Life in 1920s Berlin wasn’t all erotic night games and wild sex. In the early part of the decade, I heard frightening stories about inflation that seemed unbelievable to me when I arrived in the city.
They were not.
When I came to Berlin as a dancer in 1928 with an all-girl revue, I lost my job when the show folded. (You can read about my escapade in Episode 1 of my Berlin Sex Diary when I met a monocled gentleman with a secret fetish for all the juicy details)
I was jobless. And like so many other Weimar Berliners, hungry and cold. I had no money. No personal belongings but a cloth coat, mended several times, cotton stockings and two pairs of shoes–brown and white pumps and my black tap shoes.
I discovered I wasn’t alone. Hardly anyone had money to buy coal to keep warm or bread to fill our bellies. What happened to the German monetary system in the 1920s?
I found many a Berliner who would shake their head then tell me the same story: After the end of World War I, the mark began its downward slide from 4.20 marks to a dollar to 60 then 75 marks by 1921.
Then things got worse. By 1922, the mark had dropped to 400 per dollar. But it didn’t stop there: the German currency sank further to 7,000 marks per dollar by early 1923 and continued to plummet.
I remember sitting in a moving picture show and watching the newsreels about how it took a wheelbarrow of ten- or twenty-mark notes to buy a loaf of bread in those days. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing until the woman sitting next to me in the darkened theater whispered that she remembered the day the mark fell to 160,000 per dollar in July 1923.
The day her husband shot himself.
Inflation nearly destroyed the middle class, she told me, grabbing my arm and holding it tight as she fought back tears, wiping out entire savings accounts.
And still the band of decadence played on.
Lady Eve Marlowe