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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Hyperinflation 1922 – 1923 and the Rentenmark



Germany under the Weimar republic after World War 1 suffered badly financially. It had huge debts to pay and no gold reserves. It started printing money. A cycle of rising prices and wages followed. Some astute young men made killings in trading stocks and shares only to have their fortunes collapse shortly afterwards. Those living on fixed incomes suffered the most. Pensions and allowances became meaningless. Those in work encountered the inconvenience of having to turn their money into goods as soon as possible. There was a good trade in wheelbarrows – soon papers money was worth more as paper or kindling than as money and took up a lot of space, and once it was spent you needed to take home the preserved goods which were usually in tins and jars and therefore heavy.
 In the middle of all of this Käthe, Clara’s twenty-six-year-old daughter, marries. How would they pay for the wedding and importantly the dress? How did Clara survive this time? We know that Käthe married Hans Edler on 19 May 1923. At the moment we only hold a record of a registry office wedding. Possibly there was a church wedding as well, though the austerity of the times and Clara’s, Hans’ and Käthe’s great interest in science may have precluded this.
We know that Ernst senior was quite high up in the firm where he worked and therefore Clara would be receiving some sort of widow’s pension, presumably index-linked. Even in the 1920s she would be the sort of person to be allowed credit: she was clearly financially sound. The dressmaker may have been prepared to wait – especially if her own son was one of the bright young men who were trading successfully on the German stock exchange.
Even Clara, though, would have to turn cash into goods fairly quickly. Imelda the maid arrives in one scene with a wheelbarrow full of groceries.
Hans Lehrs junior describes an incident in his autobiography, Gelebte Erwartung, where he hesitates to buy a rucksack. When he returns to the shop, it has gone up in price. This is such a nice anecdote that it had to go into the story. I then needed to find a reason for why he decided to buy a rucksack at that time. I’m not going to give that away just yet, though. 
The Rentenmark was brought in on 15 November 1923. Its value was based on property and land and offered a pattern for secured loans that we still use today. This was only a temporary measure until the Reichsmark was brought in later. I know already that I have to make Clara able to understand this all very well. Later, she will use the deflation that occurs in the later 1920s to help her build the house on Schellbeg Street. I’ll probably therefore invent a conversation between her and possibly Ernst junior about the topic.   

Adam Ferguson's When Money Dies explains all about the German hyperinflation. 
    

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