8 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 5

I am translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

In this installment, Ostwald describes the gambling craze:

An irresistible urge to gamble had taken hold of every segment of society. After the pressure of the war, there was a rash of gaming and dancing. A lot of people needed a way to relieve their overwrought nerves. There was also the ongoing economic squeeze, the secret and subtle inflation sickness. Everybody felt as if the floor was pitching and rolling beneath their feet. Many wanted to lose this sense of uncertainty in gaming, or numb themselves, while others were attracted by the money and the dazzling bustle.   
This was not simply the case in Berlin, but also in Chemnitz, Dresden, Breslau, Hamburg, Essen, Krefeld, and all over Germany. In the spa town of Nauheim the casino had to be closed. For a while at the beginning of 1919, gambling had been permitted throughout the night, since restricting opening hours only encouraged underground gaming dens. If the legitimate casinos closed at midnight, the gambling fiends would simply change locations; everything had been prepared earlier and was waiting in a hidden room nearby, so that only the bank had to be opened. By removing restrictions on gaming hours, the police hoped to put an end to the underground clubs. In fact, the casinos grew at such a rapid pace that by the middle of September they were all shut down. But not much was improved as a result. The registered clubs were soon allowed to reopen for card playing and other games. Only those places accused of rigged gaming were closed, such as the Schlesische Hof in Salzbrunn in July of 1919, and the casino in Bad Harzburg in July of 1921.