The Weimar Republic - Germany’s first democracy



The nobility lost a great deal of power when the Kaiserreich collapsed and it was stripped of it privileges with the fall of the monarchies. Accordingly, most of the nobility opposed the Weimar Republic. Some of them also took on an active role in the fight against the young democracy. With the Kaiser having abdicated in an inglorious manner and with so many of those in other German states hating Prussia, reinstating the Hohenzollerns was never seriously considered. Instead, the nobility came down on the side of a military dictatorship and later national socialism. They also tried to secure their right to property, after having lost their political rights. A good example of this is the dispute regarding the people’s initiative against the settlement with the princes. Yet part of the nobility came to terms with the republic and, at times, even actively supported it.

Paul von Hindenburg


  • Headed the OHL (Army High Command) in World War I
  • Elected Reichspräsident in 1925
  • Helped Hitler rise to power in 1933

Paul von Hindenburg was already retired when World War I broke out. He was called back to active duty because the Russian army was advancing on the Eastern Front. With the victory of Tannenberg, he saved the Eastern Front and the Hindenburg myth was born. In 1916, he was appointed head of the OHL, with practically dictatorial power. In line with this, he fiercely opposed the revolution and the new republic. Knowing it was not true, he claimed that the German army had not been defeated by the enemy; instead, its ability to fight on had been destroyed by the unrest within Germany (“stab-in-the-back myth”). In the presidential elections’ second round of voting, he was nominated by the right-wing parties - and won by a slim majority. This led to a paradox: an open opponent of the republic becoming its head of state. At first, Hindenburg respected the legal framework and laws of the republic. Yet with the crises starting at the end of the 1920s, he weakening the democracy more and more via emergency decrees and dictatorial presidential cabinets. Finally, at the beginning of 1933, he appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor, plunging Germany into a dark dictatorship.

Wikipedia entry

Hans von Seeckt

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1970-085-36)


  • Head of the Army Command from 1920 to 1926
  • Held executive power in 1923
  • Member of the Reichstag from 1930 to 1933

During World War I, Hans von Seeckt first served on the Western Front, then as a military advisor for Austria-Hungary and the de facto Chief of Staff of the Ottoman Army. In 1920, he became the head of the Truppenamt (general staff) of the Reichswehr (Imperial Army). In this function, he refused to send in the Reichswehr to combat the troops of the Kapp Putsch (“Troops do not shoot at other troops”). He stayed in office despite this and in the midst of the crises of 1923, Friedrich Ebert granted him executive power over the Reich. Seeckt developed the concept of an apolitical Reichswehr as a “state within a state”. In 1930, he became a DVP member of the Reichstag. Later on, he worked as a military advisor in China.

More information available in Wikipedia

Kurt von Schleicher

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 136-B0228)


  • German officer, last rank: General of the Infantry
  • Chancellor from 1932 to 1933

Schleicher was born into an aristocratic Prussian family in Brandenburg in 1882. His father Hermann von Schleicher was an officer in the Prussian army. Like his father, he pursued a career in the Prussian military. Following his mentor Wilhelm Groener, he was appointed to the Kriegsamt (German War Office). In 1917, he was sent to the Galician Front. Thanks to his close ties with Groener and Groener’s pact with Friedrich Ebert, Schleicher successfully adapted to the new order after the November Revolution. In 1919, Schleicher was transferred to the Reich’s Ministry of Defense, where he became one of Hans von Seeckt’s closest staff members. When his department was transformed into a ministerial office, Schleicher became a civil servant with the rank of state secretary - a promotion. In 1932, he used his connections in the president’s office to have first Papen then himself appointed chancellor. Yet his attempts to convince the Nazis to join the government coalition failed. After secret talks between Hindenburg, Papen, and Hitler to have Hitler appointed chancellor, Schleicher stepped down at the end of January 1933, recommending Hitler as the new chancellor.

Wikipedia entry

Franz von Papen

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13534)


  • 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.

