Germany repays First World War era reparations, twenty-one years after Berlin Wall fell

If you feel old when you remember hearing about the fall of Berlin Wall twenty-one years ago, or that East Germany and West Germany got back together a year after that, consider this: Germany has paid off all of its post-war debts. That includes all that it was obliged to pay to France and Belgium by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and the debt owed to foreign institutions by the Weimar Republic.

In simpler terms, ninety-two years after the end of World War I, and twenty years after reunification, all of Germany’s debts have been paid off.

The German newspaper Der Spiegel phrased it even better:

“The government will pay the last instalment of interest on foreign bonds it issued in 1924 and 1930 to raise cash to fulfil the enormous reparations demands the victorious Allies made after World War I.

Germany suspended annual payments in 1931 during the global financial crisis and Adolf Hitler unsurprisingly declined to resume them when he came to power in 1933.

But in 1953, West Germany agreed at an international conference in London to service its international bond obligations from before World War II. In the years that followed it repaid the principal on the bonds, which had been issued to private and institutional investors in countries including the United States.”

It’s impressive to me how this has all unfolded. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were rather harsh on Germany. Though the terms were later revised to be a little easier to repay, populist agitators like Anton Drexler, Karl Harrer, and their megalomaniacal insurgent successor Adolf Hitler were able to use the hyperinflation and great depression to rile the German middle class to support their programs of exclusion and hatred.

The First World War set the stage for all of the twentieth century that followed. Imperial Germany paid to smuggle V. I. Lenin into Russia, setting the stage for the October Revolution. Lenin later promised “peace, bread, and land” to the Russian people, though the crumbling tsarist empire struggled to hold onto power even after the two revolutions of 1917 were its ouster. President Woodrow Wilson’s opposition to the new Bolshevik regime set the stage for the Cold War, which effectively began after World War II. And the hyperpolitical nature of the German parliamentary republic, coupled with the overwhelming economic pressures of the 20s and 30s set the stage for Germany’s ultimate downfall in 1945.

Is there a lesson to be found in there? You tell me.


Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.