Die Weltbühne

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Die Weltbühne (English: "The World Stage") was a German weekly magazine focused on politics, art, and business. The Weltbühne was founded in Berlin on 7 September 1905 by Siegfried Jacobsohn and was originally created strictly as a theater magazine under the title Die Schaubühne. It was renamed Die Weltbühne on 4 April 1918.[1] After Jacobsohn's death in December 1926, Kurt Tucholsky took over the leadership of the magazine, which he turned over to Carl von Ossietzky in May 1927. The Nazis banned the publication after the Reichstag fire, and its last issue appeared on 7 March 1933. In exile the magazine was published under the title Die neue Weltbühne ("The New World Stage"). After the end of World War II, it appeared again under its original name in East Berlin, where it endured until 1993. In 1997 the magazines Ossietzky and Das Blättchen appeared, following the model of Die Weltbühne.

Weltbühne cover, 12 March 1929

With its famed small, red booklet, it was the key forum of expression for leftist, socialist intellectuals during the Weimar Republic. More than 2600 authors wrote for the paper between 1905 and 1933. In addition to Jacobsohn, Tucholsky, and Ossietzky, the contributors included prominent writers and journalists like Erich Kästner, Alfred Polgar, Arnold Zweig, Manfred George, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Else Lasker-Schüler. Other regular contributors included Julius Bab, Erich Dombrowski, Axel Eggebrecht, Herbert Eulenberg, Hellmut von Gerlach, Moritz Heimann, Kurt Hiller, Erich Mühsam, Rudolf Arnheim, Gabriele Tergit, Richard Lewinsohn, Fritz Sternberg and Heinrich Ströbel.

Even at its high point, Die Weltbühne had a relatively low printing of 15,000 copies. It still had several journalistic coups, including the discovery of the Veim murders in the Schwarze Reichswehr paramilitary groups as well as reports about the secret rearmament of the military, which later led to the so-called Weltbühne-Prozess. The printing of Tucholsky's famous sentence "Soldiers are murderers" also led to charges against the publisher Ossietzky.

Origin and development[edit]

The foundation of Die Weltbühne was the result of a plagiarism affair that involved the 23-year-old theater critic Siegfried Jacobsohn. On November 12, 1904, the newspaper Berliner Tageblatt reported parallels between reviews written by Jacobsohn and Alfred Gold. At this time, Jacobsohn was working as a theater critic for the newspaper Welt am Montag. Being known as a disputatious critic and therefore not well liked by some part of the media and the theaters, the newspaper decided to dismiss Jacobsohn due to the public outrage. After being dismissed, Siegfried decided to travel through Europe for multiple months and to create his own newspaper with a focus on theater criticism. The period of his life from the plagiarism affair until the foundation of his newspaper Die Schaubühne was described by Jacobsohn in his paper Der Fall Jacobsohn.

The newspaper's history can be divided into several periods of development: theater (1905-1913), opening to politics (1913-1918), revolution and republic (1918-1926), and fight against National Socialism (1927-1933).

Theater (1905-1913)[edit]

Until 1913, the newspaper's focus was on "the whole interests of theater" as indicated by the newspaper's subtitle. In the opening article of the first issue of the newspaper, titled Zum Geleit, Jacobsohn described his conviction that "the character of a nation and a specific time is more strongly expressed in drama than in any other form of literature".

The first four issues of the newspaper contained a quote of Friedrich Schiller's essay The theater as a moral institution as a slogan: As visible presentation appeals mightier than dead letter and cold narration, so does the theater appeal deeper and longer than morale and laws. This was an indication of how Jacobsohn wanted people to see his enterprise: as enlightenment in the terms of classicism. However, the popularity of art debates at that time was also caused by the fact that arts was less restricted in the German empire under Wilhelm II. than politics and journalism.

In the initial phase of the newspaper, the most important contributors were the theater critics Julius Bab, Willi Handl and Alfred Polgar. In subsequent years, writers such as Lion Feuchtwanger and Harry Kahn as well as the theater critic Herbert Ihering joined the enterprise. In November 1908, Feuchtwangers magazine Der Spiegel was fused with Die Schaubühne.

