Moderate Modernity: The Newspaper Tempo and the Transformation of Weimar Democracy
In ‘Moderate Modernity: The Newspaper Tempo and the Transformation of Weimar Democracy’, Assistant Professor of Cultural History Jochen Hung traces a history of “Germany’s most modern newspaper” through the rise of the Nazis and the collapse of Germany’s first democracy
The voice of a generation
Focusing on the fate of a Berlin-based newspaper during the 1920s and 1930s, ‘Moderate Modernity’ chronicles the transformation of a vibrant and liberal society into an oppressive and authoritarian dictatorship.
Tempo proclaimed itself as “Germany’s most modern newspaper” and attempted to capture the spirit of Weimar Berlin, giving a voice to a forward-looking generation that had grown up under the Weimar Republic’s new democratic order. The newspaper celebrated modern technology, spectator sports, and American consumer products, constructing an optimistic vision of Germany’s future as a liberal consumer society anchored in Western values.
The history of Tempo teaches us how liberal democracies can create and nurture their own worst enemies.
Changes in vision
The newspaper’s idea of a modern, democratic Germany was undermined by the political and economic crises that hit Germany at the beginning of the 1930s. The way the newspaper described German democracy changed under these pressures. Flappers, American fridges, and modern music – the things that Tempo had once marshalled as representatives of a German future – were now rejected by the newspaper as emblems of a bygone age.
The changes in Tempo’s vision of Germany’s future show that descriptions of Weimar politics as a standoff between upright democrats and rabid extremists do not do justice to the historical complexity of the period. Rather, we need to accept the Nazis as a lethal product of a German democracy itself. The history of Tempo teaches us how liberal democracies can create and nurture their own worst enemies.