Tag Archives: Germany

Rentenmark

Introduction of the Rentenmark in Weimar Germany

On the 15th October 1923, the Rentenmark was introduced in Weimar Germany in an attempt to stop the hyperinflation crisis that had crippled the economy.

Gustav Stresemann’s finance minister, Hans Luther, introduced the new currency to replace the crisis-hit Papiermark in a plan devised jointly with Hjalmar Schacht at the Reichsbank who went on to be Minister of Economics in the early years of Hitler’s rule.

The French and Belgian Occupation of the Ruhr that began on the 11th January 1923 had been met with a policy of passive resistance by the German government. Although this succeeded in frustrating the occupying powers who sought to extract reparations payments in the form of natural resources, it also brought the economy in the Ruhr to a shuddering halt.

Since the strike had been called for by the government, the strikers and their families were eligible to receive income support. However, with falling tax revenues as a result of the lack of trade the government struggled to keep up with payments. In response they began printing money even though there was no product to base it on. The so-called Papiermark went into freefall as hyperinflation took hold, and the cabinet resigned in favour of a new one formed under Stresemann.

The new currency was backed by real estate – land that was used by businesses and agriculture – and was introduced at the rate of one Rentenmark to one trillion Papiermarks. With the currency now tied to something with physical value, hyperinflation was stopped in its tracks. The more commonly known Reichsmark was introduced the following year at the same value.

The Road to World War II, 1933-39

This podcast is designed to present the key reasons for the breakout of World War 2 by explaining the different impacts of Hitler’s aims and actions, the policy of appeasement, the problems caused by the peace treaties, the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the failures of the League of Nations.

The first part of the podcast deals with Hitler’s aims: abolish the Treaty of Versailles, expand German territory, and remove the threat of communism.  It explains how his policies were designed to fulfill these aims.  Key actions from the first years of Hitler’s Chancellorship that are described include: rearmament, remilitarisation of the Rhineland, his role in the Spanish Civil War, and Anschluss with Austria.

The podcast then goes on to assess appeasement.  Arguments in favour of, and against, the policy of appeasement are presented.  This is followed by an explanation of the Sudetenland Crisis, the Munich Agreement and the Nazi-Soviet Pact.  The views of historians are considered.

This episode concludes with a brief explanation of how to answer an examination question on this topic.

          

The origins of the Cold War

This podcast aims to look at three key areas – why the alliance between the USA and the USSR broke down in 1945, how Stalin take control of eastern Europe in 1945 and America’s reaction to it, and the consequences of the Berlin Blockade.

The podcast opens with a short explanation of the deteriorating relationship between the USA and the USSR through the Second World War.  It goes on to present an overview of the two major Allied conferences – Yalta and Potsdam – and outlines the key agreements and disagreements that emerged from them.

Opening with an extract from Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech, the second part of this episode explores the way in which Stalin extended Soviet control over eastern Europe to establish a ‘buffer zone’ of communist states around the USSR.  It then goes on to detail the USA’s response in terms of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.  Examples are given of each.

The third section of the podcast focuses on the Berlin Blockade of 1948-9.  It begins with the background of the divided Germany after the Second World War.  An explanation is then given of how Berlin became further divided between the communist and non-communist zones leading to Stalin launching the Berlin Blockade.  The Allied ‘air lift’ is then described.

The episode finishes with some exam tips on how to answer a question about who was to blame for the Cold War in a balanced way.

          

Yalta Conference

Brief introduction to the Yalta Conference

On the 4th February 1945 the Yalta Conference began. Attended by the “Big Three” Allied leaders, the conference saw United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin meet to discuss the government of post-war Europe.

The three leaders had previously met at the Tehran Conference in 1943 where they set out a unified military strategy, but at Yalta the focus was exclusively on the end of the war and its aftermath. It was clear that the war in Europe was in its final stages, so they agreed to demand Germany’s unconditional surrender after which the country – and Berlin – would be split into four zones of occupation. Germany was to undergo a process of demilitarization and denazification, and Nazi war criminals were to be hunted down and brought to justice.

Furthermore, the three allies considered the fate of Eastern European countries that had been under Nazi occupation. Poland was the focus of much of the discussion, but the agreement reached was intended to apply to every country. The Protocol of Proceedings stated that the allies would assist the liberated countries to form “interim governmental authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population…and the earliest possible establishment through free elections of governments responsive to the will of the people.”

The terms of the agreement, when they were made public, were met with harsh criticism in Britain and the United States. Some of these criticisms came to be justified when, at the end of the war, the Soviet Union installed communist governments throughout Eastern Europe.

