Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


Christmas tree with lights in Lustgarten, December 1918 (photo by Willy Römer, via bpk & Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).

What should have been a truly Merry Christmas soon to be celebrated by the people gathered in front of Berlin’s Stadtschloß in 1918 became one of the bloodier chapters in Berlin’s history: in December that year, following the end of the First World War and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the deep political conflict between groups representing different (sometimes radically so) visions of Germany’s future escalated again and led to an outbreak of violence in the city.

The events went down in history as Weihnachtsaufstand, or Christmas Uprising: an armed confrontation between the Volksmarinedivision, socialist and communist revolutionary troops supporting the idea of the state ruled directly by the People (albeit through special committees and elected as well as appointed representatives), and the regular German army troops called in by the Social-Democrats who had formed the new republican government and wished to rule according to their own plan – which was not compatible with that of the revolutionaries and was meant to prevent a repetition of the events which had taken place in Russia.

The army troops failed to take the Stadtschloß where the most fierce combats took place on December 24 and had to suffer defeat. The temporary elation caused by the Volksmarinedivision’s victory soon gave way to an even greater ire and yet bloodier fights. Taboos were broken and in order to annihilate the opponent, the new Social-Democratic government of Friedrich Ebert sided with the violent and also to a great extent anti-democratic formations within the society. The Weihnachtsaufstand, also known as Blutweihnachten, of 1918 paved the way for the Freikorps‘ rise in the world and as such for the rise of deeply anti-democratic, extremely nationalist, war-mongering forces which produced the Third Reich.


You can read an excellent analysis of all of the above events in Mark Jones’s book Founding Weimar: Violence and the German Revolution of 1918-1919.


  1. Babewyn
    Dec 19, 2017

    Very cool photo, and article.

    Quick protest on the “… produced the Third Reich” – theory. Yes, i can remember when that was taught in history classes. Historian have taken a step back from quite such an deterministic view of the advent of German fascism in the last 3 or 4 decades. “Freicorps” of various descriptions had existed already for 100 years at the end of WWI. Most political leanings had some kind of paramilitary wing in early 20th Century Germany. Many but not all were nationalistic and militaristic. Only a minority of them would have condescended to support the likes of Hitler, as Royalism or German Nationalism of a non-fascist kind were far more common than anything like what Hitler and his sort represented – a hodgepodge ideology which was a mash-up of hyper-modernism, eugenics, esotericism, and the more rabble rousing aspects of Right and Left populism.

    Ebert, Noske et al. certainly did not prevent the rise of Fascism, and the Freicorps were a role model and recruiting ground for the SA, but to suggest that there was anything in 1918/19 that set a bee-line to the 3rd Reich is to ignore a great many things that happened between then and 1933.

    Still a cool article though and i love your blog!

    • notmsparker
      Dec 19, 2017

      Thank you and I am very glad you enjoy reading the blog! As for the connection between Noske’s government’s actions and the Third Reich: mine is obviously a very general statement which, indeed, does ignore many crucial details – hence the recommendation of Mark’s book (he did a great job explaining many of them) – but I belong to the old-school fraction supporting the bee-line theory. This is not to say (as I think neither does the post) that A led directly to B. My point is that the actions of the SD government in 1918/1919 gave the tone for what was to come next and – admittedly, indirectly – made many of the events possible: the wedge rammed between the Socialists and Communists, the country’s Left, weakened it sufficiently for the Right to gain more and more power, to quote just one example (a conflict whose echo still reverberates in German politics today). My apologies for not going deeper into detail in my post (in fact, I originally intended to write just a short caption but then decided it would not be enough to flash a red flag) but the gist of my statement is the same. I do believe that the theory in which the actions of Ebert & his cabinet in those days in 1918/1919 should be considered as an important link in the chain of events which led to 1933 is a valid one. Greetings from rainy Berlin!

  2. Gary Costello
    Dec 20, 2017

    As usual, great article and photo. Thanks for keeping the Berlin fans amused throughout the year.

  3. berlioz1935
    Feb 27, 2018

    Everything that happened after the end of the hostilities at the end of WW 1 led to the Nazi Regime. The German people were not ready for democracy. The German people were disappointed after learning of Wilson’s 14 Points and then had to suffer the dictate of Versailles. The French and the British could well be charged with paving the way on which the Nazis walked into government.

    The bourgeois parties of the Weimar Republic were unable to stem the tide of right populism. Let see whether they can do a better job now in regard to the AfD.

    • notmsparker
      Feb 27, 2018

      I absolutely agree with you, on both accounts: the historical and as far as the dangers lurking in Germany these days. let us hope people did learn something after all.

      • berlioz1935
        Mar 1, 2018

        I think efforts are being made to keep the AfD down. The agreement for a GroKo is such measure. New elections would be a disaster. The SPD really thought about it. They were hoping for a time of renewal in opposition but it was not to be. It is a pity the SPD is not getting rewarded for showing responsibility.

        Economical speaking, Germany was down after WW1. This time Germany is in good shape. The new government has to find a way to spread the wealth so it reaches the poorer people.

        It is all very complicated and even for people of good will it is not easy to find solutions.

        • notmsparker
          Mar 1, 2018

          No, it isn’T. You are absolutely right. It seems that the British motto “Keep calm and carry on” might be the only reasonable answer to all this.

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