The Telephone

Throughout history, little things, innocent and commonplace in themselves, have had a way of featuring largely in great events. In the case of Germany's Weimar Republic the `innocent little thing' was a telephone. Just an ordinary telephone like hundreds of thousands of others installed by the Imperial German Post Office in government offices, private apartments, or wherever else a telephone was desired. This particular telephone-Number 988 was one of three identical instruments standing on the desk of the Heich Chancellor in his private room on the second floor of the Reich Chancellery building in Berlin's Wilhelmstrasse.
Telephone 988's appearance oil the stage of history came on the night of 9th November 1918. The clock which faced a Lenbach portrait of Bismarck, the German Empire's first Reich Chancellor, showed that it was already past eleven p.m. Friedrich Ebert, the Chairman of' the Social Democrat Party, who that afternoon had taken over the job of the Reich Chancellor from Prince Max of Baden, was agitatedly pacing up and down the room.
Even at this late hour he could hear the shouts of demomstrators in the streets around the Chancellery. From the Schloss, the Kaiser's equivalent of Buckingham Palace, occasional shots whined through the darkness, fired by the rebellious sailors from the naval base Keil who had seized the palace that afternoon and were now looting it.
The police were useless.Emil Eichhorn, a member of' the extreme left-wing Independent Socialists, who had been employed as a telegraphist at the newly-established Soviet Russian embassy, had marched into the headquarters of the Berlin police at the head of' an armed mob that morning and had installed himself' as Chief' of Police. The regular police had not so much as challenged him, let alone tried to resist. They had stacked their arms in neat piles in the yard, discarded their uniforms,

Image: The frenzied spirit of post-war Germany is captured in this collage by Hannah Hoech, a member of the 'dada' movement which emphasised the meaningfulness of the absurd

Back toTable of Contents