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Weimar Republic

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Weimar Republic

The Weimar Republic tends to get sidelined by the periods that came before and after it: World War One and Nazi Germany. Nonetheless, the Weimar Republic was just as significant for the making of modern Germany.

Weimar Republic Timeline

The table below presents the Weimar Republic timeline.

Date

Event

1918 November 9

Abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

1919

Weimar Republic Established.

1919

Treaty of Versailles.

1920

Kapp Putsch in Berlin.

1920

Nazi Party founded.

1923

Occupation of the Ruhr.

1923

Hyperinflation reaches its peak.

1923

Munich Putsch.

1923

Dawes Plan.

1928

Young Plan.

1929

Wall Street Crash.

1932

German unemployment reaches 5 million.

1933

Hitler becomes Chancellor, signalling the end of the Weimar Republic.

Summary of the Weimar Republic

The Weimar Republic was the government of Germany that lasted from 1919 until 1933. It was formed in Weimar due to nearby Berlin being too chaotic and unsafe to hold meetings.

Weimar Republic Weimar Republic Flag StudySmarterFlag of the Weimar Republic. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weimar Republic was formed after Germany's humiliating defeat in World War One. The monarchy was disbanded, and a Republic was formed in its place. While the Republic enjoyed a 'Golden Age' from 1923 onwards, in 1929 it was devastated by the Great Depression. It was unable to stem the rise of the far-right and in 1933 was taken over by Hitler.

What are the origins of the Weimar Republic flag?

When the Weimar Republic was established, the flag of Germany was change to the Red, Black and Gold tricolour that we know today. But why were these particular colours chosen?

Let's go back a little while, to the 1840s. The German States were undergoing a severe economic crisis, people were going hungry and unemployment was rising. The German people became angry to the point of open rebellion, leading to the Revolution of 1848. This Revolution established the Frankfurt Parliament - Germany's first freely elected parliament - which then designated black, red and gold as the official colours of Germany.

When the Weimar Republic was created and a new flag was needed, the black, red and gold was used to hearken back to that era of revolution and the short-lived, but democratic Frankfurt Parliament, creating a sense of continuity between one liberal movement and the next.

Weimar Republic Background

Years of costly military action in World War I had pushed Germany close to collapse. The early stages of the Weimar Republic were defined by economic hardship, post-war humiliation and isolation, and chaos from radical political factions.

Weimar Republic Abdication of Wilhelm II

The German Empire came to an end with the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918. Wilhelm had been eager to lead Germany into World War One. But as the tide turned against Germany, with humiliating defeats at the hands of Britain and France, the Kaiser became the target of anger.

Did you know?

Kaiser means 'Emperor' in German.

His failed naval attack against the British army in October 1918 signalled the end of his reign. Sailors and soldiers mutinied against the Kaiser, forcing him to abdicate.

Weimar Republic Government

Following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany experienced months of disorder, chaos and attempted socialist revolution as had occurred in Russia.

Friedrich Ebert was the leader of the Social Democrat Party (SPD). In an attempt to restore order, Ebert partnered himself with the German army. After the Kaiser's abdication, Ebert set up a provisional government for Germany.

What was the Social Democrat Party (SDP)?

The SDP was the largest political party in Germany. It had started out as a socialist party in the old German Reichstag. It moved to a more moderate position in the 1890s.

Despite this moderate position, the SDP still embraced worker's rights. The party was anti-empire and embraced the cause of women's suffrage.

Ebert's provisional government met with the Allied forces to end the war.

Weimar Republic Treaty of Versailles

On 28 June 1919, Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles. It stated that Germany would accept responsibility for World War I under Article 231 (known as the war-guilt clause). As a result, Germany was forced to reduce its military to only 100,000 men, give up some of its territory to the Allies, and pay huge war reparations.

War reparations

Payments forced onto the losing country as compensation for war.

The signing of the treaty was seen as a betrayal by many right-wing German military leaders. They insisted that Germany could have won the war, had it not been stabbed in the back by its country’s politicians.

Weimar Republic Constitution

The Weimar Constitution was signed into law on 11 August 1919. It officially proclaimed Germany as a parliamentary democracy. The monarchy was abolished and the newly established Republic was split into 17 departments or states.

The constitution protected the civil rights of all Germans, granting citizens freedom from censorship and religious oppression, and guarantees to protect labour and provide welfare.

