The years 1924-29 are often described as the ‘Golden Age of Weimar’ because of their stability, economic security and improved living standards – at least in relation to previous years. The seeds of German recovery were planted in the autumn of 1923, when Gustav Stresemann was elevated to the chancellorship. Stresemann and his ministers formulated plans to arrest the hyperinflation crisis by introducing a new currency, the Rentenmark, and fixed its value to gold prices. The government announced its determination to meet reparations payments and sought international assistance to do so. The US-led Dawes Plan was finalised in April 1924 and implemented four months later.
Between 1924 and 1929 the dying German economy was injected with more than $25 billion of foreign money. More than half of this money came from American loans; most of the rest was organised by American bankers acting as intermediaries. The American government and US corporations also provided Germany with financial and industrial expertise. All this support contributed to a surge in German production during the mid-1920s. New factories were constructed or converted, many using newly developed mechanisation and assembly line techniques. The restoration of reparation payments saw France and Belgium withdraw from the Ruhr in mid-1925, freeing up Germany’s industrial resources there. German economic growth after 1924 exceeded that of France and Britain. By 1929 Germany was producing 33 per cent more than before the war and had regained her mantle as the second-highest producing industrial nation after the US.
The economic revival of the mid-1920s enabled the introduction of social reforms and better standards of living. The SPD re-introduced and overhauled the Bismarckian welfare state, providing protection for the young, the aged, the unemployed and disadvantaged. The 1922 Youth Welfare Law declared that every German child had the “right to education, spiritual, physical and social fitness”; the government responded by creating institutions and social workers to accommodate children who were illegitimate, homeless, abandoned or at risk. Further legislation in 1923 and 1927 established relief for those out of work. The Unemployment Insurance Law (1927) required workers and employees to make contributions to a national scheme for unemployment welfare. Other reforms provided benefits and assistance to war veterans, wives and dependents of the war dead, single mothers and the disabled.
Weimar governments also attempted to address a critical shortage of housing in many parts of Germany. Article 155 of the constitution declared that the state must “strive to secure healthy housing to all German families, especially those with many children”, so the government initiated several visionary programs. It employed architects and planners to devise ways of alleviating housing shortages. Government investment, tax breaks, land grants and low-interest loans were also used to stimulate the building of new houses and apartments. Between 1924 and 1931 more than two million new homes were built, while almost 200,000 more were renovated or expanded. By 1928, homelessness has been reduced by more than 60 per cent. There were also improvements for ordinary German workers, who benefited from increases in the real value of wages in each year after 1924. In 1927 real wages increased by nine per cent and in 1928 they rose by a further 12 per cent, making Germany’s industrial workforce the best paid in Europe.
The Weimar economic miracle did not benefit everyone. The Mittelstand (middle class) found little joy in this alleged ‘golden age’. Bankrupted by the hyperinflation of 1923, the professional middle classes – managers, bureaucrats, bankers and clerks – did not enter the ‘golden age’ in a position of strength and failed to benefit from most of its changes. White collar workers did not enjoy the wage rises of the industrial sector, nor could they always access the benefits of the Weimar welfare state. By the late 1920s industrial sector wages had drawn level with those of the middle class – and in some cases exceeded them. While unemployment fell generally, it remained high amongst white collar professions. Government documents from April 1928 reveal almost 184,000 middle-class workers seeking employment – and almost half of them did not qualify for unemployment relief from the state.
Francis Carsten, historian
These conditions fuelled middle class resentment and a perception the SPD-dominated government was favouring the working classes at the expensive of the Mittelstand – once an admired and respected part of German society. Some claimed this was intentional, a subtle form of class warfare to impose “socialism by stealth”. Unlike the workers, who were represented by the SPD and KPD, the middle classes had no obvious political party to turn to. Little wonder that by the late 1920s, the NSDAP was able to tap into this pool of middle class resentment and disenchantment.
Germany’s farmers also continued to struggle during the Golden Age. The agricultural sector, devastated by war and government policies, suffered further during a European price slump in 1921. As primary producers, farmers were relatively secure during the hyperinflation crisis. By the mid-1920s German farmers were confronted with cheaper imported food, which required them to modernise and improve productivity to remain competitive. But such changes required investment in new technologies, like tractors and other farm machinery. Some farmers borrowed heavily to purchase this equipment; others did without it and struggled. Farmers regularly defaulted on debt payments and farm foreclosures increased markedly.
The plight of German farmers worsened due to a global grain surplus and price slump in 1925-26. In 1928 farmers initiated a series of small-scale riots – dubbed the ‘farmers’ revenge’ – in protest against foreclosures and low market prices. By 1929, German agricultural production was at less than three-quarters of its pre-war levels. The political parties of the far-right attempted to win support from disgruntled farmers by emphasising the importance of agriculture, as well as tapping into traditional values. The NSDAP, for example, made extensive use of the slogan Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) and its agrarian, nationalist and racial connotations. Many farmers, struggling with large debts and difficult banks, were also receptive to Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda and conspiracy theories, revolving around about Jewish bankers and financiers.
1. The years 1924-29 were comparatively prosperous, as the German economy recovered and grew.
2. This was driven by industrial growth, American loans and the restoration of foreign trade and investment.
3. The Weimar government introducing ground-breaking policies such as housing projects and a welfare system.
4. Wages rose considerably for industrial workers, however the middle-class did not benefit from the recovery.
5. Another disgruntled group were the farmers, who struggled with debt, foreclosures and a slump in food prices.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “The Golden Age of Weimar”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], http://alphahistory.com/weimarrepublic/golden-age-of-weimar/.