02 December 2011

Entschuldigen Sie mir bitte

It's all the fault of the Germans, isn't it?  Well maybe, and maybe not.  But don't take my word for it, cos I'm biased.  When I worked for the European Commission, building the new Europe (or something), my closest office chum was a delightful young lady from Berlin who worked in the office next door.  Sonja was an Ostie, and she and I would regularly adjourn to the smoking room to commiserate with each other over the bureaucratic idiocies of the bosses.  She still has at least half my Harry Potter books.  But she was a pal and provides one of the many great memories of working with European colleagues.

But Merkel is screwing up the system, isn't she?  Well we all have our histories and here is something upon which to ruminate.  The New Statesman records:

If you wanted to buy a US dollar in 1913, it cost you four German marks; by the end of 1921, it cost you around 200; a year later, 7,000.Governments could no longer afford to pay reparations, since they had to be rendered in gold. Things got really bad in 1923, when France invaded Germany's most prosperous industrial area, the Ruhr, to extract the reparations that the Germans had failed to deliver. Strikes ensued, the German economy ground to a halt and inflation spiralled out of control.
By July 1923, a dollar cost 353,000 marks; by August, nearly five million; by September, nearly a hundred million; by December, 4.2 trillion - or four followed by a two and eleven zeros. People were collecting their wages in wheelbarrows filled with million-mark notes and rushing to the shops before the price spiralled upwards again and goods were out of their reach. You might sit down in a café for a cup of coffee and find that its price had doubled by the time you got up.
The political system began to disintegrate. Hitler staged his beer-hall putsch. There was a communist uprising in Hamburg and the threat of one in the east. Separatists emerged in the Rhineland. The chaos was only ended when the Americans were persuaded to lend money for a currency reform.
The hyperinflation did not destroy the Wei­mar Republic. What did for it was the ensuing depression, when the Wall Street crash led the US banks to withdraw the loans that had underpinned the modest recovery of the middle Weimar years. Mass unemployment had the jobless rushing to vote for the communists, terrifying the middle classes, already disoriented by inflation, into supporting the Nazis.
So have a little sympathy.


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