What countries were trading with Germany during its pre-Nazi Weimar Republic era (1919-1930), and what goods did they trade? I've read a few references that just broadly state that Germany had no goods to trade, such as the Wikipedia article on the Weimar Republic that currently says:

The 1920s German inflation started when Germany had no goods to trade.

But, I haven't seen these claims backed by any facts or evidence. If they truly weren't trading anything with other countries, then the question is why not? Was it a question of resources, or were there political factors?

  • 2
    I'll look into it, but two excellent books on the topic, down to exact donnages are Götz Aly, Hitler’s beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007) and Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Allen Lane, 2006) Both focus on the period after Hitler takes power, but describe the Weimar Republic in detail for comparison. Also: No, the above quote is very wrong, will write more tomorrow.
    – Canageek
    Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 5:05
  • The export ? Consider that the Berlin government asked the workers in Ruhr to go home/or dont produce things after the french annexation/control of Ruhr. To pay for expenses the Berlin government started the money presses. Krauss/Borsig were producing locomotives for export for example (later on after Locarna to USSR for example.) Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


I should note that this is referring to the period of 1922 and 1923, as shown by this quote:

"In the popular mind, devaluation was inseparably connected with the experi- ence of hyperinflation. In 1922 and 1923 the plummeting value of the Reichsmark against the dollar had been the daily index of German misery." Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Allen Lane, 2006), 21

I actually had a large amount written on how the German currency didn't crash at the end of the 1920s, when this actually refers to the beginning of the 1920s, as later economic problems in Germany were actually caused by the German Government's refusal to devalue the currency. (Tooze, 21)

Now, I primarily have information on the mid-late 1920s and 1930s, so I'll give that:

During the 1920s and even moreso in the 1930s Germany was primarily an importer of goods:

"...between October 1925 and the end of 1928 the inflow of foreign capital was so large that Germany could make its reparations payments without even having to earn a surplus on its trade account. This was convenient for the British and French since it enabled them to insist on German payments without having to open their markets to billions of Goldmarks' worth of goods." Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Allen Lane, 2006), 6

At the start of the great depression, Germany actually had a trade surplus:

"A trade deficit of 2.9 billion Reichsmarks in 1928 was, by 1931, turned into a trade surplus of 2.8 billion Reichsmarks (see Appendix, Table A1)." Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Allen Lane, 2006), 17

However, it should be noted that

"This surplus, however, resulted not from rising exports but from the fact that due to the Depression, demand for foreign imports fell even more rapidly than German sales abroad. As factories shut down, and the blight of joblessness and poverty spread across German society, demand for foreign raw materials and consumer goods plummeted." Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Allen Lane, 2006), 17

We can rule out Germany exporting certain things, by references to what it had to import: Raw materials. Germany needed to import most raw materials, even food. (Tooze, 50, 73) In fact, Tooze notes that "The one resource that Germany did have in abundance was coal." (Tooze, 50)

This leaves manufacturing, which was in fact Germanies main export; It turned raw materials into goods for other nations:

"The livelihood of thousands of firms and millions of workers depended on finding custtomers abroad. The light manufacturing districts of central and eastern Germany, the great commercial cities of the Rhine valley, the port towns of the Baltic and the North Sea all earned their living through foreign trade." Tooze, 72

If you want things more specific you could look up the products of the leading German exporters:

"As he repeatedly made clear, he counted on the export power and financial muscle of companies like Siemens, AEG, IG Farben and the Vereinigte Stahlwerke." Tooze, 104

I can tell you that IG Farben was the worlds largest chemical company, and was a leader in polymers and synthetics, as well as just about every other chemical field.

Krupp was another major company in Germany, and was the second largest steel producer in the world (Tooze, 120)

Tooze also mentions that within Germany "the bulk production of commodities ranging from textile dyes to pharmaceuticals, sheet metal and light bulbs." is ongoing (Tooze, 139), and I happen to know from background knowledge that until WWII Germany is the only nation that knows how to produce tungsten-filament light-bulbs, a technology that had to be reverse engineered by the Allies in WWII, as tungsten-filaments are a critical component of vacuum tubes, which were needed for radios and anything else with a transistor. Tooze also mentions that "One step down from these corporate giants, there were literally hundreds of smaller mass-producers in Germany, making everything from screws to gas lamps and harmonicas." (Tooze, 139)

I hope this helps, though most of it assumes that the focus of the German economy didn't change between the 1920s and 1930s.

  • Thanks for the thorough answer! I'm not quite sure I would agree with the assessment that "refusal to devalue the currency" caused their economic problems. This is a very Keynesian viewpoint and modern complexity economics research generally shows the opposite. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 23:04
  • I do know that Aly and Tooze are both very respected in this feild, though they have some rather sever disagreements; As I recall, Tooze had an appendix that was basically "This is why Ally is wrong", so between them you should be able to find a fairly unbiased picture. I do encorage you to read both books if you are interested in the topic.
    – Canageek
    Commented Jun 10, 2012 at 2:38

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