The origins of the Republic, 1918–19

The end of World War One

By autumn 1918 it was clear that Germany would lose World War One. From November onwards a series of events occurred which became known as the German Revolution.

The Kiel Mutiny

On 3 November at the main German naval base in Kiel frustrated German sailors mutinied instead of following orders to attack the British Royal Navy. The sailor’s mutiny sparked rebellions all over Germany and in a matter of days led to the collapse of the German government which forced the ruling monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II, to abdicate on 9 November. Following his abdication Friedrich Ebert, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) became Chancellor (the equivalent of Prime Minister in Britain) and took power over Germany.

End of World War One - Germany surrenders

On 11 November 1918 World War One ended when an armistice was agreed with the Allies (Britain, France and the USA) and Germany surrendered.

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The armistice was signed by representatives of the new, civilian government, including Ebert and members of the SPD. This meant that later, their opponents started to call them the 'November Criminals' – people who had signed the armistice behind the Germany army’s back. This became known as the Dolchstoßlegende – the ‘stab-in-the–back’ theory.

The Weimar Republic

A map showing Weimar in Germany

In January 1919, elections had given the SPD party the most power. Shortly after, Friedrich Ebert, leader of the SPD became the first democratically chosen President. He and his party (which had won a majority of seats in election) started to draw up a new constitution for Germany. They met in the town of Weimar as Berlin was deemed too unsafe after the Spartacist uprising earlier in the month.

Although a considerable number of deputies (German MPs) voted against it, the new constitution was eventually approved and signed in August 1919. This government eventually became known as the ‘Weimar Republic’.