Sunday, 19 June 2011

Interesting Times


May you live in interesting times, some Chinese sage is alleged to have said at an indeterminate point in the past. It’s a kind of curse; for the time when history is at its most active is also the time that it is at its most dangerous. Actually I quite like the idea of living in interesting times, or at least in times more interesting than the present, a time of tepid mediocrity. I like the idea, for instance, of living in Weimar Germany.

I’ve been reading Before the Deluge: a Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich. Oh bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young, and visit exciting cabarets, was very heaven! I’m only half way through, so I’m not in a position to write a review at the moment. No, I just want to alight on one or two interesting snippets of information.

It’s the paperback edition I have with an introduction by the author written in 1995. However, the text itself has not been updated from the cloth version, published as long ago as 1972, when Berlin was still a divided city, when there were people still alive who could remember events in the 1920s; people who could remember the city of Gustav Kapp, Walther Rathenau and George Grosz, whose images of this time still make compelling art.

It’s the chapter headed A Kind of Madness that I find particularly compelling, that which deals with the post-war inflation. It did not tell me anything that I did not already know, that the mark was effectively worthless by the end of 1923, that savings had been destroyed, that printers were struggling to get an infinity of noughts on to paper that carried greater worth than the currency. No, it was more what people reported, more the practical implications of this human disaster. This was a time when whole apartment blocks could be bought in Berlin for a handful of US dollars.

One of the people the author spoke to was a seventy-five year old journalist who still lived in the city, though now long dead I imagine. “Yes”, she said, “the inflation was the most important event of this period. The inflation wiped out the savings of the entire middle class, but those are just words. You have to realise what they meant. There was not a single girl in the entire German middle class who could get married without her father paying a dowry. Even the maids – they never spent a penny of their wages. They saved and saved sp they could get married. When money became worthless, it destroyed the whole system of getting married, and so it destroyed the idea of remaining chaste until marriage.”

The point is here that while the upper class never lived up to their own standards, and the working class had standards of their own, the bourgeois had always obeyed the rules in outward respectability. One did not have to be a virgin when one married, though it was generally expected. Now the inflation effectively destroyed the price of chastity. In other words, virginity no longer mattered, a form of liberation for women, I suppose, at least Friedrich’s old lady thought so!

The events of 1918, the revolution that was not a revolution, is far from being the most important thing about this time. No, that was the inflation, that revaluation of all values which, as the historian Alan Bullock wrote, undermined the foundations of German society in a way that the war or the collapse of the Kaiserreich or even the Treaty of Versailles had not. The inflation was the real German Revolution, the most interesting time in the country’s history.

14 comments:

  1. Hyper-inflation: accident, incompetence, or enemy action?

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  2. Ana later the Weimar Republic printed money, worryingly we have recently done so in England, could it be you are living interesting times despite what the tepid politicians may indicate? You have hit upon a new economic relationship between chastity and inflation. Do I see a book in progress? If your blog allows for a little impropriety there is a line in Frank Zappa's Cosmik Debris that goes 'the price of meat has just gone up and your old lady has just gone down'. I have long admired George Grosz's paintings. If you do not already know him may I introduce you to Otto Dix, the other leading artist of Neue Sachlichkeit.

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  3. Competition for economic markets,the Great War which was instigated by England and France to break the Austro-Hungarian empire and the thirty three billion in reparations demanded of Germany by the unjust Versailles treaty directly led to the collapse of the weimar republic and the League of nations. This led to the rise of the Nationalist socialists and the economic miracle of Adolph Hitler who in five years brought Germany from economic depression to the most powerfull nation the world had known.This led to economic market conflict with the west and the gangster churchill wanted to eliminate this competition at all cost. Churchill knew if he were to bleet loud enough his freemason brethern in America would come to his aid as had been done in the great war. But this came at a price as they enabled the worlwide spread of communism and the dissolution of the Empire. Now the same lot is destabalizing north Africa and the middle East in a bid to disrupt the markets of China and Russia, what will be the consequences?

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  4. You have a fabulous blog! I’m an author and illustrator and I made some awards to give to fellow bloggers whose sites I enjoy. I want to award you with the Creative Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

    I invite you to follow me since we have a lot in common, but no pressure. I’m not giving you the award just so you will follow me. You really do deserve it!
    Take care:-)

    Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.
    ~Deirdra

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  5. Confucius he say:
    Rampant inflations cause infinity of naughties...
    :-)

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  6. On a more serious note, it is happening again. Just look at what has happened to the cost of a university education compared to an average parental income, or compared to the opportunities to exploit that education and pay back the debt.
    :-(

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  7. Calvin, a mixture of all three, with incompetence uppermost.

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  8. Richard, Ana allows for all sorts of impropriety. :-)

    Yes, I do know the work of Dix. German art of the Weimar period – that’s something else I must give a little thought to!

    I’m off to the Tate Modern’s Vorticism exhibition soon.

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  9. Anthony, the Weimar economy was already recovering when Hitler came to power. Further expansion was based on breakneck rearmament, which caused huge inflationary pressures. Hjalmar Schacht, the man who did so much to end the Great Inflation, Hitler's first Minister of Economics, warned of the dangers, only to be dismissed.

    I honestly can't see that the present unsettled political conditions in the Middle East have anything to do with the economies of Russia - weak at the root - or China - strong and getting stronger.

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  10. Dierdra, thank you. That's really sweet of you. I'm happy to add myself to your followers, award or not. :-)

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  11. CI, I know, the situation is quite bad. I feel sorry for pensioners and all those on fixed incomes.

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  12. They buy their military products and china buys their oil.

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  13. Yes, but we are behind the rebellions, but for what global agenda?

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