic principles of the constitution and personal liberty came to an end, was the appointment of Brüning as Chancellor by Hindenburg.

Reasons for the Failure of the Weimar Republic

The reasons for the Weimar Republic’s collapse are the subject of continuing debate.
It may have been doomed from the beginning since even moderates disliked it and extremists on both the left and right loathed it.
Germany had limited democratic traditions and Weimar democracy was widely seen as chaotic, and since Weimar politicians had been blamed for the Dolchstoßlegende – a then widely believed theory that Germany’s surrender in World War I had been the unnecessary act of traitors – the popular legitimacy of the government was on shaky ground.
No single reason can explain the failure of the Weimar Republic.
The most commonly asserted causes can be grouped into three categories: economic problems, institutional problems and the roles of specific individuals.


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From Gefreiter to Reichskanzler