As a theater critic, Jacobsohn opposed the views of Alfred Kerrs. In contrast to Kerrs, Jacobsohn was a strong critic of naturalism, and regarded the works of Max Reinhard as a theater head and director as more valuable than those of Otto Brahm. However, Jacobsohn disapproved of Reinhards orientation toward mass theater in circus rings from 1910 which led to the construction of the Großes Schauspielhaus (Great Theater House) in Berlin.

Opening to politics (1913-1918)[edit]

On January 9, 1913, the 23-year-old law student Kurt Tucholsky published his first article in Die Schaubühne. Already during his first year of working with Jacobsohn, Tucholsky became the newspaper's most important contributor.

In order to not have the newspaper look as if most of the articles were written by the same author, Tucholsky wrote under three pseudonyms since 1913: Ignaz Wrobel, Theobald Tiger und Peter Panter. He kept these pseudonyms during his writing career. Under the influence of Tucholsky, the character of the newspaper should be changed soon. Already in March 1913, the first answers were printed. The idea behind this category was to react on letters to the newspaper that were authored by real or fictitious readers of the newspaper. More important, however, was Jacobsohn's decision to open his newspaper to topics from politics and economics. On September 25, the economics lawyer Martin Friedlander wrote about monopolies in the tobacco industry of the United States of America under the pseudonym Vindex. Jacobsohn commented on this article in a fictitious "answer" in which he emphasized that it was important to look at other topics despite focusing only on theater for the previous nine years. He wrote that the isolated consideration of one topic offers incentives and advantages but also dangers.

During the first world war, Jacobsohn managed to publish his newspaper regularly despite difficult circumstances. Since August 1914, each issue opened with a political editorial that represented a patriotic point of view. In November 1915, the journalist Robert Breuer, under the pseudonym Cunctator, started a series of articles that dealt critically with the politics of the German government and the political state of the country. The series culminated in the article The crisis of capitalism, ending with the conclusion that only the international proletariat can overcome the nationally disguised capitalism.

Because of this article, Die Schaubühne was initially banned from publication. However, Jacobsohn managed to keep the newspaper in print by agreeing to a pre-censorship. Under his new pseudonym Germanicus, Breuer worked again for the newspaper since January 1916. Despite the patriotic and nationalistic meaning of his new pseudonym, his comments in the paper always criticized the annexion demands of the Alldeutscher Verband. After his younger brother died in the war in 1915, Jacobsohn fiercely affirmed to being a pacifist. In 1916, the newspaper printed ads for signing war bonds. It has not been confirmed if these ads supported the newspaper financially and therefore had an influence on securing the survival of the newspaper. Overall, the image of the newspaper was not clearly pacifistic. This caused later negative criticism by, for example, Franz Pfemfert and Karl Kraus.

The transition from solely focusing on theater criticism to a "magazine for politics, arts, and economics" caused Jacobsohn to rename his newspaper to Die Weltbühne.

Revolution and republic (1918-1926)[edit]

After the initial successes of the German spring offensive in 1918, Robert Breuer changed his anti-annexation point of view and also deviated from the previous views expressed in the newspaper in other areas. The differences between the MSPD supporter Breuer and Jacobsohn who became more and more supportive of the USPD led to the end of Germanicus. During the November Revolution, Die Schaubühne did not follow a common political direction. From March 1919 to October 1920, the political editorials were written by the social democrat Heinrich Ströbel.

On November 21, 1918, Jacosohn published the program of the Rat geistiger Arbeiter (English: council of headworkers) to which he belonged himself for a short period of time. He left the council because he did not want to spend time on a debate club. Instead, he wanted to use that time for his editing work in the newspaper. Soon the newspaper critically discussed the cooperation between social democracy and the German army as well as the insufficient purging of public officials who were monarchistic or anti-republic.

In March 1919, Tucholsky defended against the accusation that the republic was not seen positively in his article Wir Negativen (English: Us The Negatives).

In the following years, the view point of Die Schaubühne was strictly pacifistic and anti-militaristic and asked the republic for a harsh reaction on the numerous political killings. Even during the Occupation of the Ruhr, the paper demanded compliance with the conditions of peace set in the Treaty of Versailles.

