A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke describes to his wife the rising tide of popular unrest in Munich

In the last few days, Munich has lost some of its nothingness and stillness, the tensions of this time are evident even here. Everywhere, vast assemblies in beer-halls nearly every evening, speakers everywhere, of whom Professor Jaffe is evidently excellent, and where halls are inadequate, gatherings in thousands under the open sky. I also was one of the thousands on Monday night in the rooms of the Hotel Wagner.

Professor Max Weber of Heidelberg was speaking, a political economist rated one of the best of intellects and a fine orator, and then, discussing the anarchy and the fatiguing strain, more students, fellows from four years at the front – all so simple and frank, “men of the people”.

And though we sat round the beer-tables and between them so that the waitresses could only penetrate the dense human mass like weevils, it was not at all oppressive, not even for the breath; the fumes of beer and smoke and bodies did not seem oppressive, we barely noticed, so important was it and so obvious that things could be uttered whose time had at last arrived, and that the simplest and truest of these, in as much as they were presented more or less intelligently, were taken up by the huge crowd with heavy, massive acclamation.

Suddenly a pale, young worker stood up, and spoke quite simply. “Have you or you or you, have any of you offered an armistice? And yet we are those who should have done so, not these gentlemen at the top; if we could take over a radio station and speak as common folk to the common folk on the other side, peace would come immediately.”

I cannot say it half as well as he did, but suddenly when he had spoken this, a difficulty occurred to him, and with a moving gesture at Weber, Quidde and the other professors standing on the stage beside him, he went on: “Here, these professor chaps, they know French, they’ll help us say it right, as we mean it.”

Read more: The troops from around the world that served Britain in WW1

Such moments are marvellous, there have been all too few in Germany, where only intransigence found voice, or submission, itself in its own way only a participation in violence by the underdogs. We have a remarkable night behind us. Here also a council of soldiers, peasants and workers has been established with Kurt Eisner as the first president. The Bavarian republic declares that the people are promised peace and security....

It only remains to be hoped that this extraordinary upheaval will provoke reflection in people’s minds and not a fatal intoxication once all is over.

From a letter by Rilke to his wife, Clara Westhoff

Tomorrow: Peace talks

The '100 Moments' already published can be seen at: independent.co.uk/greatwar

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