Abstract

The common narrative of Weimar Germany either points to its structural weakness or its permissive culture as reasons for its destruction. However, my sources agree that it came to an end not because of inevitable failures within the republic itself, but rather because of political and social tensions between communists and nationalists. The two parties, though they had different goals, used similar tactics to promote themselves on the streets: demonstration, shouting slogans, and ultimately, fighting each other and police.

Literature also concludes that the Republic was no safe haven for minority opinion and expression despite the impression of Weimar culture presented through films and cabarets. Völkisch sentiment had taken root in the early 1920s, some of it grounded in eugenics. By 1928, ideas of German monoethnicity and Jewish otherness had already been disseminated to the German population.

Berlin: City of Stones represents all of these contradictions.  Firstly, he presents the Weimar as more than a weak, despised government, showing the November Revolution and the initial principles at the heart of the Republic’s founding through flashbacks to the revolution and positive representation of pro-Weimar patriots. Next, he contrasts this with the confused sociopolitical situation by presenting constant clashes between communists and nationalists. What is more, his visual and textual presentation of the two parties is almost symmetrical. While fighting, both trade insults and ideological slogans; while their content is different, at the core both are superficial. Even their leaders receive the same visual and verbal treatment during rally scenes when they speak to crowds: a line of panels in which transitions show them gesticulating grandly above mindless supporters. Both make inflammatory statements targeting police, who can do little to stop them. This similar treatment seeks to establish that both parties intended the decay of the state – and the police’s fatalistic reaction to them suggests that both parties, with their charismatic leaders, principles of revolution, and lack of flexibility, were too much for an otherwise viable Republic.

At the same time, Lutes shows the Weimar racial climate as it was: neither as a vision of friendliness, nor an unbearable horror comparable to that of Germany’s future. Ideas of Jewishness as being a separate ethnicity were already widespread by the 1920s, and the Jewish separation is visually and verbally represented in the novel: in the separate streets that the Jewish citizens inhabit, in their clothing, which differs from that of other Germans, and in the way that Gentiles talk about them, which is often in a stereotypical manner, informed by anti-Jewish canards of the time. The two attacks upon Jews which appear in the novel are handled realistically. The attackers’ visual and verbal treatment suggests from their blindly hateful expressions and senseless insults that their views have been molded by propaganda. This is consistent with quotes and historical data of the time, which show that while anti-Jewish sentiment was common and came with, attacks upon Jews only became common after the creation of the Nazi Party.