The Treaty of Versailles originally demanded German reparations of ℳ 226 billion:

In January 1921, the Allied Powers grew impatient and established the reparation sum at 226 billion gold marks. The Germans countered with an offer of 30 billion.

This was later reduced to ℳ 132 billion:

The London Schedule of Payments of 5 May 1921 established "the full liability of all the Central Powers combined, not just Germany alone," at 132 billion gold marks. This sum was a compromise promoted by Belgium—against higher figures demanded by the French and Italians and the lower figure the British supported—that "represented an assessment of the lowest amount that public opinion ... would tolerate".

The Goldmark (gold mark) was the currency of the German Empire, and Versailles fixed the values of the "papiermark" at 1914 prices.

In order to relate this to today's economics I would be interested to know what 226 billion was as a percentage of overall German GDP. The only figure I can obtain is expressed in 1960 US dollars. I need to know what it was in Gold Marks.

Does anyone know of a way of finding out?

  • 1
    Hantke and Spoerer write that "reparation payments were indeed a severe economic burden for Germany" and that "the German economy was deprived of between one and 2.2 billion Reichsmark (RM) annually, which amounted in the late 1920s to nearly 2.5 per cent of Germany's GDP". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_reparations#Modern
    – rs.29
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 17:54
  • @rs.29 Thank you for that. On that basis the annual GDP was of the order of 100 billion RM. I know the figures were significantly modified under the Dawes Plan. I'm not sure if interest was applied, but assuming it wasn't and the annual amount stayed at 2.2 billion it would have taken roughly 100 years to pay off 226 billion. (This was the figure I got from Ian Kershaw's Hitler 1889-1936 p.157 ). That would be the equivalent of Britain, in 2018, having to pay off US$ 57billion annually - roughly our annual defence budget, including the maintenance of our independent nuclear deterrent.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 18:21
  • 1
    Well, only saving grace for Germany was they didn't have large defense budget - their army and navy were severely curtailed :)
    – rs.29
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 18:24
  • @rs.29 But they were desperately in need of post-war reconstruction. Chaos and even starvation were widespread in 1919.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 22:33
  • @WS2: I was trying to source the claim of 226b and I saw that WP notes a smaller sum was actually demanded. I made the edit -- if you disagree and want the original claim converted, please revert or modify.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 6:24

2 Answers 2


Simon Kuznets only came up with the GDP in the 1930's and he was not particularly happy with the measure he created. GDP for any time before that, therefore, is more of an estimate as economists need to reverse engineer what they can from census data and similar statistical information.

German GDP in 1913 is established as by Myszczyszyn in 'Use of econometric modelling to evaluate the impact of the railways on economic growth of German reich (1879–1913)'. I am not fully convinced as these numbers don't make sense. I'm also not sure about the reference to "1956".

Overall GDP grew much faster than per capita; in 1879 it amounted to 18.08 bln marks (M), while being 845 bln M in 1913–1956. The average annual GDP growth rate during that period was 3.01%, which meant the product doubled within approximately 24 years.

GDP per capita, which is a better measure for determining social welfare, grew much slower; it was 475 bln M in 1879 and it reached 873.76 bln M in 1913, the average annual growth rate was 1.73%. That was due to rapid population growth in Germany.

When I try the same geometric progression from 1879 to 1913 for the GDP, I get a 1913 value of ℳ 51.0 bln. Even extending this to 1956 only gives a total of 177 bln. The GDP per capita geometric progression makes sense (I get the same value), but the "bln M" claim is preposterous. These numbers should, therefore, be treated with the uttermost care!

Alternatively, the net national product (NNP) is estimated as a compromise value of ℳ 53.7 bln by Burhop and Wolff in 'A Compromise Estimate of German Net National Product, 1851-1913, and Its Implications for Growth and Business Cycles'. However, the NNP is a wildly different measure to the GDP and not very helpful in determining the other.

How the Great War affected German GDP is a tough question and the answer doesn't seem to be clear-cut. Baten and Schulz estimated that the GDP in 1917 was 69% of the 1913 value. 1918 would have reduced this further and the territories lost in the peace treaty would have had a similar effect.

Most of the other research that comes up only cites relative values -- percentage of the Net Domestic Product compared to 1913. As such, we also have:

enter image description here

The oft-cited work by Hoffman is 'Das deutsche Volkseinkommen 1851-1957', and nearly all values are quoted with respect to this. I suspect it may contain better numbers, but it only seems to be available on paper as well as in German.

If we take the above estimates of 1919 NDP being about 72% of the 1913 values (quite close agreement!) and assume that the NNP, GDP, and NDP went through similar declines through the war period (I'm already able to guess what some of the below comments are going to say...), we get a value of ℳ 38.6 for the NNP in 1919 (in 1913 Goldmark).

The original Versailles' Treaty value of ℳ 226 is nearly six years' worth of NNP, while the reduced ℳ 132 bln is 3.5 years' NNP. I speculate that the ratio might hold even if the actual GDP is different. Better economists than me can point out how wrong this comparison is.

Lastly, a note on Goldmark conversion from the Bundesbank:

The Goldmark is a special case insofar as it was neither a legal unit of currency nor legal tender, but a short name for the monetary value (price) of a given amount of fine gold payable in monetary tokens of the relevant official currency, ie the Mark from 1876 to 1924, and the Reichsmark from 1924 to 1948. Generally speaking, a Goldmark corresponded to the price of 1/2790 kilogram of fine gold.

Up to the outbreak of the First World War, the legal gold parity at the time meant that one Goldmark was equivalent in value to one Mark. When the Reichsbank suspended the exchange of banknotes for gold on 31 July 1914, the value of the Goldmark in paper Mark increased with rising inflation according to developments in the US dollar exchange rate. On 20 November 1923, the Mark’s exchange rate against the Goldmark and the US dollar, which was likewise on a gold standard, was stabilised. Subsequently, and until the introduction of the Reichsmark on 11 October 1924, the Goldmark had a consistent value of 1 trillion Mark.

The accompanying 'Purchasing power equivalents' notes (alongside "major uncertainty") that ℳ 1 in 1913 would have been worth €5.40 in 2019 on PPP while ℳ 1 in 1919 would have been worth €1.10 though in the above research, most people took care to reference the 1913 Goldmark.

  • 2
    Nice research job! Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 8:34
  • Congratulations on what seems to be a fine piece of research. So we are saying that Versailles required reparations of about 6 times Germany's national income (subsequently reduced to about 3.5 times). Is that right?
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 12:02
  • @WS2: Yes, the way I would treat those numbers is that it would be the full net product of 3.5 years' output of post-war Germany. I wish more economic comments had been posted here to reflect potential pitfalls with this analysis.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 13:41
  • But it does underline the words of one of my history lecturers, which were "Germany would have had a Hitler, even if the young corporal had been killed in the first world war".
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 19:15

You said that you could only find the answer in 1960 US dollars. I found a site (https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/) that gives us the value of a 1960 dollar compared to 2020 (866%) so you should be able to find the value by simply multiplying it by 8.66. You might want to double-check me though.

  • 1
    The OP is looking for the GDP in Gold Marks so I am not sure how this helps. Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 0:50

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