Weimar culture  

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1920s Berlin, Weimar Republic, German avant-garde

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Weimar culture was the flourishing of the arts and sciences that happened in Germany during the Weimar Republic, the latter during that part of the interwar period between Germany's defeat in World War I in 1918 and Hitler's rise to power in 1933. This period is frequently cited as one of those with the highest level of intellectual production in human history; Germany was the country with the most advanced science, technology, literature, philosophy and art. 1920s Berlin was at the hectic center of the Weimar culture. Although not part of the Weimar Republic, some authors also include the German-speaking Austria, and particularly Vienna, as part of Weimar culture.

Germany, and Berlin in particular, was an exceptionally fertile ground for intellectuals, artists, and innovators from many fields during the Weimar Republic years. The social environment was chaotic, and politics were passionate. Also, German intellectualism had a greater demand after 1918 when German university faculties became universally open to Jewish scholars. Leading Jewish intellectuals on university faculties included physicist Albert Einstein; sociologists Karl Mannheim, Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse; philosophers Ernst Cassirer and Edmund Husserl and many others. Nine German citizens were awarded Nobel prizes during the Weimar Republic, five of whom were Jewish scientists, including two in medicine. Jewish intellectuals and creative professionals were among the leading figures in many areas of Weimar culture.

With the rise of Nazism and the ascent to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933, many German intellectuals and cultural figures, both Jewish and non-Jewish, fled Germany for the United States, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world. Those who remained behind were often arrested, or detained in Nazi concentration camps. The intellectuals associated with the Institute for Social Research (also known as the Frankfurt School) fled to the United States and reestablished the Institute at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

In the words of Marcus Bullock, Emeritus Professor of English at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, "Remarkable for the way it emerged from a catastrophe, more remarkable for the way it vanished into a still greater catastrophe, the world of Weimar represents modernism in its most vivid manifestation." The culture of the Weimar year was later reprised by the left-wing intellectuals of the 1960s, especially in France. Deleuze, Guattari and Foucault reprised Wilhelm Reich; Derrida reprised Husserl and Heidegger; Guy Debord and the Situationist International reprised the subversive-revolutionary culture.

Contents

Overview

The fourteen years of the Weimar were marked by explosive intellectual productivity. German artists made significant cultural contributions in the fields of literature, art, architecture, music, dance, drama, and the new medium of the motion picture. Political theorist Ernst Bloch described Weimar culture as a Periclean Age.

Weimar culture encompassed the political caricature of Otto Dix and John Heartfield and George Grosz, the futuristic skyscraper dystopia of Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis and other products of the UFA studio, the beginnings of a new architectural style at the Bauhaus and the mass housing projects of Ernst May and Bruno Taut, and the decadent cabaret culture of Berlin documented by Christopher Isherwood.

Writers such as Alfred Döblin, Erich Maria Remarque and the brothers Heinrich and Thomas Mann presented a bleak look at the world and the failure of politics and society through literature. The theatres of Berlin and Frankfurt am Main were graced with drama by Bertolt Brecht, cabaret, and stage direction by Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator. Concert halls and conservatories exhibited the atonal and modern music of Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Kurt Weill.

During the era of the Weimar Republic, Germany became a center of intellectual thought at its medieval universities, and most notably social and political theory (especially Marxism) was combined with Freudian psychoanalysis to form the highly influential discipline of Critical Theory—with its development at the Institute for Social Research (also known as the Frankfurt School) founded at the University of Frankfurt am Main.

With the rise of Nazism and the ascension of Adolf Hitler to power in 1933, many German intellectuals and cultural figures fled Germany for Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world. Those who remained behind were often arrested, or detained in concentration camps. The intellectuals associated with the Institute for Social Research (also known as the Frankfurt School) fled to the United States and reestablished the Institute at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

In the words of Marcus Bullock,professor of English at UW-Milwaukee, "Remarkable for the way it emerged from a catastrophe, more remarkable for the way it vanished into a still greater catastrophe, the world of Weimar represents modernism in its most vivid manifestation."

Berlin's reputation for decadence

Prostitution rose in Berlin and elsewhere in the areas of Europe left ravaged by World War I. This means of survival for desperate women, and sometimes men, became normalized to a degree in the 1920s. During the war, venereal diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea spread at a rate that warranted government attention. Soldiers at the front contracted these diseases from prostitutes, so the German army responded by granting approval to certain brothels that were inspected by their own medical doctors, and soldiers were rationed coupon books for sexual services at these establishments. Homosexual behaviour was also documented among soldiers at the front. Soldiers returning to Berlin at the end of the War had a different attitude towards their own sexual behaviour than they had a few years previously. Prostitution was frowned on by respectable Berliners, but it continued to the point of becoming entrenched in the city's underground economy and culture. First women with no other means of support turned to the trade, then youths of both genders.

A byproduct of the tolerance for prostitution appears to have been a more visible tolerance for diverse sexual behaviour, mainly with the growth of a large underground homosexual culture in the city among both men and women. Sexual experimentation became less hidden, and the pornography, cabaret and prostitution entrepreneurs found their consumer niche.

Crime in general developed in parallel with prostitution in the city, beginning as petty thefts and other crimes linked to the need to survive in the war's aftermath. Berlin eventually acquired a reputation as a hub of drug dealing (cocaine, heroin, tranquilizers) and the black market. The police identified 62 organized criminal gangs in Berlin, called Ringvereine. The German public also became fascinated with reports of homicides, especially "lust murders" or Lustmord. Publishers met this demand with inexpensive criminal novels called Krimi, which like the film noir of the era (such as the classic M), explored methods of scientific detection and psychosexual analysis.

Apart from the new tolerance for behaviour that was technically still illegal, and viewed by a large part of society as immoral, there were other developments in Berlin culture that shocked many visitors to the city. Thrill-seekers came to the city in search of adventure, and booksellers sold many editions of guide books to Berlin's erotic night entertainment venues. There were an estimated 500 such establishments, that included a large number of homosexual venues for men and for lesbians; sometimes transvestites of one or both genders were admitted, otherwise there were at least 5 known establishments that were exclusively for a transvestite clientele. There were also several nudist venues. Berlin also had a museum of sexuality during the Weimar period, at Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute of Sexology. These were nearly all closed when the Nazi regime became a dictatorship in 1933.

Artists in Berlin became fused with the city's underground culture as the borders between cabaret and legitimate theatre blurred. Anita Berber, a dancer and actress, became notorious throughout the city and beyond for her erotic performances (as well as her cocaine addiction and erratic behaviour). She was painted by Otto Dix, and socialized in the same circles as Klaus Mann.

Cinema in Weimar culture did not shy away from controversial topics, but dealt with them explicitly. Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst and starring Louise Brooks, deals with a young woman who is thrown out of her home after having an illegitimate child, and is then forced to become a prostitute to survive. This trend of dealing frankly with provocative material in cinema began immediately after the end of the War. In 1919, Richard Oswald directed and released two films, that met with press controversy and action from police vice investigators and government censors. Prostitution dealt with women forced into "white slavery", while Different from the Others dealt with a homosexual man's conflict between his sexuality and social expectations. By the end of the decade, similar material met with little, if any opposition when it was released in Berlin theatres. William Dieterle's Sex in Chains (1928), and Pabst's Pandora's Box (1929) deal with homosexuality among men and women, respectively, and were not censored. Homosexuality was also present more tangentially in other films from the period.

Notable Cultural Figures of the Weimar Era

Art

Architecture

Literature

Music

Theater and Film

Intellectuals

See also

  1. Weimar Classicism

See also

Further reading




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