Failed Experiment

Weimar Germany
Promise and Tragedy
Eric D. Weitz
Princeton University Press, $29.95, 432 pp.

In 1950, when the East German authorities demolished the Royal Palace in the center of Berlin, they retained a single piece of the façade that was incorporated into the new Foreign Ministry. This allowed them to preserve the balcony from which, on November 9, 1918, Karl Liebknecht proclaimed the short-lived German Workers’ Republic. A few blocks away, but on the other side of the line that divided East and West Berlin, a plaque marked the spot where, on that same November day, Philipp Scheidemann announced the formation of what would become a moderate parliamentary regime, named after Weimar, the city where its constitution was written. For both postwar German states, the fate of Germany’s first democratic experiment was of fundamental significance. In the East, the apparent lessons of the failed revolution of 1918 lived on, while in the West, people struggled to avoid the constitutional flaws and political errors that had brought down the Weimar regime.

At the dawn of a new century, almost nine decades since Liebknecht’s and Schiedemann’s proclamations, almost six since the creation of an East and West Germany, and almost two since the former’s disappearance, the memory of the Weimar Republic has faded, its lessons have lost their power to instruct or provoke—it has, in other words, become history. And yet, Eric Weitz insists in the first sentence of his new book, “Weimar Germany still speaks to us.” The book’s jacket...

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About the Author

James J. Sheehan, professor emeritus of history at Stanford University, is the author of Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?: The Transformation of Modern Europe, among other books.