The Weimar Republic - Germany’s first democracy



The German Democratic Party (DDP) was founded in 1918, emerging from the left-wing liberal Progressive People’s Party. Originally, after the November Revolution, there were plans to bring all liberal forces together. Yet it proved impossible to integrate the right-wing liberals grouped around Gustav Stresemann. The DDP proclaimed its unconditional support for the republic and brought together a broad range of well-known figures who shaped the new democracy in crucial ways. Yet from 1920 onwards, it lost a great deal of influence as voters turned to the right-wing parties. Even the change of its name to “German State Party” in 1930 could not stop its fall.

Wikipedia entry

Eugen Schiffer

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R72916)


  • State Secretary and Vice Chancellor from 1918 to 1919
  • Minister of Justice from 1919 to 1921
  • Implemented comprehensive reforms of the judiciary

Eugen Schiffer left the National-Liberal Party of the Kaiserreich in November 1918 to join the German Democratic Party. The jurist was a member of the Reichstag and a high-level civil servant in the judiciary; from October 1918, he served as leading state secretary in the Treasury Office. He stayed in this post after the November Revolution. After serving as the Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister in Scheidemann’s cabinet, he was Bauer’s Minister of Justice (1919) as well as Wirth’s (1921). He took the initiative to reform the judiciary, aiming to streamline and speed up legal proceedings. Schiffer was considered one of the key players involved in putting down the Kapp Putsch. In 1924, he left the DDP and picked back up his career as a lawyer. After 1945, he helped establish the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) in the Soviet occupation zone. Yet in the end, he fled to the Federal Republic in 1950.

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Friedrich Naumann

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2010-0823-500)


Founder of the National-Social Association

Leading thinker of left-wing liberalism

Founding chairman of the DDP

Friedrich Naumann was a social liberal and promoted the alliance with the Social Democrats in order to create a political force able to counterbalance the conservative agrarian groups. Initially, he worked within the National-Social Association that he had founded. Later on, he played an active role in the unification of the left-wing liberal forces in the Progressive People’s Party. During World War I, he spoke out for annexations and did not criticize the genocide committed against the Armenians. His book “Central Europe” found more readers than any other publication on Germany’s war goals, despite its enormous disconnect from reality. During the November Revolution, he helped finance the “Anti-Bolshevist League”, yet distanced himself from it when it moved to the far right. He was the founding chairman of the DDP and participated in constitutional deliberations in Weimar.

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Wilhelm Külz

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S74832)


  • Became Minister of the Interior in 1926
  • Became Mayor of Dresden in 1931
  • Became Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after 1945

Wilhelm Külz was active in local politics before World War I. He initially identified with the National Liberals, but joined the DDP in 1918. He was a member of the National Assembly and - from 1922 to 1932 - of the Reichstag. From January to December 1926, he served as Interior Minister in Luther’s cabinet. In 1931, he was elected mayor of Dresden, only to lose this post in 1933 when he refused to hoist the swastika flag from the town hall. Up to the end of the war, he worked as a lawyer and stayed in contact with resistance groups. In 1945, he helped found the LDP in the Soviet Occupation Zone, becoming its chairman.

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Walther Rathenau

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L40010)


  • Chairman of the Board of AEG (General Electricity Company)
  • Foreign Minister in Wirth’s cabinet
  • Murdered by right-wing extremists in 1922

Walther Rathenau grew up in a Jewish family of entrepreneurs. His father founded AEG. He followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming one of Germany’s leading businessmen, with membership on about 50 supervisory boards. He shared his expertise with Germany’s government during World War I in areas such as raw materials procurement. His views moved more and more towards the pursuit of an expansionary war and in 1918, he opposed an armistice. He had a very hard time adapting to the post-war era. After having joined the DDP (German Democratic Party), he became Minister for Reconstruction in 1921. At the start of 1922, he became Foreign Minister because he was held in high regard internationally and known for his excellent negotiation skills. Although he did not manage to successfully solve the reparations issue, he did conclude the Treaty of Rapallo with Soviet Russia, which helped Germany out of its isolation. Despite this, he was attacked by ferocious enemies as a Jew and an advocate of Erfüllungspolitik. In the end, he was murdered in broad daylight in June 1922.

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Gertrud Bäumer

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1975-068-26A)


  • Vociferous women’s rights activist
  • Deputy DDP Chair
  • Ministerial Councillor and Delegate at the League of Nations

Gertrud Bäumer attended the University of Berlin, where she met the famous women’s rights defender Helene Lange, who became a role model for her. Bäumer’s activism included the fight to improve women’s access to education. In 1918, she joined the DDP and became a member of the National Assembly. She served in the Reichstag from 1920 to 1932. In 1920, she was appointed Ministerial Councillor in the Ministry of the Interior and from 1926 to 1933, she served as delegate to the League of Nations in Geneva. After the Nazis seized power, she lost all her posts and became a writer. After 1945, she helped found the CSU in Bavaria.

