The Weimar Republic - Germany’s first democracy


Chancellor of the Reich

In the Weimar Republic, the head of government was referred to as Reichskanzler (Chancellor of the Reich). Originally, “Reichsministerpräsident” (Minister-President of the Reich) was to be used, symbolizing the Reichsministerpräsident's authority being equal to that of the federal states’ minister-presidents. Yet this title never caught on. “Reichskanzler” had already been common currency in the Kaiserreich and by August 1919, it had already regained the upper hand. In the midst of the era’s political turmoil, one incumbent followed fast on the heels of the previous one, particularly in light of the post’s considerable weakness in comparison to today’s chancellors - and to the Reichspräsident in particular.

Wikipedia entry

Philipp Scheidemann

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1979-122-29A / o. Ang.)


  • People’s Representative during the November Revolution
  • Reichsministerpräsident (Reichskanzler) in 1919
  • Mayor of Kassel

Philipp Scheidemann was one of the Social Democrats’ highest-profile leaders in the early days of the Weimar Republic. In October 1918, he joined the last imperial cabinet. On 9 November, he proclaimed the republic from the balcony of the Berlin City Palace, pre-empting Karl Liebknecht. Initially, he worked within the Council of People’s Representatives. In February 1919, he was elected Reichsministerpräsident of a coalition composed of the SPD, the DDP, and the Center Party. There was a great deal of unrest and strikes during his time in office. In the end, his cabinet collapsed under the pressure of the Allies’ harsh peace conditions; Scheidemann himself also resigned in protest in June 1919. He stayed in politics, serving - for example - as a member of the Reichstag and as Mayor of Kassel. In 1921, he survived a hydrogen cyanide attack. He fled Germany in 1933 and died abroad in 1939.

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Gustav Bauer

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J0113-0500-001 / o. Ang.)


  • State Secretary in the last imperial government
  • Reichskanzler from 1919 to 1920
  • Minister in Scheidemann’s and Müller’s cabinets

Gustav Bauer was one of the SPD’s right-wing members and supported the policy of Burgfrieden (truce among parties). In October 1918, he joined Max von Baden’s cabinet as State Secretary. In February 1919, he became Minister of Labor in Scheidemann’s cabinet. When the government collapsed in June under the burden of the Treaty of Versailles, Bauer became Reichsministerpräsident (Reichskanzler from August 1919). In this capacity, he pushed through the nationalization of the railways and reforms of the Reich’s finances. Yet his policies remained controversial. After the Kapp Putsch, he had to leave politics as the SPD no longer trusted him. In the mid-1920s, he was temporarily excluded from the SPD because of the Barmat scandal. He subsequently withdrew from politics, tending to his private life.

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Hermann Müller

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1979-122-28A / o. Ang.)


  • Foreign Minister from 1919 to 1920
  • Reichskanzler in 1920 and from 1928 to 1930
  • Chairman of the SPD and its group in the Reichstag

Before World War I, Hermann Müller was an SPD member promoting the party’s center. Thanks to his extensive knowledge of languages, he served as a kind of “foreign minister”, cultivating connections with other socialist parties. Yet in summer 1914, his attempts to promote mutual understanding failed. He subsequently shifted to the right wing of the SPD. In the November Revolution, he was a member of the Vollzugsrat (executive council) of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, in which he successfully pushed through the National Assembly elections. After Scheidemann’s cabinet resigned, Müller became Foreign Minister and after the Kapp Putsch, he temporarily served as Reichskanzler. From 1920 to 1928, he headed the SPD’s group within the Reichstag. He subsequently took on the post of Reichskanzler again. Yet he was not able to achieve common ground across the various interests of the Grand Coalition’s parties. Müller died one year after the end of the government.

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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 Cuno

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2002-0625-505 / o. Ang.)


  • Head of the shipping company HAPAG
  • Reichskanzler from 1922 to 1923
  • Not able to stop hyperinflation

Wilhelm Cuno’s first career was in administration. During World War I, he worked in the Reichsgetreidestelle (imperial cereals office) and with the German merchant fleet. In 1918, the ship-owner magnate Albert Ballin hired him to work for HAPAG. After Ballin’s suicide, Cuno succeeded him as General Director. His contacts in America helped him restructure HAPAG, making him sought after within the political arena. After Cuno had rejected several offers for ministerial posts, Friedrich Ebert appointed him Reichskanzler in 1922. The government was conservative and pursued economically liberal policies. Although it saw itself as non-partisan, it rested on the support of a majority in the Reichstag. When French troops occupied the Ruhr Valley in 1923, Cuno called for passive resistance, which nearly resulted in the state going bankrupt. In the end, Germany’s sky-rocketing inflation and domestic unrest forced him to step down. He subsequently withdrew from politics, tending to his business activities.

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Gustav Stresemann

(© Archiv des Liberalismus)


  • Co-founder of the German People’s Party
  • Reichskanzler in crisis-ridden 1923
  • Foreign Minister and Noble Peace Prize laureate

Gustav Stresemann helped found the right-wing liberal German People’s Party. Initially an opponent of the republic, he became one of its most ardent supporters. As Reichskanzler during the crisis-ridden year of 1923, he saved it from demise. And as Foreign Minister, he achieved the reconciliation with France, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926. His early death in 1929 was a major loss for the democracy.

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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.

Wikipedia entry

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.

Wikipedia entry

Kurt von Schleicher

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 136-B0228 / Foto: Tellgmann)


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

Schleicher was born into an aristocratic family in Brandenburg in 1882. His father Hermann von Schleicher was a Prussian officer. Like his father, he started his military career in the Prussian army. Following his mentor Wilhelm Groener, he was appointed to the Kriegsamt (German War Office). In 1917, he was sent to the Galician Front. As he was close to Groener, who had a pact with Friedrich Ebert, Schleicher managed to become part of the new order after the November Revolution. In 1919, Schleicher was transferred to the Reich 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 Reichskanzler. 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 Reichskanzler, Schleicher stepped down at the end of January 1933, recommending Hitler as the new Reichskanzler.

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