Weimar Germany has always exercised a fascination over the outside observer: from Christopher Isherwood’s I Am a Camera, and Goodbye to Berlin to the recent Tommy Tune Broadway hit version of the old classic Grand Hotel. It offers a stark and sick exaggeration of the dilemmas of modernity: the avant avant-garde of the culture, the abrupt changes in morality, the political reformism, the first highly developed welfare state. And in addition there is the poignance of imminent doom, a kind of appeal of the Titanic. Viewed from the political watershed of 1933, Weimar presents a grim warning. The result is that it can easily be sentimentalized, or turned into a facile political lesson (or indeed both at the same time). In his memoirs, Golo Mann avoids these dangers of Weimartology.

Weimar also attracted some notable studies by insiders. These were men and women who...

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