The Weimar Republic - Germany’s first democracy


Federal states

The German Empire remained a federation of multiple states during the Weimar Republic. Attempts during the November Revolution to establish a centralized political system failed. As a result, the constitution of the Weimar Republic granted states a number of rights. In addition, they participated in national law-making via representation in a second chamber of parliament - the Reichsrat. Prussia remained the largest state by far. Its dominance was a major factor shaping the Reich’s political landscape. In contrast, some very small states such as Anhalt and Lippe stayed the same size. Thuringia was the only case of smaller states successfully merging to form one larger state.

Otto Braun

(© Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10131 / Foto: Georg Pahl)


  • Member of the National Assembly
  • Prussian Minister-President in 1920 and from 1921 to 1932

Otto Braun started his political career in Prussia during the Kaiserreich, serving as a member of the Prussian parliament from 1913 to 1918. In 1919, Braun was elected to the constituent National Assembly. Yet he became particularly well known and played a key political role as the Minister-President of Prussia. He served in this capacity in 1920 and, with a brief interruption, from 1921 to 1932. He stayed in office for so long that he came to be known as Prussia’s “Red Czar”. Prussia was Germany’s largest and most populous state by far. As such, its government’s long period of political stability was a major source of support for the Weimar Republic throughout its crises. Braun’s cabinet could not be shaken until finally, with the Papen government’s Preußenschlag (Prussian coup d’état), it was dismissed and its political power was transferred to commissioners. The Preußenschlag made it easier for the Nazis to seize power because they were able to take advantage of the provision in 1933.

Wikipedia entry

Erich Zeigner

(© Deutsche Fotothek‎, wikimedia)


  • Justice Minister of Saxony
  • Minister-President of Saxony

Zeigner was born in Erfurt and studied law and economics in Leipzip from 1905 to 1913. After obtaining a doctoral degree, he started working as an assessor in Leipzig’s public prosecutor’s office. In 1918, he was appointed public prosecutor. He joined the SPD and was appointed judge the following year. In 1921, he was appointed Minister of Justice in Minister-President Wilhelm Buck’s cabinet. Zeigner became well known because of his controversial decisions as Saxony’s Minister-President. These included his move in October 1923 to appoint two KPD (Communist Party) politicians to his cabinet. Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert imposed imperial authority over Saxony and dismissed Zeigner’s SPD-KPD cabinet. Zeigner was accused of political corruption and sentenced to three years in prison. Yet after one year, he was released on parole. After the Nazis seized power, Zeigner was arrested and released several times. In 1944, he was initially imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, then transferred to Buchenwald. After the war, he was elected Mayor of Leipzig and became one of the founders of the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany) in Leipzig and Saxony.

Wikipedia entry

Gustav von Kahr

(© Artur Braun, via wikimedia, gemeinfrei)


  • Bavarian Foreign Minister
  • Bavarian Minister-President
  • Bavarian General State Commissioner

After studying law in Munich, Kahr first worked as an administrative lawyer. In 1902, he transferred to the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior. During World War I, he climbed the political ladder, becoming President of Upper Bavaria. In 1920, he became Bavaria’s Minister-President. He established Bavaria’s reputation as the German Reich’s “Ordnungszelle” (bastion of order) by introducing Einwohnerwehrs (citizens’ militias) and dissolving the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. After the 1921 Law for the Protection of the Republic was enacted, stipulating the dissolution of the Einwohnerwehrs, he resigned. At the end of September 1923, Kahr was appointed General State Commissioner and granted dictatorial powers. Shortly after taking office, he declared a state of emergency in Bavaria. During the Beer Hall Putsch, Kahr defied the putsch leaders’ expectations by working against it instead of participating in it. The Bavarian state police force managed to put an end to the putsch. In February 1924, Kahr stepped down from his political offices. During the Night of the Long Knives, Kahr was murdered by members of the SS.

Wikipedia entry

Josef Friedrich Matthes

(© wikimedia, gemeinfrei)


  • Politician and journalist
  • Minister-President of the Free and Independent Rhenish Republic

Born in Würzburg, Matthes worked as a journalist and became involved politics. This helped him get a job as the editor-in-chief of the SPD’s (Social Democrats’) party newspaper in Aschaffenburg. Yet in 1920, Matthes was excluded from the SPD. One year later, he was sentenced to six months in prison for libel and insults. Following this, he moved to the Rhine-Main area. Once there, he helped found separatist groups such as the Rheinischer Unabhängigkeitsbund (Rhenish independence league) and the Vereinigte Rheinische Bewegung (united Rhenish movement). In 1923, Matthes was a co-founder of the Free and Independent Rhineland Republic and became the Minister-President of the Rhenish Republic. Paul Tirard, the French High Commissioner and President of the Rhineland Commission, recognized Matthes’ cabinet as the region’s legitimate government. Yet its power relied solely on the French Rhineland-protection forces. Without backing for Matthes’ government from the people, his entire cabinet had to prematurely step down. Matthes then fled to France. After France’s capitulation, Matthes was extradited to the Nazi government and died in Dachau concentration camp in 1943.

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
[AB]August Baudert: Sachsen-Weimars Ende. Historische Tatsachen aus sturmbewegter Zeit, Weimar 1923.
[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)