Die Weltbühne Germany)
The Weimar Republic lasted less than fifteen years, yet few periods in recent history have left so potent a legend. “Weimar culture” has come to symbolize a particular blend of radical art and radical politics. The ideas and tastes of an embattled minority of Weimar radicals and artists are now regarded as typical of a society which rejected their values and finally destroyed them. One recent sign of the extent to which the Weimar Republic has caught the imagination of many people fifty years later has been the remarkable publishing success in Germany of the facsimile reprint of Die Weltbühne, one of the most famous of the German reviews of the 1920s. The history of the political ideas of Die Weltbühne was well told in Istvan Deak’s excellent study Weimar Germany’s Left-Wing Intellectuals, published in 1968; and Deak’s book, with its biographical appendices and its elucidation of the pseudonyms of Weltbühne writers, is an invaluable guide to the reader of the complete series of volumes.
Die Weltbühne is more than a review of politics. It is a mirror in which we can see reflected the image of Weimar culture and of the 1920s as they looked to a group of sophisticated and critical intellectuals. In its pages we can follow their disappointment at the results of the German revolution of 1918 and their growing disbelief and then despair as the forces against which they had spoken out so courageously swept them aside. But we can also see their reactions to the activities of the Bauhaus, their comments on Ulysses or Lady Chatterley’s Lover or the early work of Bert Brecht, their assessment of the achievements of Klemperer’s reign at the Kroll opera. Few weekly periodicals can have left so vivid a picture of the society which produced them and the tastes and beliefs of those who wrote in them.
Die Weltbühne had originally been called Die Schaubühne and the change of name early in 1918 from “the stage” to “the world stage” showed a concern to keep pace with the events of the last months of the First World War. The editor and proprietor was Siegfried Jacobsohn, a man whose intelligence and integrity made an unforgettable impression on his associates and who gave it a flavor which his successors, Kurt Tucholsky and Carl von Ossietzky, preserved after Jacobsohn’s early death in 1926. It was Jacobsohn, originally a theater critic, who turned Die Weltbühne into an organ of criticism not just of literature and the theater but, with increasing vehemence, of the whole of German society. Revulsion against war and those responsible for it, and disappointment with the German revolution dominate the mood of Die Weltbühne and provide much of its contents.
“We have not had a revolution in Germany—but we have had a counter-revolution.” Tucholsky wrote as early as May 1919. The spirit of 1914 seemed to live on, and Die Weltbühne was determined to remind the public of where the responsibility lay …