‘’Still other Germans were just recalcitrant and demanded sheer refusal – no negotiations, no payments, nothing.  Like the extreme nationalists at the end of World War I, they were prepared to let the worst happen.  Let everything – economy, society, the republic – crash to smithereens rather than deal with the reality that Germany had started the war, had lost the war, and now had to pay for the war.’’  So writes Eric D. Weitz in ‘Turbulent Economy, Anxious Society,’ the fourth chapter of this fascinating and utterly exploratory account of Weimar Germany.  

More than revealing in its thorough application and dedication, throughout Weimar Germany – Promise and Tragedy, Weitz brings to bear an uncanny erudition by shedding new light on an era that to this day, retains an alluring and quintessential provocation.  By effortlessly merging philosophy with literature, politics with economics, and art with architecture, the author has, according to Josef Joffe - publisher and editor of Die Zeit and fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University – written: ‘’a gripping portrait of a culture whose pathology was exceeded only by its creativity.’’  

To be sure, said time was indeed a remarkably intense period of artistic boundary breaking, which, if nothing else, continues to alert us to the fact that Weimar Germany was a veritable hive of unstoppable, youthful creation.  In ‘A Troubled Beginning,’ the author writes: ‘’The hyperactive vitality of Weimar culture, of its music, theatre, film, photography, derived its intensity from the act of revolution, from the psychological sense of engagement, the heady enthusiasm, the notion that barriers had been broken and all things were possible.’’  

As such, reading this book, one cannot help but be inspired by the proclivity of activity that was forever emerging and taking place in Germany at the time.  

To illustrate this, it’s worth mentioning Weitz’s account of the Munich literary scholar, Josef Hofmiller - who until the revolution of 1918-19, was also the State Censor – where he confessed his utter disdain at emerging academic needs: ‘’The students demanded the right to read a variety of newspapers and to eat where they pleased […].  Hofmiller was incensed more by their brash self-confidence than by their particular demands.  He worried that they were living ‘’above their intellectual level’’ and suffered from a kind of ‘’brain flu’’ because of their enthrallment with contemporary fashion and mass culture – which included, the ultimate horror, reading authors like Dostoevsky.’’  

Eric D. Weitz writes of a complex period in European history in a simple and engaging manner, which is as equally cutting-edge, as it is rich in literary illustration and clarity.  More than anything else however, he compels us to truly understand that Weimar Germany was so much more than a mere prelude to the ghastly Third Reich:  ‘’The twelve years of the Third Reich […] should not colour excessively the fourteen preceding years of the Weimar Republic.  No historical event is predetermined, and most certainly not the Nazi victory.  The conflicts and constraints of the Weimar period surely helped fuel the Nazi movement, but it is a travesty to see Weimar only as a prelude […].  Weimar Germany was a rich, exciting moment, and many of the artistic works, philosophical considerations, and political imaginings created in its midst offered bright visions of a better world.  Those visions continue to have meaning for us today.’’

David Marx
Weimar Germany - Promise and Tragedy
By Eric D. Weitz
Princeton University Press - £11.95