The Golden '20s were Europe's equivalent to America's Roaring '20s -- a decade of fun, frivolity and free expression. Germany especially flourished after World War I. In 1919, the first parliamentary democracy was established in Germany with the signing of the Weimar Constitution. The constitution discredited the previous government and gave people reason to celebrate after living under military control that left many hungry and poverty-stricken. The war-savaged country entered a period of reconstruction that resulted in a brief, but prosperous, cultural and economic revival.
Social and Economic Reforms
Germany thrived during the 1920s after it received more than $25 billion to rebuild after the war. New factories were built, production increased and government-sponsored programs helped improve the standard of living for some, especially those in lower socioeconomic classes. The German government offered tax breaks, low-interest loans and land grants to provide suitable housing for those in need. By 1928, homelessness in Germany had been reduced by more than 60 percent. However, middle class Germans experienced little economic relief as they didn't qualify for benefits, and unemployment rates remained high for bankers, businessmen and bureaucrats that led to resentment of the government.
Artistic movements flourished in the 1920s as artists reacted to the horrors of WWI. Expressionism, a movement that focused on subjective experience and emotion, began in Germany prior to the war and remained popular during the Weimar Republic, influencing painting, theater, architecture and literature. The movement overlapped with and spawned others including Dadaism, with the "First International Dada Fair" held in 1920 in Berlin, presenting work that focused on the absurd. Artists such as George Grosz and Otto Dix used drawings, paintings and caricatures to poke fun at the German military and satirize the upper class. Bauhaus architecture also grew out of this period, with the design of post-industrial spaces that favored metallic materials and minimalism.
The dramatic economic recovery after World War I brought cultural revival to the war-torn country. The zeitgeist of the 1920s was one of prosperity, independence, casual living, sexual exploration and free expression. Berliners no longer feared bombings and military raids and could focus on culture, dance, fashion and recreation. Nightlife in Berlin boomed during the Golden '20s and gave people a reason to celebrate their individuality, freedom and creativity. Nightclubs, theaters and pubs were hot spots for entertainment and relaxation. Unfortunately, the Golden '20s were cut short when the United States stock market crashed in 1929, spiraling the U.S. and other European countries into the Great Depression.
Women's Liberation Movement
The 1920s were perceived as an age of liberation for women in Europe and Germany, but many experienced hardships associated with their new freedoms. Women were allowed to attend academic institutions and some assumed clerical positions in white-collar industries. Nonetheless, progressive women's rights didn't result in a gender revolution in Germany. Female employment rates stayed relatively static and only 8 percent of girls completed higher academic grades in school. The sexual freedom many expressed also led to increased abortion rates, with strict criminal penalties for German women who underwent the procedure.
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- Spiegel Online International: The Age of Excess: Berlin in the Golden Twenties
- Berlin Tourismus & Kongress GmbH: Visit Berlin: End of the Imperial German Reich and the "Golden Twenties"
- History: Weimar Constitution Adopted in Germany
- Cambridge University Press: Women Writers in the 'Golden' Twenties
- Alpha History: Golden Age of Weimar
- FPG/Photodisc/Getty Images