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History of Berlin - Revolutionary Period and Weimar Republic


1918

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1919

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1920

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1922

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1923

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1925

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1926

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1927

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1928

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1929

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1930

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1931

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1932

Extract from 'Mr. Norris Changes Trains' by Christopher Isherwood : Like a long train which stops at every dingy little station, the winter dragged slowly past. Each week there were new emergency decrees. Brüning's weary episcopal voice issued commands to the shopkeepers, and was not obeyed. "It's facism", complained the Social Democrats. "He's weak", said Helen Pratt. "What the swine need is a man with hair on his chest". The Hessen document was discovered; but nobody really cared. There had been one scandal too many. The exhausted public had been fed with surprises to point of indigestion. People said that the Nazis would be in power by Christmas; but Christmas came and they were not. Arthur send me the compliments of the season on a postcard of the Eiffel Tower.

Berlin was in a state of civil war. Hate exploded suddenly, without warning, out of nowhere; at street corners, in restaurants, cinemas, dance halls, swimming baths; at midnight, after breakfast, in the middle of the afternoon. Knives were whipped out, blows were dealt with spiked rings, beer mugs, chair legs or leaded clubs; bullets slashed the advertisements on the poster columns, rebounded from the iron roofs of latrines. In the middle of a crowded street a young man would be attacked, stripped, thrashed and left bleeding on the pavement; in fifteen seconds it was all over and the assailants had disappeared. Otto got a gash over the eye with a razor in a battle on a fairground near the Köpernicker Strasse. The doctor put in three stitches and he was in hospital for a week. The newspapers were full of death-bed photographs of rival martyrs, Nazi, Reichsbanner and Communist. My pupils looked at them and shook their heads, apologizing to me for the state of Germany. "Dear, dear !", they said, "it's terrible. It can't go on".

The murder reporters and the jazz-writers had inflated the German language beyond recall. The vocabulary of newspaper invective (traitor, Versailles-lackey, murder-swine, Marx-crook, Hitler-swamp, Red-pest) had come to resemble, through excessive use, the formal phraseology of politeness employed by the Chinese. The word Liebe, soaring from the Goethe standard, was no longer worth a whore's kiss. Spring, moonlight, youth, roses, girl, darling, heart, May : such was the miserably devalued currency dealt with in by the authors of all those tangoes, waltzes and foxtrots which advocated the private escape. Find a dear little sweetheart, they advised, and forget the slump, ignore the unemployed. Fly, they urged us, to Hawaii, to Naples, to the Never-Never-Vienna. Hugenberg, behind the UFA, was serving up a nationalism to suit all tastes. He produced battlefield epics, farces of barrack-room life, operettas in which the jinks of a pre-war military aristocracy were reclothed in the fashions of 1930s. His brilliant directors and cameraman had to concentrate their talents on cynically beautiful shots of the bubbles in champagne and the sheen of lamplight on silk.

And morning after morning, all over the immense, damp, dreary town and the packing-case colonies of huts in the suburb allotments, young men were waking up to another workless empty day to be spent as they could best contrive; selling bootlaces, begging, playing draughts in the hall of the Labor Exchange, hanging about urinals, opening the doors of cars, helping with crates in the market, gossiping, lounging, stealing, overhearing racing tips, sharing stumps of cigarette-ends picked up in the gutter, singing folk-songs for groschen in courtyards and between stations in the carriages of the Underground Railway. After the new year, the snow fell, but did not lie; there was no money to be earned by sweeping it away. The shopkeepers rang all coins on the counter for fear of the forgers. Frl. Schroder's astrologer foretold the end of the world. "Listen", said Fritz Wendel, between sips of a cocktail in the bar of the Eden Hotel, "I give a damn if this country goes communist. What I mean, we'd have to alter our ideas a bit. Hell, who cares ?"

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1933

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