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East Germany

Weimar Culture

The Weimar Republic was the first attempt to establish

constitutional liberal democratic government in Germany. The republic's name symbolically evoked memories of the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who had spent a number of years at the court of Weimar, and of the nation's humanistic cultural traditions. Goethe's Weimar was contrasted with the Prussian Germany of authoritarianism, military swagger, and imperialism. Many Germans, however, remained attached to the old order and lacked a genuine commitment to republican ideals. Both the Social Democrats and those who harkened back to the Prussian past were opposed by the radical opposition, whose program included revolutionary tactics. German culture under the republic reflected the ideological diversity of a politically fragmented society.

The Warburg Library, the Psychoanalytic Institute, the German Academy for Politics, and the Marxist Institute for Social Research, founded soon after World War I, were dedicated to the critical analysis of political and social values. These institutions reflected the desire of Weimar intellectuals to reconsider the German past. Eckart Kehr's Schlachtflottenbau und Parteipolitik (Battleship Construction and Party Politics), published in 1930, pursued the same critical objective, revealing the domestic socioeconomic basis for Imperial Germany's naval policy.

The cult of the hero survived in the poet Stefan George's literary society, known as the George Circle, which, in addition to publishing "elevated" poetry and translating the classics, displayed its aristocratic mentality in biographies about great historical figures. Ernst Kantorowicz's Emperor Frederick II, a biography of the thirteenth- century Hohenstaufen ruler, received widespread public acclaim. Kantorowicz, a former Prussian army officer, describes the Weimar Republic as the triumph of mediocrity, and in his preface he speaks of Germany's secret longing for its emperors and heroes. In his biography, he mythically portrays Frederick II as a superman who defies all authority and is voraciously eager to taste all of life.

Many German artists during this period were part of the expressionist movement. Both literary and visual expressionism were primarily concerned with representing the immediate present. In contrast to the strict form in the writings of the George Circle, literary expressionism consciously simplified, abbreviated, and distorted sentence structures to give expression to passionate inner feeling. A reaction to inhuman social conditions and the horrors of World War I, expressionist writing called for a new man and a new world that would be united in brotherly love. The outsider, as a victim of society, became the hero. Writers whose works represent this kind of reaction include Georg Heym and Fritz von Unruh. Although some writers, for example, Kurt Hiller and Heinrich Mann, became politically active extremists, expressionists were, for the most part, solely literary revolutionaries. Inner experience is also emphasized in the bold and symbolic colors and distorted forms found in the drawings and paintings of expressionist artists such as Franz Marc and Emil Nolde. In his grotesque figures and suggestive juxtapositions, the postwar artist George Grosz satirized the materialistic pseudoculture of the bourgeoisie.

The dilemma of the Weimar intellectual, who had to choose between the conservative past and the liberal present, can be approached through the novelist Thomas Mann. A monarchist before World War I, a commonsense republican after the war, Mann finally made a genuine commitment to the republic in the mid-1920s. In 1924 he published Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain), a novel that describes Hans Castorp's education through life. While visiting a tubercular cousin in a Swiss sanatorium, the protagonist contracts the disease himself and stays for seven years. The sanatorium is a cross section of European civilization in which Castorp is exposed to a variety of political ideologies, including enlightened liberalism. Significantly Castorp (and the conservative Mann) cannot choose liberalism. Love, not reason, the novel concludes, will provide the basis for social reconciliation.

After 1929 national socialism offered a different social and political solution. The Nazi party took full advantage of political instability and economic depression, launched a largescale propaganda campaign, and won a mass following. Nazi ideology, authoritarian but promising social revolution, appealed particularly to German youth, who longed for the restoration of order.

Data as of July 1987

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