DChoosing a title for a book that is as short as it is appropriate is an art in itself. Harald Jähner has succeeded in doing this again after his book “Wolfzeit”, which received the non-fiction book prize at the Leipzig Book Fair. “Höhenrausch” is the name of his story about Weimar. It is characterized by a great deal of spirit of optimism and euphoria, which, however, often contained something exaggerated and unstable. The exuberance and energy of the high-altitude intoxication threatened to turn into depression, madness and unconsciousness as part of the altitude sickness.
However, the analogy between medical and historical diagnostics should not be strained too much. Jähner is far from telling the 1920s as a history of pathology that was lost from the outset. Nor does he blindly pay homage to the democracy experiment of the time. One of the strengths of the book is that Weimar is not primarily based on the vanishing points of the history of German dictatorship or democracy, but rather that it emphasizes the states of uncertainty, intermediate positions and contradictions of the years between 1918 and 1933, above all along the lines of contemporary perception and experience.
Taking the perspectives of the former actors – whether the happy or the troubled – is enjoying some popularity these days. In place of big theses and long lines, short views, changing moods and subjective observations necessarily appear, which are to be framed by a rather crude political, cultural and social-historical framework. Jähner’s work also fits into this type of historiography. His skilfully composed, well-researched Weimar-Wimmelbuch works very well in its episodic narrative style. It is also excellently illustrated by a selection of photos that deserve special praise. In the end, however, new analytical starting points and fresh interpretations that stimulate productive debate are missing.
ballrooms and pleasure palaces
However, Jähner is a gifted storyteller and history teller, and it is a pleasure to embark on a fast-paced tour with him. Between the start and finish, he always follows the chronology, which is only subtly broken every now and then. Scenes from the revolutionary and post-war period make the beginning and are – like the entire book – characterized by paradoxical and contradictory constellations that deal with the juxtaposition of extraordinary violence and normal everyday life, with hate and hope, with inner turmoil and a longing for unity. This explosive imbalance increased even more in the years of inflation. “The experience of the creeping death of money,” writes Jähner, “changed people right down to their nerves.” They suffered from the “feeling of a complex unreality” that was to last beyond the years of blatant currency devaluation.