Week 27

"From a cultural perspective, the most interesting city in Europe during the 1920s
was not Paris, London, or Vienna, but Berlin, the capital of "Weimar Germany"
(named after Goethe's city, where the democratic constitution of the new
republic was promulgated). Here one finds innovators in every field of modern
culture: theater (Bertolt Brecht, Erwin Piscator, Max Reinhardt), music (Kurt
Weill), cinema (Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, and G. W. Pabst), painting (George
Grosz, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner), fiction (Alfred Döblin's
Berlin Alexanderplatz), photography (August Sander, László Moholy-Nagy,
Hannah Höch), architecture (Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn), social and
cultural theory and criticism (Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Aby
Warburg, Erwin Panofsky), historical studies (Gershom Scholem, Felix Gilbert,
Eckhart Kehr). What is striking is that we find a kind of radical modernism in all
of these fields, and that there was a large audience for such innovative
movements in the arts as German Expressionism and "the New Objectivity" that
succeeded it. In the Berlin of the Weimar era, in other words, modernism found
a market; it became commercially profitable for the first time. And to
understand why this should be the case, we need to understand the traumatized
society in which the new culture flourished. From the beginning, the Weimar
Republic suffered from a crisis of legitimacy: it was a regime that no one
loved, and many loathed. Its representatives—uncharismatic Social Democrats—were
forced to sign the universally hated Treaty of Versailles, which, truncated Germany's
borders and imposed punitive reparations payments. The German Right believed that
Germany had not been defeated in a fair fight, but rather"stabbed in the back",
betrayed from within by socialists, revolutionaries, and
Jews. On top of defeat, Germany in 1918-1919 had experienced episodes of
street-fighting and revolution; the Right confused these consequences of defeat
with the cause. In any case the resentments of the Right obscured the fact that
Germany was a poorer country not only because Germany had lost the war but
because 35% of the country's wealth had evaporated during the four years of
fighting. The patriotic middle class had seen their savings wiped out, partly by
the quadrupling of prices, and partly because many had sunk a great proportion
of their savings in now worthless war bonds." Bruce Thompson (Institute Lecture)


Steven Ozment,

A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People,

Harper Perennial,

ISBN 0060934832

Gordon A. Craig,

The Germans,


ISBN 0452010853


Otto Friedrich,

Before the Deluge: Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, A,

Harper Perennial,

ISBN 0060926791

This older paperback edition is still in print and offers an excellent overview of this time and place.