The Weimar Republic - Germany’s first democracy


The Center Party

The German Center Party (the Center) was founded in 1869 to represent the political interests of the Catholic Church in Germany. It played a key role supporting stability in the Weimar Republic, as it was considered an acceptable partner for forming coalition governments - with parties ranging from the SPD all the way to the DNVP. However, the range of political views within the Center Party straddled a very broad spectrum; its support for the democracy remained contested.

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Matthias Erzberger

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-072-16)


  • Head of the armistice committee
  • Finance Minister
  • Murdered in 1921

At the start of World War I, Matthias Erzberger was still pushing for victorious peace, but later on he called for peace without annexations. His peace resolution met with majority approval in the Reichstag in 1917. In October 1918, he joined Max von Baden’s cabinet and became chairman of the armistice committee. In this role, he signed the armistice on 11 November. In Scheidemann’s cabinet, he was a minister without a specified portfolio and spoke out for the acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles. Embittered opponents rose up against him because of this stance. Erzberger become Reichskanzler Gustav Bauer’s Finance Minister in June 1919. His reforms laid the foundations for today’s tax system in Germany. Yet right-wing forces directed their propaganda against him because of his reforms’ increase of the tax burden on assets. His legal action against these attacks failed. In 1920, he left his post as minister and one year later, he was murdered.

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Constantin Fehrenbach

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2007-0187 / o. Ang.)


  • Elected President of the Reichstag in 1918
  • Elected President of the National Assembly in 1919
  • Reichskanzler from 1920 to 1921

The jurist Constantin Fehrenbach was first involved in politics at the local and regional levels of his native Baden. He then became a Center Party Member of the Reichstag in 1903. He became famous in 1913, when he delivered a courageous speech advocating a constitutional state and opposing the military as a “state within the state”. In June 1918, he was elected President of the Reichstag. He attempt to reconvene the elected Reichstag during the November Revolution was blocked by the Council of People’s Representatives’ veto. In February 1919, he was elected President of the National Assembly. After the 1920 elections, he took on the post of Reichskanzler, only to resign a year later. He adamantly opposed the political assassinations perpetrated by right-wing extremist groups and was an active member of the Black-Red-Gold Banner of the Realm.

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Joseph Wirth

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 146III-105 / o. Ang.)


  • Finance Minister from 1920 to 1921
  • Reichskanzler from 1921 to 1922
  • Vociferous opponent of National Socialism

Joseph Wirth was a prominent representative of the Center Party’s left wing. He welcomed the November Revolution and was very involved in shaping the Weimar Republic. After Matthias Erzberger resigned, he was appointed Finance Minister and gained familiarity with the issues surrounding the reparations. In 1921, at the age of 41, Friedrich Ebert appointed him Reichskanzler. After the cabinet resigned in the following year, he was appointed to the post again. Wirth was considered an advocate of Erfüllungspolitik, a policy attempting to reach an agreement with the victorious Allies. At the same time, he created links with the young Soviet Union via the Treaty of Rapallo Bande. After Walter Rathenau was murdered, Wirth gave a speech in which he famously proclaimed: “The enemy is attacking from the right!” He did all he could to keep the Center Party from drifting to the right but failed and went into exile in 1933. After the war, he called for Germany’s reunification and maintained close connections with the GDR.

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Wilhelm Marx

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1973-011-02 / o. Ang.)


  • Member of the National Assembly and the Reichstag
  • Head of the Center Party’s parliamentary group
  • Chairman of the Center Party
  • Reichskanzler from 1923 to 1924 and 1926 to 1928
  • Minister-President of Prussia from February to March 1925

A jurist, Marx’s political career started during the Kaiserreich. He joined the Center Party and served as a Member of the Reichstag from 1910 to 1918. As an experienced politician, he was elected to the National Assembly and the Reichstag after the November Revolution. At the start of the 1920s, he strongly considered leaving politics. Yet with the Center Party having lost two key leaders - Erzberger and Trimborn - within a short period of time, he decided to continue his political work. He first took on the chairmanship of the party and its parliamentary group. Then, in the crisis-ridden year of 1923, he took on the post of Reichskanzler, remaining in office until 1924. In the 1925 presidential elections, he lost to Paul von Hindenburg in the second round of voting by a very small margin. He served again as Reichskanzler from 1926 to 1928, making him the Weimar Republic’s longest-serving chancellor. He took on a mediating role, promoting dialogue and compromise. This proved decisive in many decision-making processes.

