The Weimar Republic


The War Ends

  • German people were suffering severe hardship near the war's end, and by 1918 many people faces starvation due to the Allies' naval blockades.  Public opinion had turned against Kaiser Wilhelm II, and many Germans wanted a democracy and an end to the war- creating widespread unrest
  • In November 1918, some members of the German navy rebelled and refused to board ships, German troops refused to control rioters and Kurt Eisner encouraged a general uprising, sparking mass strikes in Munich
  • The situation verged on civil war by Nov 1918, there was a public protest were members of the SPD called for the Kaiser's resignation.  On 09/11/1918 Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and two different socialist parties declared a republic.  On 10/11, all the state leaders that had been appointed by the monarchy left their posts and new revolutionary state governments took over instead.  The monarchy had been abolished and Germany had a chance to become a democracy
  • On 11/11/1918 a ceasfire to end WWI was agreed, where the Allies signed an armistice with Germany.  The new republic was under pressure to sign because the government didn;t think Germany could contnue fighting- military morale was low and its people were starving.  Some right-wing Germans saw the truce as a betrayal and believed Germany could still win the war
  • After the abdication of the Kaiser, different political parties claimed control over different towns.  A temporary national government was established (Council of People's Representatives) with the SPD and the USPD.  It lasted until Jan 1919, when elections were held for a new Reichstag
1 of 8

The Weimar Republic

  • Elections were held in Jan 1919, and Germany was now a democracy
  • Friedrich Ebert became the first President (leader of the SPD, a moderate party of socialists), with Philip Scheidemann as Chancellor.  In Feb 1919, the members of the new Reichstag met at Weimar to create a new constitution for Germany- the Weimar Republic.  The German system of government was reorganised and consisted of:
  • President: elected every 7 years, chooses the Chancellor and is head of the army, can dissolve the Reichstag, call new elections and sysoend the constitution, and he was elected by the German people
  • Reichstag: the new German parliament, members are elected by the German people every 4 years using proportional representation
  • Reichsrat: second house of parliament, consists of members from each local region and can delay measures passed by the Reichstag
  • The new constitution was designed to be as fair as possible.  Even small political parts were given seats if they got 0.4% of the vote or above.  More women were allowed to vote for the first time and the voting age was lowered to 20- more Germans could vote, meaning the German public had greater power
  • The new constitution was more democratic but it didn't prove to be very efficient: proportional representation meant it was difficult to make decisions because there were so many parties in the Reichstag, and they all had different points of view.  When a decision wasn't reach, the President could suspend the constitution and pass laws without the Reichstag's consent.  This was only meant to be used in an emergency, but it became a way to get around disagreements and undermined the new democracy
2 of 8

Early Unpopularity

  • Ebert signed the Treaty of Versailles- where most of the terms where decided by the Allied leaders- and the new German government wasn't invited to the peace conference in 1919 and had no say in the Treaty.  Ebert refused to sign it at first but Germany was too weak to risk restarting the conflict so he accepted and signed.  As a result the Weimar Republic became associated with the pain and humiliation caused by the Treaty
  • The Treaty caused resentment towards the Weimar Republic
  • Germans called the treaty a 'Diktat' (forced upon the Germans) and blamed Ebert for accepting its terms
  • Some Germans believed the armistice was a mistake and that Germany could have won the war.  They felt 'stabbed in the back' by the Weimar polticians, who brought the Treaty of Versailles upon Germany unnecessarily- these polticians became known as the November Criminals
  • The treaty played an important role in the failure of the Weimar Republic and harmed the Republic's popularity, creating economic and political unrest that hindered the government for years
3 of 8

Terms of the Treaty of Versailles

1) Germany had to take the blame for the war- many Germans didn't agree with this and felt humiliated

2) Germany's armed forces were reduced to 100,000 men and they weren't allowed any armoured vehicles, aircraft or submarines, and could only have 6 warships- made Germans feel vulnerable

3) Germany was forced to pay £6600 million in reparations- seemed unfair to Germans and would cause lasting damage to Germany's economy

4) Germany lost its empire and the mandates were put under the control of countries on the winning side of the war by the League of Nations- people opposed this, especially when people in German colonies were forced to become part of a new nation

5) German military was banned from the Rhineland, leaving Germany open to attack from the West