Berlin Blockade

Berlin and the Cold War 1945-1949

Contrasting Pro-Soviet and Pro-American films from the post-WW2 period related to the increasing tensions between the two countries.

Berlin Blockade

The Berlin Blockade and Airlift

Berlin Blockade

The end of the Berlin Blockade

This short podcast presents an overview of how and why Stalin chose to end the Berlin Blockade.

On May 12th 1949, the Soviet Union ended its blockade of West Berlin.  Instigated on the 24th June the previous year, the blockade prevented all rail, road, and water transport between Berlin and the West of the Germany.

Germany had been divided into four parts at the end of World War 2 with Britain, France, the USA and the USSR each administering one area.  Buried deep in the Soviet zone, the Berlin was also divided into four sectors.  It was to the area controlled by the Western powers that the USSR blocked access.

Faced with the possibility of all-out war if they forced their way through the blockade, the Americans opted to make use of the three air corridors that provided unrestricted aerial access to Berlin.  The USSR knew it risked war if it shot down any aircraft, and was therefore powerless to stop them.  Launched four days after the blockade, the Berlin Airlift went on to see over 200,000 individual flights transport up to 8,500 tons of supplies each day.

The pilots and ground crews soon settled into an efficient rhythm.  An unusually short winter also helped to keep the airlift running.  By the spring of 1949 it was clear that the Western powers had achieved the impossible by supplying West Berlin by air alone.  On the 15th April the USSR expressed a willingness to end the blockade and, after a period of negotiation, it was lifted at one minute past midnight on 12 May 1949.  The blockade was over, but the Cold War had just begun.

Flag of East Germany DDR

The foundation of the German Democratic Republic (DDR)

On the 7th October 1949 the German Democratic Republic, otherwise known as East Germany, was founded in the Soviet occupied zone of Germany.

The constitution that was adopted bore striking similarities to the Weimar Constitution of 1919, and was based largely on a draft written in 1946 that was intended for a united Germany. Consequently a new constitution was adopted in 1968 that more accurately reflected the socialist government of the country.

The establishment of the GDR made permanent the division of Germany that had been implemented in 1945. West Germany had already gained independence from the occupying powers earlier in 1949, and the creation of East Germany meant the same for the formerly Soviet-zone although the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany maintained close ties with the USSR and was therefore seen as a satellite state.

The position of head of state was originally taken by Wilhelm Pieck who was President until his death in 1960. However, in reality authority lay with the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party who – in 1950 – was Walter Ulbricht. On the President’s death his position was dissolved and the office of President was replaced by the State Council. As the chairman position was commonly held by the General Secretary, this gave Ulbricht and his successors ultimate power in the GDR.

Following the Peaceful Revolution in 1989 and the fall of Berlin Wall, East Germany experienced the first truly democratic elections that dramatically reduced the power of the Socialist Unity Party and led to the reunification of Germany that took place on 3rd October 1990.

Radio Free Europe

Overview of Radio Free Europe’s first broadcast on 4th July 1950

On the 4th July 1950, Radio Free Europe – founded the previous year to transmit uncensored information to audiences behind the Iron Curtain – completed its first broadcast.

Although the station was uncensored in the sense that it shared information that was suppressed within the Communist Bloc, it’s important to remember that it was still a propaganda tool founded and principally funded by the United States government.

The task facing the journalists who worked for RFE was daunting. Since they broadcast to states that suppressed a range of information and news, the gathering of intelligence to provide broadcast material was an enormous challenge. They often relied on risky contact with émigrés and people who had traveled behind the Iron Curtain for eye-witness accounts, and closely monitored print and electronic media from the communist governments. It’s even been suggested that the quality and quantity of information was so comprehensive that the communist governments themselves used Radio Free Europe to gain information about what was happening within their own countries.

However, RFE was still fundamentally a broadcaster that promoted anti-communist ideas and was therefore a significant threat in the countries it targeted. The USSR tasked the KGB with establishing expensive radio jamming facilities to try to block broadcasts, while in 1981 a terrorist group funded by the Romanian regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu detonated a bomb at RFE’s Munich headquarters.

Despite these challenges Radio Free Europe and its partner station Radio Liberty continued broadcasting, and even after the end of the Cold War has continued to broadcast to countries where a free press is not established.

The Berlin Wall

The construction of the Berlin Wall

A short film documenting the construction of the Berlin Wall, featuring interviews with people who were affected by it.