Did you know?

The constitution gave all citizens over the age of 20 the right to vote, including women.

A major weakness of the constitution was its reliance on proportional representation. It led to the creation of many small parties in the Reichstag and forced governments to form coalitions. This made it difficult to pass laws and coalitions were often short-lived.

Proportional representation

A voting system where each party gets the same % of seats as the % of votes it receives in an election.

The powers granted to the President were criticised for being too great. The President was to be elected every 7 years, with powers that included:

  • The right to dissolve the National Assembly (the Parliament).

  • The right to appoint a Chancellor.

  • The position of supreme commander over the military.

  • The right to rule by decree alone in a state of emergency (Article 48).

Article 48 would later prove crucial in the latter stages of the Republic, helping Hitler's rise to power.

Crisis in the Weimar Republic (1920-23)

The Weimar Republic was dominated by the SPD under President Ebert. It immediately faced multiple crises variously from the far-right, the economy, and from the punishing requirements of the Treaty of Versailles.

Weimar Republic the Kapp Putsch 1920

The SPD faced the threat of a coup from Germany's hardline right. After the defeat in World War I, unofficial military groups had flourished in Germany. The SPD ordered one of these groups, the right-wing Freikorps, to disband immediately.

General Lüttwitz, who commanded the army in Berlin, launched a coup against the SPD on 13 March 1920. Lüttwitz attempted to take over the city with the help of right-wing nationalist official Wolfgang Kapp.

Putsch

Another term for coup, a violent attempt to overthrow the government.

In retaliation, the SPD called on the German workers to resist through a general strike. Helped by the Independent Social Democrat Party and other left-wing political parties, the strike was successful. The strike forced General Lüttwitz and Kapp to accept defeat and flee from Berlin.

Weimar Republic Hyperinflation

The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to pay war reparations of about £6.6 billion - an extremely high amount. Germany increasingly failed to make its scheduled payments. To combat this, the German government chose to print more money. This resulted in the German mark losing value and soaring hyperinflation. It plunged Germany into economic crisis.

Weimar Republic Occupation of the Ruhr

Germany failed to make one of its coal deliveries to France in time. In January 1923, France sent 60,000 troops to occupy Germany's industrial heartland, the Ruhr.

Weimar Republic France's occupation zone in Ruhr 1923, StudySmarterPhotograph of France's occupation zone in the Ruhr, 1923. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

French occupation sent the German currency spiralling downwards, with the mark diminishing in value. By 23 November 1923, 4,200,000,000,000 marks held the same value as a single dollar. This hyperinflation resulted in trading of goods replacing commercial sales. It meant that the savings of the middle-classes and pensioners were lost completely, and meant there was a catastrophic decrease in real wages that crippled the working classes.

In the wake of this economic devastation, communist parties on the left and militias on the far-right were gaining increasing popularity across the country. New coalition leader Gustav Stresemann proclaimed a state of emergency under Article 48 of the constitution. The military was brought in to subdue threats of a communist coup in Thuringia and Saxony. The military suppressed far-right uprisings in Hamburg and Munich.

Did you know?

One of these far-right uprisings was the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler attempted to take over Munich but his putsch was quashed by the military.

The ‘Golden years’ of the Weimar Republic (1923-29)

In the aftermath of the occupation of the Ruhr and the hyperinflation crisis, the Weimar Republic experienced a drastic social and economic turn-around.

Stresemann had identified the issues surrounding the mark, and introduced a new, highly-limited currency, the Rentenmark, on 20 November 1923. The new currency was supported by mortgaging the entirety of Germany’s agricultural and industrial resources. The stabilisation process was painfully slow but successful.

Weimar Republic The Dawes Plan

In April 1924, the Reparation Commission of the Allied powers commissioned Charles G. Dawes to review Germany's reparations. The Commission hoped to alleviate some of the economic burden Germany was facing.

The Dawes plan involved:

  • German reparation reduction, increasing over time as its economy improved.

  • Economic policy-making in Berlin to be reorganised with foreign supervision.

  • New currency, the Reichsmark, to be introduced.

  • Allied forces to evacuate the Ruhr.

  • Allied forces promised not to invade German territory again.

  • Foreign banks to loan $200 million to allow economic stabilisation.