Therefore, the paper also supported reconciliation with the enemies from the first world war. The newspaper needs to be especially credited for its reporting on the Feme murders within the Black Reichswehr. Although Jacobsohn knew that this brought him into great personal danger, he published the corresponding notes of Carl Mertens on August 8, 1925.

Carl von Ossietzky, a political publicist, joined the paper in April 1926, and was the main figure in the further development of the newspaper. He became an editor and wrote the political editorials. With the sudden death of Jacobsohn on December 3, 1926, however, the continuation of Die Weltbühne was unclear. At this time, the paper had reached a printing of 12,500 copies.

Fight against National Socialism (1927-1933)[edit]

After the death of Jacobsohn who had mentored him, Tucholsky stopped working as a correspondent in Paris and went back to Berlin where he became the main publisher of Die Weltbühne. The widow Edith Jacobsohn took over management of the newspaper in 1927. Soon, however, it was clear that Tucholsky was not pleased with his position as the newspaper's publisher. Therefore, in May 1927, Ossietzky took Tucholsky's job and was named publisher officially from October 1927, under the cooperation of Kurt Tucholsky, as it said on the newspaper's title page. Although von Ossietzky was a very different type of editor than Jacobsohn, he kept the general style and view point of the newspaper. However, the letters of Tucholskys to his wife Mary Gerold indicated that he was not satisfied with Tucholsky's work as an editor. Only during the next years, the relationship between the two journalists came closer in content of the paper as well as personally. In May 1932, Tucholsky finally acknowledged that Ossietzky caused a huge boom for the newspaper.

This boom was also reflected in the circulation of the newspaper which reached its maximum at 15,000 copies in the beginning of the 1930s. The reading groups which were formed in many German cities and even in South America showed the impact of the paper. Outside of these groups, the paper attracted attention by lawsuits with the Ministry of the Reichswehr about the anti-militaristic reporting done by the paper's journalists. The climax of these conflicts was the so-called Weltbühne-Prozess in which Ossietzky and the journalist Walter Kreiser were sentenced to 18 months in prison.

In the end of the Weimar Republic, the newspaper was mainly focused on the fight against the Travel into the Third Reich (Tucholsky). A small number of articles still dealt with cultural life. However, Tucholsky resigned in the beginning of 1932 and published his own writings only infrequently. In Mai 1932, Hellmut von Gerlach took over as editor because of Ossietzky's time in prison. During this time, Walther Karsch was assigned the role of the main editor in terms of the press law. In the summer of the same year, Ossietzky was charged because of Tucholsky's writing that soldiers are murderers. However, the court acquitted Ossietzky. He was granted an amnesty and released from prison during Christmas 1932.

After the National Socialists came into power on January 30, 1933, a ban of the newspaper was expected. In the night of the Reichstag fire from February 27 to 28 1933, Ossietzky and some of his coworkers were arrested. After Hellmut von Gerlach had fled, Walther Karsch became the head editor of the paper. Karsch was later known as one of the founders of the Berliner Tagesspiegel. The last issue of the newspaper was printed on March 14, 1933, but not delivered anymore. Therefore, the last issue that was both printed and delivered was from March 7, 1933 (Nr. 10). It ended with this defiant statement: Denn der Geist setzt sich doch durch (English: The mind prevails anyway).


  • Die Schaubühne. Vollständiger Nachdruck der Jahrgänge 1905–1918. Athenäum Verlag, Königstein/Ts. 1978–1980
  • Die Weltbühne. Vollständiger Nachdruck der Jahrgänge 1918–1933. Athenäum Verlag, Königstein/Ts. 1978
  • Die Wiener Weltbühne. Nachdruck der Originalausgabe. 1. Jahrgang 1932. o.A.
  • Die neue Weltbühne. Nachdruck der Originalausgabe. 2. Jahrgang der Wiener Weltbühne, 1. Halbjahr 1933. o.A.
  • Die neue Weltbühne. Nachdruck der Originalausgabe Prag/Paris 4/1933–8/1939.


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