For a short period in the mid to late 1920s, between wars, Berlin achieved a cultural renaissance. The details, and reasons behind the recovery, are still contested. The city had come out of the smoldering ashes of the old Imperial order, and the gruesome deadlock of World War I in a hyperinflated disaster. Resources were depleted, political turmoil was everywhere, and Germany had been pushed away from the table by the winning allied powers.
Despite this, Germany, and particularly the growing metropolis of Berlin enjoyed some recovery, or at least leveled off, and slowed the tailspin the country was in. The city became the most industrialized in Europe, artistic achievement flourished, great literature was written by Mann and Hesse, and the German economy began to stabilize. Berlin was also becoming an Americanized city, inspired by Hollywood and the success of New York City, “Berliners looked longingly across the Atlantic and tried to become like a piece of America in Europe” (Alexandria Richie, Faust’s Metropolis).
One of the key elements of the partial recovery was the Dawes act, which enabled to German backs to use collateral (railroads, industrial equipment, etc.) to get short term loans from American banks to pay back the burdensome debt the Allied powers levied on Germany after World War I. Alexandra Richie describes the effect of the Dawes plan:
“The scale of borrowing soon reached fantastic proportions: between 1924 and 1931 Germany received 33 billion marks in (mostly American) short term loans, and it was for this reason that 1920s Berlin was characterized by a surge of apparent prosperity, growth, easy money and optimism” (Richie, 329).
In this context, Berlin became a very decadent city. People would rush to the bars and cabarets to spend their money by night, because by day, the still high inflation rates threatened the value of that money by day. “Americans might have flocked to Paris in the 1920s,” explains Tony Perrottet, author of the offbeat collection of historical tales, Napoleon’s Privates: 2,500 years of History Unzipped, “but the really wild and crazy guys preferred Berlin… Up and down the grand boulevards, frenzied partygoers, fueled by high-octane cocktails, morphine and exotic designer drugs like petals of white roses frozen in chloroform and ether, ‘writhed like creeping plants… in the blue lights of bars.’”
Many of the entertainment destinations were bizarre, while others stood as a “precursor to Las Vegas,” and were grand in scale. Haus Vaterland, a “domed entertainment complex that took up a whole city block,” proclaimed that it was every nation under one roof, and housed a dozen culturally themed restaurants, each with it’s own live acts. Even more amazing was the Residenz-Casino on Blumenstrasse, where, at it’s peak in 1928, housed 86,000 electric lights, “reflected off spinning mirror balls that opened like geysers…” Each of the tables in the complex had it’s own numbered phone, and a complex system of pneumatic tubes which allowed patrons to send gifts to any other table.