Primary Sources: Weimar Culture

Weimar Germany was a center of artistic innovation, great creativity, and considerable experimentation. In film, the visual arts, architecture, craft, theater, and music, Germans were in the forefront of the most exciting developments. The unprecedented freedom and widespread latitude for varieties of cultural expression led to an explosion of artistic production. In the Bauhaus arts and crafts school, in the studios of the film company UFA, in the theater of Max Rinehardt and the studios of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlickeit) artists, cutting edge work was being produced. While many applauded these efforts, conservative and radical right-wing critics decried the new cultural products as decadent and immoral. They condemned Weimar Germany as a new Sodom and Gomorrah and attacked American influences, such as jazz music, as contributors to the decay.

In addition to the images below, please explore:

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

"Eldorado," Otto Dix

Eldorado by Otto Dix, portraying the famous nightclub in Berlin that was shut down by the Nazis.

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Genocide & Mass Violence

"The Fallen Man" (Der Gesturzte), Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1915-1916)

The Fallen Man (Der Gesturzte) by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, c. 1915-1916

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel

Marlene Dietrich stars as the unfaithful Lola Lola in Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (Der Blaue Engel) in 1930.

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Cabaret Songs

Weimar Cabarets were of two types: There were larger halls or theaters where crowds of all ages and classes came together to witness variety shows which consisted of singers, dancers, acrobats, and comedians. Then there were smaller clubs where the audience was largely middle and upper class, younger and middle aged adults, and where the songs were political and social satire. The freer atmosphere of Weimar was demonstrated in these small clubs by intense criticism of government officials and political party leaders and the airing of previously taboo themes of gender conflict, clergy corruption and homosexuality.

Some of Weimar's best known composers, lyricists and performers such as Friedrich Hollaender, Trudi Hesterberg, Kurt Tucholsky, Rudolf Nelson, Kurt Gerron and Bertold Brecht wrote music for--and peformed in--these Cabarets. Hitler and the National Socialists were frequent targets of the satire of Cabaret performers, and when the Nazis came to power in 1933, most of the political cabarets were closed and those that remained open were heavily censored.

Listen to a selection of Cabaret songs here.

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