American banks supported Germany with enough money to meet their reparation requirements.

Weimar Republic The Locarno Pact

In October 1925, Gustav Stresemann negotiated the Locarno Pact. This was a series of agreements between Germany, France, Belgium, Italy and the UK, to promote peace and discourage warfare between these nations.

Weimar Republic Locarno Pact 1925 StudySmarterPhotograph of delegates meeting for the Locarno Pact, 1925. Source: E. Steinemann, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Germany was entered into the League of Nations as a member state in September 1926, accepting it into the concert of Allied nations. German foreign trade began to increase and general disarmament was now being discussed by the League of Nations.

Weimar Republic The Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Young Plan

Signed by Germany, France and the United States in Paris on 27 August 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact proposed the outlaw of warfare. This meant that any disputes were to be settled peacefully, rather than through invasion or occupation. The Kellog-Briand Pact signalled Germany's acceptance into European politics.

In 1929, a committee under the leadership of Owen D. Young met to propose a reduction of the Germany's reparation payments to 37 billion marks (approximately £29 billion), payable over 58 years.

Why Did The Weimar Republic Fail?

Weimar prosperity during the 1920s was risky, as it largely relied on foreign loans in order to work. The Wall Street Crash wrecked this precarious prosperity and pushed Germany towards the hands of the far-right.

Weimar Republic and the Great Depression

America plunged into economic depression with the American stock market crash of 29 October 1929. As a result, the United States could no longer afford to support Germany financially, recalling its loans in the process. This had a knock-on effect on the Republic’s economy and triggered the Great Depression.

Weimar Republic Great Depression StudySmarterPhotograph of welfare stamps stall during the Great Depression in Germany, 1931. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-T0706-503 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

The recently-recovered Weimar economy now failed to meet its financial repayment obligations, and as a result, businesses folded. Germany faced economic crisis once more, with 6 million unemployed in 1932.

Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazis

The German middle class had endured the biggest hit of the financial crisis, and they grew angry and suspicious of the Republic’s leaders. Fears that Communism would once again flourish pushed the middle-classes towards the Nazis.

In July 1932, the Nazi Party won 230 seats, proving them to be the largest party in Parliament. The President, Paul von Hindenburg, was ultra-conservative and feared Communist revolution. Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933 and agreed to activate Article 48. This declared a state of emergency in Germany and suspended the Weimar Constitution. It allowed Hitler to arrest anyone suspected of Communist party sympathies.

Weimar Republic Adolf Hitler 1937 StudySmarterPhotograph of Adolf Hitler, 1937. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S33882 / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE Wikimedia Commons.

In March 1933 Hitler initiated the Enabling Act, allowing him to pass legislation without parliamentary or presidential approval. Hitler no longer needed President Hindenburg's stamp of approval to pass his laws. Hitler could now establish a dictatorship and govern with no checks and balances process, signalling the end of the Weimar Republic and Germany's system of parliamentary democracy.

Was the Weimar Republic a Success or Failure?

The Weimar Republic was a success in many ways, implementing a democratic system of Parliament for the first time in Germany. It rejected the militaristic atmosphere of its predecessor, Wilhelm II, and brought World War One to an end.

Nonetheless, the Republic failed to prevent the rise of the Nazis, Germany's biggest failure as a nation. Here's a table outlining the Weimar Republic's successes and failures:

Successes

Failures

Ended World War One and signed the Treaty of Versailles.

Failed to counter the 'stab in the back' myth which fuelled the rise of the far-right in Germany.

First democratically-elected, parliamentary government in Germany.

Proportional representation meant no party could form a majority in the Reichstag.

Granted freedom of speech, freedom of press, and religious rights to all Germans.

Article 48 allowed the President to rule by decree - eventually allowing Hitler to rise to power.

Introduced voting to all citizens over 20. Women could also vote for the first time.

Too heavily reliant on foreign loans, eventually leading to economic depression, hyperinflation and further economic collapse with onset of the Great Depression.

Prevented the far-right coups of General Lüttwitz and Kapp in 1920 and Hitler's Munich Putsch in 1923.

Failed to stem the rise of the Nazis. Led to Hitler's takeover in 1933 and the Holocaust.

Weimar Republic - Key Takeaways

  • The Weimar Republic was the government of Germany from 1919 until Hitler's rise to power in 1933.