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Franz von Papen

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-13534 / Foto: Georg Pahl)


  • German officer, last rank: Lieutenant Colonel
  • Military attaché in Washington from 1913 to 1915
  • Became Reichskanzler in 1932
  • Paved the way for Adolf Hitler

Franz von Papen was born into the noble house of Papen in Westphalia. He started training in the military at a cadet academy - a path of his own choosing. In 1913, he joined the diplomatic service as a military attaché in Washington, D.C. After the war started, following orders from the Reich’s leadership, he participated in acts of espionage and sabotage. This explains the pressure from the American government that led to him losing his position in 1915. After returning home, he first fought as an officer on the Western Front; later on, he was transferred to the Middle East. Right when the war ended, he left the military and entered the political arena. He served as a Member of the Prussian parliament from 1921 to 1932, representing the monarchist right wing of the Center Party. During the 1925 presidential elections, instead of backing his party colleague Marx, he lent his support to Hindenburg’s candidacy. This isolated him from peers within his own party. Upon Schleicher’s suggestion, Hindenburg granted Papen the mandate to form the government. In November 1932, Papen was planning to dissolve the Reichstag indefinitely and proclaim a new constitution. He failed because of Defense Minister Schleicher’s resistance. Schleicher succeeded in winning Hindenburg over to his position. After Papen stepped down, Schleicher himself became Reichskanzler. Papen in turn then used his connections with Reichspräsident Hindenburg to promote Hitler’s path towards becoming Reichskanzler. He became the deputy Reichskanzler in Hitler’s cabinet in 1933.

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Adam Stegerwald

(© Bundesarchiv N 1780 Bild-001-03)


  • General secretary of the federation of Christian trade unions of Germany from 1903 to 1929
  • Chairman of the Christian German trade union confederation from 1919 to 1929
  • Member of the National Assembly and the Reichstag
  • Prussian Minister-President from March to November 1921
  • Became Reich Minister of Transport from 1929 to 1930
  • Reich Minister of Labor from 1930 to 1932

Stegerwald joined the Center Party in 1896 and started his career in politics as a functionary in Christian unions. In 1903, he became the general secretary of the federation of Christian trade unions of Germany and stayed in office until 1929. As a Christian unionist, he promoted anti-Bolshevist policies and tried to counter the influence of the Free Unions. Alongside his work as a unionist, he took on various offices in the Prussian government, including a short stint as Prussian Minister-President in 1921. In 1929, he became Transport Minister in Reichskanzler Müller’s Grand Coalition. In Brüning’s cabinet, he served as Labor Minister. As a fervent catholic, he opposed the Nazi regime during the Third Reich. At the same time, he called for tempered opposition, so as to avoid retaliation from the Nazis.

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Heinrich Brüning

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-0630-504 / o. Ang.)


  • Member of the Reichstag
  • Head of the Center Party’s parliamentary group
  • Reichskanzler from 1930 to 1932

Brüning started out in politics in the Weimar Republic as a unionist and social policy maker. He took an active role in organizing the “passive resistance” in the Ruhrkampf (Ruhr struggle) as chief executive of the Christian German Union Federation. Brüning served as a Member of the Reichstag from 1924. In 1929, he was elected chairman of the Center Party’s parliamentary group. After Reichskanzler Müller’s Grand Coalition collapsed in 1930, Brüning took on the post of Reichskanzler, setting up a minority government. This marked the beginning of the presidential cabinets, which governed and enacted laws solely on the authority of the Reichspräsident, without consulting the Reichstag. During the economic crisis, Brüning tried to fight the recession with his deflationary policies. In the end, he lost Reichspräsident Hindenburg’s trust. A series of presidential cabinets then followed, ending with the Nazis seizing power.

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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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[TofahrnTofahrn, Klaus W., Chronologie des Dritten Reiches. Ereignisse, Personen, Begriffe, Darmstadt 2003.
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(zusammengestellt von Dr. Jens Riederer und Christine Rost, bearbeitet von Stephan Zänker)