Social and cultural developments in Germany, 1924-28


Social and cultural developments, 1924-28

  • The Weimar constitution gave people more rights, freedom, opportunities and equality.
  • Many embraced these changes but others disliked that more traditional values had been wiped away and roles and responsibilities were no longer clearly defined in society.
  • There was a conflict between those who adopted more modern values and behaviours and those who resisted these changes.
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Social welfare reform

  • In 1924, the Public Assistance system was modernised. This provided help for the poor and destitute.
  • In 1925, the state accident insurance system, which helped those injured at work, was extended to those who had occupational diseases.
  • In 1927, a national employment insurance system was introduced. It provided help for the unemployed and was paid for by workers and employers.
  • For many Germans, these reforms promised more than they delivered.
  • These reforms and the social welfare system in general was expensive, as the state had to support 800,000 war veterans, 360,000 war widows and 900,000 war orphans. As well as this, they had to pay unemployment benefits and old age pensions. The bureaucracy had to pay for it. But, after 1924, taxes were increased to help.
  • Those administering benefits at a local level had to keep expenditure down, so many local governments tightened up means tests (the checks on the claimant's finances).
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Living standards and lifestyles

  • Between 1924 and 1928, the living standards of many Germans improved.
  • Workers, especially those who were represented by trade unions, could maintain living standards by negotiating wage increases.
  • Those on welfare benefits were less well off but they were helped by the welfare system. 
  • Business owners and employees benefitted from Germany's improved trading position.
  • But, those who had lost their savings in hyperinflation couldn't regain their previous lifestyles. 
  • Farmers suffered from poor trading and low prices and their incomes were falling.
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The position of women

  • There was supposedly a 'new woman' - she was free, independent and sexually liberated.
  • The Weimar constitution gave women more equality through equal voting rights, more access to education, equal opportunities to civil service jobs and equal pay.
  • In the war, many young men had been killed so many young women couldn't go down the conventional path of marriage and child-rearing. Also, many young women worked to replace the young men who had fought. So, many young women had different expectations of their lives from their mothers.
  • But not all Germans approved of these changes, not even all women. The most popular women's group was the League of German Women (DAF) which had 900,000 members. It promoted family values and maternal responsibilities. Conservative parties and the churches agreed with this. 
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The position of women

The 'new woman' was more of a myth than a reality for many German women. 

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Young people

  • There was concern that young people were breaking free from the constraints of family, school and religion and turning to crime and anti-social behaviour.
  • Children who didn't go to Gymnasium schools were expected to leave school at 14 and do an apprenticeship. But, in the Weimar Republic, there were fewer apprenticeships and more youth unemployment. After 1924, young people suffered a lot from unemployment.
  • In 1925 and 1926, 17% of the unemployed were in the 14-21 age group.
  • The benefits system tried to help youths and day centres were established to help them acquire skills.
  • Many young, working-class people in big cities joined gangs to find comradeship and mutual support.
  • In Hamburg, there were youth cliques e.g. Farmers' Fear, Death Defiers. Each group was associated with a particular district in the city. People had to take an initiation test (stealing or vandalism).
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  • More than half a million Jews lived in Germany. 80% lived in big cities and were well educated.
  • Many felt more German than Jewish and believed in assimilation - keeping their ethnic and cultural identity but becoming integrated in mainstream society.
  • Jews only represented 1% of the population but German Jews were prominent in politics and the press, businesses and banking, publishing and the arts.

Politics and the press

  • German Jews were well established in the world of politics - they were prominent in the SPD and KPD e.g. Rosa Luxemburg and Kurt Eisner, the leader of the 1918 revolution in Bavaria, had Jewish backgrounds.
  • Jewish publishing firms had a powerful influence in the media e.g. the Berliner Tageblatt and the Frankfurter Zeitung promoted liberal views.
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Industry, commerce and professions

  • Jews acquired considerable wealth and influence in industry and commerce.
  • Jewish banking families controlled about 50% of the private banks and Jewish directors managed several public banks. 
  • Jews were active in retailing - they owned almost half the firms involved in the cloth trade.
  • There were many Jewish professionals - 16% of lawyers and 11% of doctors were Jewish.

The extent of assimilation and anti-Semitism

  • Most Jews wanted to assimilate - they looked and acted like other Germans in their language, dress and lifestyle. Many married non-Jewish spouses, gave up practising Judaism or had converted to Christianity. By the late 1920s, the process of assimilation was far advanced - the only factor preventing integration was the reluctance of many Germans to stop seeing Jews as alien.
  • In the early Weimar years, there was a backlash against the preceived threat of Jewish Bolshevism. 
  • There was anti-Semitism among right-wing movements, like the Freikorps and NSDAP.
  • Between 1924 and 1930, anti-Semitism was pushed to the fringes of public and political life. But, there was still opposition against the perceived Jewish influences and accusations of corruption and exploitation by Jewish bankers and businesses.
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The developments of arts and culture

  • The new political and social freedom gave rise to innovation and experimentation in the arts.
  • Germany experienced an explosion of creativity in art, literature, theatre, film and music - a 'cradle of modernity'. 

Berlin's nightclubs

  • These became renowned for their cabaret which featured a lot of nudity.
  • Gay men, lesbians and transvestites now felt free to display their sexuality openly.
  • American jazz music became popular. 
  • The comedians who performed in these clubs often attacked politicians and authoritarian attitudes.
  • Conservatives hated the American influence on German culture and believed that society was becoming more and more immoral. 
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The developments of arts and culture

  • Art: The main movement was expressionism which originated in Germany in the early 20th century. Expressionist painters believed that their works should show meaning or emotion rather than display actual reality. These paintings were often abstract with vivid colours.
  • Music: Expressionism influenced classical composers e.g. Hindemith and Sohoenberg who tried to convey emotion in his music while trying to avoid traditional forms of beauty.
  • Literature: Expressionism influenced literature - authors and poets focused more on the character's internal mental state rather than the external reality.
  • Architecture: Bauhaus was originally a school of art, architecture, design and photography. Its students were encouraged to break down barriers between art and technology by incorporating new materials in their designs e.g. steel, concrete or glass.
  • Theatre: Many dramatists incorporated expressionist ideas - sets were stark and plays used abstraction and symbolism to convey their message. Much of experimental theatre was explicitly political, attacking capitalism, nationalism and war.
  • Film: Germany became a centre for world cinema - it developed modern techniques.
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  • Cultural changes divided Germany just as they were divided by class, religion and politics.
  • In rural areas, cultural change was no more than a rumour and the influence of churches was still strong, but the spread of cinema and the popularity of the radio brought new cultural influences to rural areas. 
  • The Weimar Republic gave its ctizens greater freedom. This freedom was welcomed by many but feared by others as it allowed many women and young people to break through barriers that had previously constrained them.
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