The World of Cabaret
Cabaret (2015), photo by Margot I. Schulman

Blog: The World of Cabaret

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Cabaret, and the material from which it stems, offers rather ominous looks into German life in the early 1930s. At the end of World War I, Germany was in the midst of crisis. The country suffered economically not only from the international depression, but also from heavy war debts and reparations imposed by the Allies following the war. In addition to the economic woes, the loss of the war and forced demilitarization resulted in a lack of national pride and a longing for a restored Germany. We are going to break down some of the details of Germany following World War I and get to the details that really matter.

The Emergence of a New Republic

Following World War I, a new German republic emerged from the German Revolution in 1918; The Weimar Republic. A national assembly was convened in Weimar, from which the Republic takes its name, where a new constitution for Germany was written, then adopted on August 11, 1919. In its 14 years, the Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, political extremists and continuing contentious relationships with the victors of World War I. However, the Weimar Republic successfully reformed the currency, unified tax policies and the railway system and eliminated most of the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles following World War I.

The name “Weimar Republic” only became mainstream after 1933. Between 1919 and 1933 there was no single name for the new state that gained widespread acceptance. This is why the old name “Deutsches Reich” continued in existence even though hardly anyone actually used it during the Weimar period.

Adrift in a Sea of Economic and Political Challenges

In the early post-war years, German inflation was growing at an alarming rate, but the government simply printed more and more banknotes to pay the bills. By 1923, the Republic claimed it could no longer afford the reparation payments required by the Versailles Treaty, and the government defaulted on some payments. In response, French and Belgian troops occupied Germany’s most productive industrial region at the time in January 1923. Strikes were called and passive resistance was encouraged.

Since striking workers were paid benefits by the state, additional currency was printed, fuelling a period of hyperinflation. The 1920s German inflation started when Germany had no goods to trade. The government printed money to deal with the crisis; this meant payments within Germany were made with worthless paper money, and helped formerly great industrialists to pay back their own loans. This also led to pay raises for workers and for businessmen who wanted to profit from it. Circulation of money rocketed and soon banknotes were being overprinted to a thousand times their nominal value.

Once civil stability had been restored, the stabilizing of German currency began, which promoted confidence in the German economy and helped the recovery that was needed for the German nation to keep up with their reparation repayments, while at the same time feeding and supplying the nation. The latter half of the 1920s in Germany would spark a cultural renaissance, particularly in Berlin.

A Republic on the Decline

In 1929, the depression in the United States of America produced a chain reaction in Germany. The German economy was supported by the granting of loans through American banks. When these banks withdrew their loans to German companies, the severe unemployment could not be stopped by conventional economic measures. Unemployment in Germany grew quickly, culminating in September 1930 with a political earthquake that shook the fragile republic to its foundations.

In September of 1930, The Nazi Party entered the Reichstag with 19% of the popular vote and made the fragile coalition system unworkable. The last years of the Weimar Republic were stamped by even more political instability than in the previous years. Hitler was soon sworn in as Chancellor on the morning of January 30, 1933. By early February, a week after Hitler’s assent to the chancellorship, the government had begun to clamp down on the opposition. It is truly remarkable for the way Weimar Germany emerged from a catastrophe, and even more remarkable for the way the nation vanished into an even greater catastrophe.

We hope you will join us to see the development and further evolution of Weimar Germany both onstage in h4. Cabaret as well offstage here on the Signature Education Blog. For more information, please call the Signature Theatre Box Office at 703 820 9771.