Berlin's Most Illustrious Decade: A Brief History of Weimar Culture

Reigen Magazine, 1927 
Republic Weimar Erotic Magazine | © Susanlenox/Flickr
Reigen Magazine, 1927 Republic Weimar Erotic Magazine | © Susanlenox/Flickr
Photo of Megan King
18 May 2017

People often talk nostalgically about the ‘roaring 20s’ in Paris and New York, but the truth is, there was no place in the world like Berlin during that time.

The Weimar Republic is the unofficial name given to Germany in the interwar period from 1919 to 1933, between the defeat of Germany in the Great War in 1918 and Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. During that time, Berlin became the intellectual and creative centre of Europe, doing pioneering work in the modern movements of literature, theatre and the arts, and also in the fields of psychoanalysis, sociology and science. Germany’s economy and political affairs were suffering at the time, but cultural and intellectual life was flourishing. This period in German history is often referred to as the ‘Weimar Renaissance’ or the country’s ‘Golden Years’.

The Europahaus, one of hundreds of cabarets in Weimar Berlin, 1931 | © Wikimedia Commons

Dubbed the ‘Babylon of the 20s,’ the city centre flourished with youthful activity and explosive sexual freedom. Provocative cabaret shows, excessive drug use, nights of hedonistic partying, open and same-sex relationships all took centre stage in Berlin. There were many strong women in the movement, with performers such as Marlene Dietrich and Anita Berber becoming icons of the time in their lifestyle, art and relationships. It was also the decade of Brecht, the Isherwoods and the Bauhaus movement in art and design.

The Bauhaus Building in Dessau, Germany | © Wikimedia Commons

In the documentary entitled Metropolis of Vice, Legendary Sin Cities, which offer a snapshot of the times, we hear that, ‘Berlin was what sexual daydreams wanted to be. You could find almost anything there, and maybe everything.’ This kind of creative freedom of thought and expression was a revelation, and an offence to the austere and conservative extreme right wing that was on the rise, namely Hitler and his Nazis.

A publicity photograph for the film Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) 1930, featuring Marlene Dietrich | © Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a short clip of what life looked like in Berlin in the 20s.

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