  • Proportional representation made it difficult to form parliamentary majorities, forcing governments to rely on coalitions.

  • Printing more money and the Allied occupation of the Ruhr led to hyperinflation and a crippled German economy.

  • The Dawes Plan and Young Plan helped the German economy to stabilise.

  • The Wall Street crash and Great Depression triggered the beginning of the end for the Weimar Republic.

  • Many Germans turned to extremist parties such as the Nazis due to mistrust in the Weimar government.

Frequently Asked Questions about Weimar Republic

The Weimar Republic was the system of government in Germany from 1919 until Hitler's rise to power in 1933. 

The first President was Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democratic Party. It was a moderate political party with socialist origins. 

The Weimar Republic was formed in 1919 after Kaiser Wilhelm II's abdication. 

The Weimar Republic was unpopular as it signed the Treaty of Versailles, forcing Germany to pay huge war reparations. 

The Weimar Republic failed largely because of the Great Depression. Its precarious success was unable to withstand a devastating depression. Economic hardship paved the way for Hitler's takeover. 

Final Weimar Republic Quiz

Question

How many years did the Young Plan give Germany to pay reparations? 

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Answer

59 years. The plan was due to last until 1988. 

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Question

What was the name of the Bank that handled the transfer of reparation payments?

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Answer

Bank for International Settlements. 

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Question

What was the primary role of the Reparations Commission?

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Answer

In accordance with articles 231-235 of the Treaty of Versailles, the Reparation Commission was tasked with estimating the damage done by Germany to Allied civilians and their property during World War I. 

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Question

What was the Weimar Constitution?

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Answer

The constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic era from 1919-1933

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Question

In what year was the Weimar Constitution signed?

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Answer

1918

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Question

What was an issue with the Weimar constitution?

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Answer

The Bill of Rights

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Question

What did Article 48 do?

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Answer

It gave the President broad powers to suspend civil liberties with an insufficient system of checks and balances. 

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Question

What years did the Weimar Republic run from and until in Germany?

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Answer

1919-1939

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Question

Why was the Weimar Republic not formed in Berlin?


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Answer

Berlin was deemed too chaotic and unsafe for government meetings to be held, and was instead formed in the nearby town of Weimar.

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Question

Name two things that led to the formation of the Weimar Republic?


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Answer

1.     The abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9, 1918.

2.     Months of revolt across Germany that followed after Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdication.

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Question

Who were the Freikorps? How did they effect German political processes in 1918-19?


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Answer

The Freikorps were a German paramilitary group.


In 1918-19 they crushed leftist revolts,  murdering the leaders of the Spartacus League Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in the process.

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Question

What made the January 1919 general election so significant?


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Answer

It was the first general election to allow women voting rights.

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Question

When was the Treaty of Versailles signed? And why did many on Germany’s right-wing oppose it?


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Answer

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919.


Many on Germany’s right-wing opposed it because they insisted that Germany could have won the war, had it not been stabbed in the back by its country’s politicians.




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Question

When was the Weimar Constitution signed into law?


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Answer

August 11, 1918.

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How many Länder (states) did the Weimar Republic consist of?


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Answer

12.

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Question

 Give two examples of the presidential powers allowed by the Weimar Constitution?


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Answer

1.     Rights to dissolve the German parliament (Reichstag).

2.     Rights to appoint a chancellor.

3.     Position of supreme commander over the military.

4.     Under Article 48, he could rule by decree in a state of emergency (authoritarian rule). This however showed the civil insecurities existing in Weimar Germany, and Article 48 would later prove crucial in the latter stages of the republic.

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Question

Give two examples of the freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights.


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Answer

1.     Freedoms from censorship.

2.     Religious freedoms.

3.     Free speech rights.

4.     Guarantees to the protection of labour and the provision of welfare.

5.     All citizens over the age of 20 were given the right to vote.

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Question

Explain the difficulty of proportional representation in parliament.


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Answer

Any political party wanting to form a majority government was unlikely to do so.

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Question

Give two reasons for the failure of the Kapp Putsch.


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Answer

1.     The Putsch failed when the troops involved were met with intense resistance from the working-class trade unions, who called a general strike, forcing Kapp and Lüttwitz to accept defeat.

2.     The Putsch had not received the support they expected from the right-wing parties or military.

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Question

What did Germany do to combat extortionate war reparation payments? Why was this a problem?


