Germany marks 100 years since Weimar Constitution

The progressive but flawed document was a "turning point in German history." While it enshrined many human rights, its shortcomings aided Hitler's rise to power.

The German government marked the centenary of the Weimar Republic on Wednesday to mark the drafting of the country's first democratic but flawed constitution.

The document has long had a controversial legacy, as it was arguably one of the most liberal and progressive ever penned at the time. However, its weaknesses also aided Adolf Hitler in his rise to power in 1933.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told centenary guests at Weimar's National Theater Wednesday that the constitution adopted in July 1919 was not only a "one-way street" into Hitler's Nazi "barbarity" that ended with the Holocaust.

"We should no longer view the Weimar Republic only from its end," said Germany's ceremonial head of state and former foreign minister.

Weimar - a small town crammed with history

From theatre house to parliament

In 1919 the National Assembly of the first German republic met in this building; the Deutsches Nationaltheater thus became the birthplace of German democracy. Nowadays opera, drama and concerts, from classical to contemporary works, are part of the repertoire. By the way, Goethe managed it from 1791 onwards when it was the official court theatre.

Weimar - a small town crammed with history

In the heart of the old town

In a way, the market place is the parlor of Weimar, a meeting place for locals and tourists. Here you find the Renaissance era Stadthaus (right) and the Elephant Hotel, where all the city's famous guests have always stayed.

Weimar - a small town crammed with history

Rulers with a sense for art

The city Castle (Schloss Weimar) served as the residence of the Dukes of Saxony-Weimar. At the end of the 18th century, Duke Carl-August and his mother Anna Amalia ensured Weimar's rise to a center of German culture and intellectual exchange. Today the city castle houses the ducal art collection and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage "Classical Weimar" site.

Weimar - a small town crammed with history

Goethe's garden house

The aspiring poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe came to Weimar in 1775 at the invitation of Duke Carl-August. The Duke left him the garden house in the Park an der Ilm to live and work in. Later Goethe moved to the more spacious house on Frauenplan, which is now also a museum.

Weimar - a small town crammed with history

Schiller's house

Because Goethe gave him an apartment and the Duke gave him better pay, Friedrich Schiller moved to Weimar in 1799. The second floor, the mansard, served as the writer’s working and living rooms, which are now a museum. With the exception of "The Maid of Orleans", all of Schiller's late dramas were performed at the Weimar Hoftheater – which is today the German National Theater.

Weimar - a small town crammed with history

Duchess Anna Amalia Library

The Rococo hall is a magnificent location for classic books to be kept. The library was one of the first public book collections of a prince. Schiller and Goethe also worked here, the latter serving as library director for many years. Today it sees itself as a research library with a focus on German literature around 1800.

Weimar - a small town crammed with history

Buchenwald Memorial

A monumental memorial site on the Ettersberg near Weimar commemorates the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. The Buchenwald concentration camp was established on the site in 1937. It was one of the largest camps in Germany. Here 56,000 people died of torture, medical experiments or emaciation.

Weimar - a small town crammed with history

The cradle of modernity

Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lionel Feininger and many other well-known artists founded the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919. The revolutionary school of architecture set the style for the 20th century. The historic birthplace of this movement (photo) today serves as the campus of the Bauhaus University Weimar.

Steinmeier was referring to February 6, 1919, just after World War I, as Germany's first post-monarchy National Assembly gathered and began deliberations on the key document for what became known as the Weimar Republic.

The document gets its name because German politicians gathered in the eastern city to craft it, although Berlin remained the capital of the newly-created republic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told 800 guests at Wednesday's ceremony that "every generation must once again struggle for democracy," adding that present-day Europe had drawn on the lessons of Weimar and the "terrible" Nazi era.

Read more: The Weimar Republic, a pivotal era that's more than clichés

Stephan Harbarth, the vice-president of Germany's top court, said the anniversary was a "reason to celebrate." Speaking with the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung daily, Harbath called the creation of the Weimar constitution a "turning point in German constitutional history," for its enshrinement of universal suffrage, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression.

Read more: Berlin - Metropolis of Crime 1918-33

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Despite its shortcomings, Harbarth said it paved the way for the "brilliance of the Basic Law," the constitution that has ruled Germany since 1949.

The parliament's inaugural gathering opened with an address from the republic's first president, Freidrich Ebert

Lessons from 'the failure of the Weimar Republic'

While the Weimar constitution was revolutionary for its day and paved the way for the first national German election in which women were allowed to vote.

But it also lent considerable power to the President, allowed for a suspension of rights under vague "emergency" powers, and without a threshold to enter parliament, allowed extreme splinter parties an outsized role in politics. All three of these failings were exploited by the Nazi party in one way or another during their rise to power.

"The failure of the Weimar Republic must, therefore, remind us…to counter those who seek to eliminate freedom and democracy, consistently and at an early stage," said Harbarth.

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DW News | 17.01.2019

100 years of women's right to vote in Germany

es,ipj/rc (dpa, AFP)