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Bernhard Dernburg

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12088-1)


  • Experienced banker and economist
  • Became State Secretary in the Imperial Colonial Office in 1907
  • Served as Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor in 1919

Bernhard Dernburg worked for Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Treuhandgesellschaft, and Darmstädter Bank für Gewerbe und Industrie. His reputation was based on his work in rationalizing business operations. He organized restructuring programs in various sectors, using his close contacts in the US. In 1906, he was granted the mandate to represent Prussia on the Bundesrat (Union Council). He became State Secretary in the Imperial Colonial Office one year later. He redirected Germany’s colonial policies, making greater use of colonies to promote economic growth. After World War I, he was one of the DDP’s founders. In Scheidemann’s cabinet, he served as Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor. He was a Member of the Reichstag from 1920 to 1930.

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Hermann Dietrich

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 146III-074-1)


  • Baden’s Minister of External Affairs from 1918 to 1920
  • Minister of Food and Agriculture and Reich Finance Minister
  • Elected chairman of the German State Party in 1930

The jurist Hermann Dietrich started out in the National-Liberal Party. But in 1918, he helped found the DDP, becoming its uncontested leader in the state of Baden. He was a Member of the National Assembly and - from 1920 to 1933 - of the Reichstag. Between 1928 and 1932, he served in several cabinets, first as Minister of Food and Agriculture and then as Finance Minister under Brüning. In that role, he was responsible for the policy of deflation; this led many within his party to criticize him. In 1930, after the DDP merged with the Young German Order, he was elected Chairman of the German State Party. After his initial opposition to the Enabling Act, he voted for it in 1933 in order to protect his party colleagues working as civil servants. He helped set up the FDP in Baden-Württemberg after 1945.

Wikipedia entry

Hjalmar Schacht

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12733)


  • Banker
  • Co-founder of the DDP
  • President of the Reichsbank from 1923 to 1930 and from 1933 to 1939

Schacht was the son of a salesman and studied economics. He already made it to the top of Dresdner Bank during the Kaiserreich. He then transferred to the private National Bank for Germany, also serving as CEO there. He helped found the left-wing, liberal DDP in November 1918. In 1922, he became the director of Danat Bank, the result of a merger. During the hyperinflation of 1923, the Stresemann administration first appointed him Currency Commissioner and then President of the Reichsbank. In these roles, he succeeded in stopping the inflation. He took part in the Dawes Plan negotiations in 1924 as Germany’s delegate. From the mid-1920s on, Schacht’s political views shifted further and further to the right; in 1926, he left the DDP. In 1929, he again took part in reparations negotiations. After these talks, he took a public stance against the Young Plan’s conditions and against accepting it. When the Treaty was ratified by the Reichstag in the end, Schacht left his post as President of the Reichsbank in 1930. Towards the end of the Weimar Republic, he joined the right-wing radicals of the Harzburg Front, supported Hitler’s ambitions to take power, and facilitated contact among industrial players, the Nazi party, and Hindenburg. Under Hitler, Schacht was reappointed President of the Reichsbank in 1933. He was named Minister of Economic Affairs in 1934.

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Abkürzungs- und Siglenverzeichnis der verwendeten Literatur:

ADGBFederation of German General Trade Unions
AEGGeneral Electricity Company
AfA-BundGeneral Free Federation of Employees
AVUSAutomobile Traffic and Training Road
BMWBavarian Motor Works
BRTgross register tons
BVPBavarian People’s Party
CenterCenter Party
DAPGerman Workers’ Party
DDPGerman Democratic Party
DNTGerman National Theater
DNVPGerman National People’s Party
DVPGerman People’s Party
GmbHLimited (form of company)
KominternCommunist International
KPDCommunist Party of Germany
KVPConservative People’s Party
MSPDMajority Social Democratic Party of Germany; the Majority Socialists
NSnational socialism (Nazi)
NSDAPNational Socialist German Workers’ Party; Nazi party
NVNational Assembly
O.C.Organization Consul
OHLArmy High Command
SASturmabteilung; Brownshirts
SPDSocial Democratic Party of Germany
StGBPenal Code
UfAUniversum Film Aktiengesellschaft
USPDIndependent Social Democratic Party of Germany
VKPDUnited Communist Party of Germany
ZentrumCenter Party
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[AS]Axel Schildt: Die Republik von Weimar. Deutschland zwischen Kaiserreich und „Drittem Reich“ (1918-1933), hrsg. von der Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Thüringen, Erfurt 2009.
[BauerBauer, Kurt, Nationalsozialismus. Ursprünge, Anfänge, Aufstieg und Fall, u.a. Wien 2008.
[BihlBihl, Wolfdieter, Der Erste Weltkrieg 1914 - 1918. Chronik - Daten - Fakten, Wien 2010.
[BüttnerBüttner, Ursula, Weimar. Die überforderte Republik 1918-1933, Stuttgart 2008.
[DNV]Die Deutsche Nationalversammlung im Jahre 1919 in ihrer Arbeit für den Aufbau des neuen deutschen Volksstaates, hrsg. v. Ed.[uard] Heilfron, Bd. 1 bis 6, Berlin [1919].
[Ebert/Wienecke-JanzEbert, Johannes/Wienecke-Janz, Detlef, Die Chronik. Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts bis heute, Gütersloh/München 2006.
[EK]Eberhard Kolb: Die Weimarer Republik, 3. überarb. u. erw. Aufl., München 1993.
[EtzoldEtzold, Hans-Rüdiger, Der Käfer II. Die Käfer-Entwicklung von 1934 bis 1982 vom Urmodell zum Weltmeister, Stuttgart 1989.
[GG]Gitta Günther: Weimar-Chronik. Stadtgeschichte in Daten. Dritte Folge: März 1850 bis April 1945 (Weimarer Schriften, Heft 33), Weimar 1987.
[GrüttnerGrüttner, Michael, Das Dritte Reich 1933-1945 (= Bd. 19, Gebhardt. Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte), Stuttgart 2014.
[HildebrandHildebrand, Klaus, Das Dritte Reich, 7. Aufl., München 2010.
[Kessler Tgbb]Harry Graf Kessler. Tagebücher 1918-1937, hrsg. von Wolfgang Pfeiffer-Belli, Frankfurt a. M und Leipzig 1996.
[KittelKittel, Erich, Novembersturz 1918. Bemerkungen zu einer vergleichenden Revolutionsgeschichte der deutschen Länder, in: Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte 104 (1968), S. 42-108.
[KolbKolb, Eberhard, Die Weimarer Republik, 7. durchges. und erw. Aufl., München 2010.
[NiedhartNiedhart, Gottfried, Die Außenpolitik der Weimarer Republik, 2. aktualisierte Aufl., München 2010.
[O/S]Manfred Overesch/ Friedrich Wilhelm Saal: Die Weimarer Republik. Eine Tageschronik der Politik, Wirtschaft, Kultur, Düsseldorf 1992.
[Overesch/SaalOveresch, Manfred/Saal, Friedrich Wilhelm, Die Weimarer Republik, Eine Tageschronik der Politik, Wissenschaft Kultur, Augsburg 1992.
[PeukertPeukert, Detlef, Die Weimarer Republik. Krisenjahre der Klassischen Moderne, Frankfurt a.M. 1987.
[PK]Paul Kaiser: Die Nationalversammlung 1919 und die Stadt Weimar (Weimarer Schriften, Heft 16), Weimar 1969.
[PM]Paul Messner: Das Deutsche Nationaltheater Weimar. Ein Abriß seiner Geschichte. Von den Anfängen bis Februar 1945 (Weimarer Schriften, Heft 17), Weimar 1985.
[ThHB]Thüringen-Handbuch. Territorium, Verfassung, Parlament, Regierung und Verwaltung in Thüringen 1920 bis 1995, hrsg. von Bernhard Post und Volker Wahl, Redaktion Dieter Marek (Veröffentlichungen aus Thüringischen Staatsarchiven, Bd. 1), Weimar 1999.
[TofahrnTofahrn, Klaus W., Chronologie des Dritten Reiches. Ereignisse, Personen, Begriffe, Darmstadt 2003.
[UB]Ursula Büttner: Weimar. Die überforderte Republik 1918-1933. Leistungen und Versagen in Staat, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft und Kultur, Stuttgart 2008.
[VU]Volker Ullrich: Die Revolution von 1918/19, München 2009.
[WinklerWinkler, Heinrich-August, Weimar 1918-1933. Die Geschichte der Ersten deutschen Demokratie, München 1993.
[WirschingWirsching, Andreas, Die Weimarer Republik. Politik und Gesellschaft, 2. erw. Aufl., München 2010.

(zusammengestellt von Dr. Jens Riederer und Christine Rost, bearbeitet von Stephan Zänker)