Weimar - The Light and the Dark

Trip Start May 20, 2005
Trip End Jun 07, 2007

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Monday, May 30, 2005

I caught the train out of Prague on a bright Saturday morning, changed in Dresden and landed in the small provincial city of Weimar. It is not a particularly ancient town, having received its town charter only in 1410, but it is a lovely town, filled with parks and stately residences.

Early on the town took on the cause of Reform after a visit by Martin Luther and it became the royal capital of Saxony in 1547. From that point Weimar began to attract artists, musicians, writers, actors, playwrights, and poets, drawn by the gentle climate, the pastoral setting, but mostly by the generous patronage (as in cash) of the Duke and Dutchess of Saxony, their families, and clients.

Johann Sebastian Bach was Court Organist and Director of the Court Orchestra. Johann Wolfgang von Geothe made Wiemar his home (from 1775) as did his close friend and collaborator, Friedrich Schiller (from 1787). Franz Liszt lived here for a number of years (from 1848). Friedrich Nietzsche lived here around the turn of the twentieth century.

If any community could lay claim to be the seat of German High Culture it would be Weimar. Even today, its orientation and claim to fame is rooted in the town's many opportunities for enjoying opera, art, music and literature.

At the end of World War I, Weimar began another chapter. In the difficult days of revolt and confusion in the aftermath of Germany's defeat and the abdication of the Kaiser, Berlin was much too hot to conduct the business of building a new government. Therefore, in 1919, Germany's new liberal and socialist leaders repaired to the quiet town of Weimar. The National Constitutional Convention convened in the classical German National Theater. The republican government that emerged took the name of the village in which it was formed. The Weimar Republic struggled through 14 years to bring some order to Germany's social, political, financial, and economic life, but the burdens were too great. The constitution permitted too many opportunities for mischief and the nation descended into chaos. Nazis, appealing to Germany's baser self and taking advantage of economic troubles, resentment over the WWI Armistice, and constitutional incompetence, won a tentative victory in 1933 and almost immediately suspended personal freedoms, democracy, the rule of law and civic decency. Germany began its twisted descent into brutal triumph, bloody defeat and complete destruction.

Despite its name being given to the Republic, the town of Weimar was, not surprisingly, ambivalent toward the new ways, the liberalism of the 1920s, and democracy in general.
It was not a sophisticated urban center. Its cultural importance had long since faded and even that did not change the fact that Weimar was a small, rural village, comfortable in its isolation, conservative in its disposition and reactionary in its political orientation.

The town became one of the first communities in Germany to embrace the Nazi political machine, electing Nazi local magistrates and then national representatives to the Reichstag. The Hitler Youth Organization was founded in Weimar. In 1933 more than 50% percent of the electorate voted for Hitler when his national totals were in the low 30s.

During his run up to power, Hitler and his cronies were in Weimar all the time. It felt like home for this Austrian vagabond turned German savior, and the local folk loved him too, holding large Nazi rallies during the 1920s and 1930s.

It is not surprizing that when the Reich government wanted to build a concentration camp in the region they would chose Weimar. Buchenwald's first name was "Ettersberg Concentration Camp" named for the hill on which it sat. This was a bit too much for the good citizens of Weimar who associated the hill with Goethe and happy hilltop excursions in a more pleasant past, so the camp took the name of a small village eight kilometers from Weimar.

Next time: Jedem Das Seine - To Each His Own or You Get What You Deserve

Dan Roberts
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