Wikipedia entry

Hans von Raumer

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2010-0225-502)


  • Member of the Reichstag
  • Minister of the Treasury from 1920 to 1921
  • Minister of Economic Affairs from 1923

Raumer joined the Reichstag in 1920 to represent the DVP, which he left in 1930. Reichskanzler Fehrenbach named him Minister of the Treasury in the same year in which he took office as a Member of the Reichstag. He played a major role in the Treaty of Rapallo negotiations. In 1923, he took on the post of Minister of Economic Affairs in Stresemann’s government. While in office, he focused his efforts first and foremost on promoting economic cooperation with France and the Soviet Union.

Wikipedia entry

Alfred von Tirpitz

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 134-B2595)


  • Naval officer, last rank: Großadmiral (grand admiral)
  • Co-founder of the DNVP (German National People’s Party)
  • Member of the Reichstag

Tirpitz was and is known in Germany first and foremost for his role in building up the German navy’s fleet under Kaiser Wilhelm II. Together with the Kaiser, he pushed through the armament of the fleet from the turn of the century, alienating the United Kingdom more and more. In the end, he resigned in 1916 because he, the Kaiser, and the Chancellor could not find common ground regarding unrestricted submarine warfare. Together with Wolfgang Kapp, he founded the nationalist and völkisch German Fatherland Party in 1917, reacting to the Reichstag’s peace resolution. After the war, he founded the DNVP with other conservatives. From 1924 to 1928, he was a DNVP member of the Reichstag.

Wikipedia entry

Walther von Lüttwitz

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1989-0718-501)


  • German soldier, last rank: General of the Infantry
  • Major figure of the Kapp Putsch of 1920

In 1859, Walther von Lüttwitz was born into an aristocratic family in Bodland, Silesia. He joined the military, reaching the rank of lieutenant general by the time World War I started. In March 1918, he served as the commanding general of the 3rd Army Corps during the German army’s Spring Offensive, which failed in the end. After the war, the Council of People’s Representatives appointed him commander of the troops in Berlin and vicinity in December 1918. In this function, he was in charge of maintaining order in the Reich’s capital and ending unrest. In January 1919, he headed the suppression of the Spartacist Uprising, during which Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered. After the Treaty of Versailles took effect, he spoke out against the plans to disband the Freikorps and reduce the army to 100,000 men. The government rejected Lüttwitz’s requests and withdrew his authority as commander of the troops in Berlin. At that, he joined forces with Wolfgang Kapp and his fellow conspirators. Together, they attempted a putsch in March 1920, with Lüttwitz’s troops occupying Berlin and Kapp becoming the new chancellor. The attempt failed after just a few days and Lüttwitz flew to Hungary. In 1924, he returned to Germany, having been granted amnesty.

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Gustav Krupp

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12331)


  • Diplomat and entrepreneur

Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was the son of a Prussian diplomat. Like his father, Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach took to diplomacy. During his career, he was stationed in German embassies in Washington D.C., Beijing, and elsewhere. Kaiser Wilhelm II arranged for a marriage between Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach and Bertha Krupp, who had inherited a business, in 1906. This liaison, along with a Prussian royal decree, allowed him to add his new spouse’s last name to his own. In 1908, he joined the business’s leadership, shaping its policies from then on. He stayed at the helm of Friedrich Krupp Corporation during World War I, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich up to 1942. During the 1920s, his company had to face several crises, particularly in connection with the aftermath of the war and the global economic crisis. Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach’s political views were conservative, in keeping with his background as a Prussian nobleman. However, he was loyal to the republic. Yet after the Nazis seized power, he started working closely with Hitler’s regime, which accorded his company major economic advantages. Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach participated in the armament policy, exploiting a large number of forced workers at his sites. Due to his bad health, he was declared unable to stand trial in Nuremberg. This allowed him to escape prosecution.

Wikipedia entry

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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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[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.
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[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.
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[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)