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Answer

1.     The German government chose to issue more money.


2.     This in turn resulted in the German mark losing value, and soaring inflation which was worse in Germany than any other country in Europe.

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Question

When did the French occupation of the Ruhr begin? How many troops did they send?


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Answer

1. January 1923.

2. 60,000 troops.

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Question

Give three examples of conditions outlined in the Dawes Plan.


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Answer

1.     German reparation reduction, increasing over time as its economy improved.

2.     Economic policy-making in Berlin to be reorganised with foreign supervision.

3.     New currency, the Reichsmark, to be introduced.

4.     Allied forces to evacuate the Ruhr.

5.     Allied forces promised not to invade German territory again.

6.     Foreign banks to loan $200 million to allow economic stabilisation.

Show question

Question

 What were Germany’s total repayments reduced to under the Young Plan?


 How long was this to be paid over?


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Answer

1.     37 billion marks (approximately $29 billion).

2.     58 years.

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Question

Give two reasons for the eventual failure of the Weimar Republic.


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Answer

1.     The Wall Street crash and start of the Great Depression.


2.     The rise of the right-wing, namely the Nazis.

 

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Question

What was the main objective of the Dawes Plan?

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Answer

The main objective of the Dawes Plan was to create a peaceful Europe. It achieved this by allowing the German economy to thrive whilst meeting their World War I reparations.

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Why did the United States get involved in the Dawes Plan?

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Answer

The United States wanted a peaceful Europe to trade with. They were keen to exploit their strong financial position after World War I.

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Question

Who was Gustav Stresemann?

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Answer

Gustav Streseman was the German politician who played the biggest role in the Dawes Plan. His policies were pragmatic and allowed economic growth for Weimar Germany between 1924 and 1929.

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Question

What is hyperinflation?

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Answer

Hyperinflation is the steep increase of a currency by large amounts in a short space of time. It makes the real value of the currency far less. This occurred in 1923 in Germany.

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Question

After which event was the Dawes Plan agreed?

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Answer

The Munich Beer Hall Putsch 

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Question

Why did the French and Belgian troops occupy the Ruhr in 1923?

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Answer

Germany failed to meet reparations agreements.

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Question

What did the Dawes Plan help to stop?

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Answer

Extremist political parties

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Question

What happened to Germany in 1926

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Answer

They joined the League of Nations

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Question

What effect did the Dawes Plan have on Weimar Germany?

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Answer

The Dawes Plan helped undo some of the damage of the Treaty of Versailles. French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr ended in 1925 and Germany met its war reparations. The economy was also galvanised but they were reliant on loans and unemployment remained high.

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Question

Why did the Dawes Plan fail?

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Answer

The Dawes Plan failed because it was only a temporary solution to diffuse the situation in Europe. The dependence on US loans gave the economy a positive jolt but problems remained and the Young Plan needed to address them.

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Question

Who was Charles Dawes?

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Answer

US banker

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Question

Which field developed slowly in Weimar Germany after the Dawes Plan?

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Answer

Agriculture

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Question

Which event followed the Wall Street Crash?

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Answer

The Great Depression

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Which party was in power during the Dawes Plan?

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Answer

Social Democratic Party

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Which of these organisations did the Dawes Plan give the Allies control of?

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Answer

The German Federal Bank (Reichsbank)

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Who was in charge of the Reparations Commission?

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Answer

The Allies

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Question

When did the Occupation of the Ruhr begin?

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Answer

1923

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Question

What was the name of the plan that ended the Occupation?

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Answer

The Dawes Plan

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What crisis did the Ruhr occupation contribute to?

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Answer

The Hyperinflation Crisis

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Question

How much was Germany's reparations figure?

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Answer

132 Billion marks

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Question

Who was the Prime Minister of France who ordered the occupation?

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Answer

Raymond Poincare

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Question

Who was the Chancellor of Germany who helped end the occupation?

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Answer

Gustav Stresemann

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Question

How many Germans were killed by the French?

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Answer

Around 100

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Question

The Munich Beer Hall Putsch was carried out by...

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Answer

the Communists

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Question

Which country offered Germany economic support through the Dawes Plan?

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Answer

America

Show question

Question

When did the Ruhr Occupation end?

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Answer

1925

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