The economy of the Weimar Republic was suffering greatly in the 1920’s due to the reparations that the republic was required to pay because of World War I. As a result of the bad economy, the middle class was almost completely wiped out, leaving only two basic classes of people, the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor. This caused the Weimar Republic to experience widespread unemployment, hunger, and malnutrition. Another result of the war and the rampant poverty was a large amount of beggars and cripples that were found on the streets of all the cities in Germany. Otto Dix’s triptych, Metropolis, shows the depravity of the situation that the Weimar Republic was facing after World War I.
In he center panel of Metropolis, Dix portrays the upper class of people in the Weimar Republic. In the foreground, we see a woman in a long, ornate dress. She is wearing a lot of jewelry, which makes it obvious that she is wealthy. There is a band playing in the room and we can see a couple dancing. All of the figures in this section of the triptych seem to be beautiful, carefree, and appear to be having a splendid time. By their actions, it is assumed that these people do not care at all about any other people than themselves. They are partying and seeming to have a good time while just outside, people are starving and resulting to prostitution to fill their basic human needs. This center scene contrasts greatly with the left and right sides of the triptych.
On the left and right hand portions of the triptych, Dix has painted two scenes of crippled war veterans and prostitutes. Even though both the scenes that Dix paints have the same subjects, there are obvious differences. In the right hand portion of the painting, Dix has painted high-class prostitutes. Dix brings this to the attention of his audience in a few different ways. The first is the way these prostitutes are dressed in a more similar fashion to the people in the center portion of the triptych than the prostitutes on the left hand portion. The material that their clothes are made of appears to be more expensive than the material used in the clothing of the prostitutes on the left hand side. The clothing of the women in the right hand panel displays female sexuality. The red dress and scarf of the woman in the foreground resembles the female vagina. Even the soldier on the right hand part of the painting looks more well to do than the soldiers on the left. He is sitting up saluting the prostitutes as they walk by him.
Low class prostitutes occupy the left hand portion of the painting. The background that Dix has painted these women on is dark and dreary. The cobblestone that they are walking on appears worn and cheap. The women are also painted under a bridge. The dog in the foreground of this portion appears to be upset and ready to attack the cripple who is attempting to move around on cheap prosthetic legs. The look on the standing cripples face is of pure lust. The other veteran in this painting is lying on the ground appearing to look up the skirt of the prostitutes that is walking by. By Dix painting the men in this manner, he is reducing these prostitutes and these men to the carnal beings that they are. The prostitutes in this portion of the triptych are dressed in clothing made of cheap material. The women have disgusted looks on their faces and appear more worn down than the prostitutes on the right hand portion of the painting. Though the group of prostitutes on the left side of the painting appears to be worse off than the ones on the right, both of these groups of women are corrupt and none of the women in either of these groups are considered respected members of society
In Metropolis, Dix shows us the differences in classes of the people in the Weimar Republic. He is showing us the pity he feels for both the prostitutes and cripples of Germany. By placing these three different classes right next to each other, Dix is showing the variation found in the quality of life between these groups.
Karcher, Eva. Otto Dix, 1891-1969: His Life and Works. Köln, Germany: Benedikt Taschen, 1988.