4 of 8

Years of Unrest

  • By 1919, thousands of Germans were poor and starving and an influenza epidemic had killed thousands.  Many Germans blamed the 'November Criminals' for losing the war, as well as communists and Jews.  The government was seen as weak and ineffective and the treaty made living conditions worse
  • The extreme left: in Jan 1919, communists led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luzemburg tried to take over Berlin.  They took control of important buildings and 50,000 workers went on strike in support.  This became known as the Spartacist Revolution.  Ebert asked for help from the right-wing Freikorps to stop the rebellion.  Over 100 workers were killed and the Freikorps' use of violence caused a split on the Left between the communists and the SPD
  • The right also rebelled: in March 1920, some of the Freikorps took part in the Kapp Putsch, led by Wolfgang Kapp, to create a new right-wing government.  The Freikorps marched into Berlin to overthrow the Weimar regime, but German workers opposed the putsch and staged a general strike, paralysing Berlin and forcing Kapp to give up.  Even after the putsch, threats to the government remained- in 1922, some former Freikorps members assassinated Walter Rathenau
  • By 1923, Germany couldn't meat the reparations payments set out by the Treaty.  France and Belgium took German resources instead and occupied the Ruhr (richest industrial part of Germany) which led to fury and a strike in the Ruhr.  German industry was devastated, and Germany tried to solve the debt problem by printing more money but instead plunged the economy into hyperinflation.  Germany's currency became worthless, no one wanted to trade with Germany so food and good shortages got worst, and bank savings became worthless, hitting the middle classes hardest
5 of 8


Stresemann became Chancellor from Aug-Nov 1923 and made important changes to help German economic recovery.  Sept 1923: he ended the Ruhr strike and reduced tension between Germany, France and Belgium, meaning the government could stop compensation payments to strikers.  Nov 1923: replaced the German Mark with the Rentenmark to stabilise Germany's currency.  He created the 'great coalition' which allowed parliament to make decisions more quickly.

Germany's economic recovery helped restore faith in the Weimar Republic and there was strong support in the 1928 elections for pro-Weimar political parties

Germany had begun to recover but Stresemann died in October 1929, just before the Wall Street Crash- a massive stock market crash in the USA which started a global economic depression.  The plans he had agreed would only work if the USA had enough money to keep lending to Germany, but it didn't after the crash.  

6 of 8

Stresemann's Steps for International Cooperation

1) The Dawes Plan- signed in 1924.  Stresemann secured France and Belgium's withdrawal from the Ruhr and agreed more realistic payment dates for the reparations.  The USA lent Germany £40 million to help it pay off its other debts.  This helped Germany's recovery, but meant it was dependent on American loans

2) The Young Plan- agreed in 1929.  The allies agreed to reduce the reparations to 1/4 of the original amount and Germany was given 59 years to pay them

3) The Locarno Pact- signed in Oct 1925.  Germany, France and Belgium agreed to respect their joint borders

4) The League of Nations allowed Germany to join in 1926, re-establishing Germany as an international power

5) The Kellogg-Briand Pact- signed by Germany in 1928, alongside 65 other countries, promising not to use violence to settle disputes

7 of 8

Changes under the Weimar Republic

  • 'Golden Years' saw living standards improve as a result of Germany's economic prosperit and the reforms
  • Unemployment: the unemployed were more protected, in 1927 the government introduced unemployment insurance.  Workers could pay into the scheme and would receive cash benefits if they became unemployed
  • Wages: the working classes became more prosperous and wages for industrial workers rose quickly in the late 1920s
  • Housing: the government launched mass housing projects, more than 2 million new homes were built between 1924 and 1931, providing extra employment also.  
  • Higher living standards could only be maintained with a strong economy, and Germany's was fragile.  The changes mainly helped the working classes and the middle classes couldn't access the welfare benefits
  • Women were given more freedom and greater access to public life.  Politically, women were given more representation and were awared the vote and could enter politics more easily.  The number of young women working increased following the war, the traditional role of women began to change and they now had more opportunities and divorce became easier.  These fuelled right-wing criticism as some German nationalists thought giving women more power and freedom threatened traditional family values
  • A period of creativity and innovation in Germany, freedom of expression generated new ideas.  There were advances in the arts, as well as important changes in music, literature and cinema.  New ways of critical thinking were encouraged
8 of 8


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all WWII and Nazi Germany 1939-1945 resources »