“Inflation” has dominated world news for months now. Most major economies are being battered by high inflation rates. The United States, Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom and the eurozone all have rates above 8 percent. And inflation is being blamed for the costs of everything from fuel to heating to food.
In parts of Europe, “inflation” is an especially dirty word that brings back painful memories.
We’re approaching the 100-year anniversary of Germany’s hyperinflation crisis. After it lost World War i, Berlin was desperate to keep its economy afloat while making foreign reparations. It didn’t have much money to spend; the war effort had sucked the economy dry. So the government chose to print money. This caused a hyperinflation crisis that culminated in late 1923. In January of that year, a loaf of bread cost 250 German marks; by November, it cost 200,000-million marks. That’s a 2 with 11 zeros after it.
Money became so worthless people were using banknotes to wallpaper their houses or to burn in their stoves instead of wood. One of my history professors gave the following analogy for the crisis: Imagine you’re a young person about to board the train from Berlin to Heidelberg (a prestigious college town) to go to university. Before you board the train, you have enough money to cover tuition, housing, food—everything. By the time you arrive, you don’t have enough to pay for the train ticket.
British economist John Maynard Keynes said in 1919:
[Vladimir] Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency …. [He] was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.
The inflation didn’t last too much longer. On Nov. 15, 1923, Germany’s central bank introduced a new currency, the Rentenmark. It also stopped monetizing Berlin’s debt. Both these moves halted the crisis and started the process of currency normalization. The rest of the 1920s was an economic boom for Germany, as it was for the rest of the Western world.
Germany’s hyperinflation crisis is a major event in most modern history textbooks. Not because of how it solved its economic problems, but because historians today see it as a harbinger of ominous times. Only a few days before the new currency was introduced in 1923, on November 8, Adolf Hitler made his infamous Beer Hall Putsch, where he tried to take over the Bavarian government. This was one of the major stepping-stones in his rise to power.
Hitler’s Nazis wouldn’t gain power in Germany for another decade. But when they did, they did so on the back of economic collapse. The Great Depression hit Germany especially hard. The Nazis surged in popularity with a promise to fundamentally transform German society from the failing system it was to one of strength.
The hyperinflation of the early 1920s showed how shaky the German economy was. One of the only reasons it was able to tread water economically was American loans under the Dawes Plan, in which the United States loaned Germany money to pay reparations to Britain and France. When U.S. money dried up with the stock market crash of 1929, Germany went under. And the nation was ready to listen to a demagogue who promised liberty from its economic shackles.
This makes the inflation hitting Europe today all the more concerning.
Since the coronavirus crisis began in 2020, governments around the world have been spending money they don’t have to prop up their economies. The U.S. spent over $5 trillion in coronavirus lockdown recovery packages. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, Germany spent the equivalent of roughly 10 percent of its gross domestic product on lockdown recovery. France spent roughly 15 percent of its gdp in public guarantees in 2020. In Austria, one 2021 financial recovery program caused a deficit of over 8 percent of gdp. Italy, whose debt-to-gdp ratio was roughly 150 percent last year, announced a scheme in 2020 to unlock an amount worth almost 50 percent of its gdp of liquid assets for coronavirus recovery.
In Germany’s 1920s hyperinflation crisis, America was there to bail Berlin out. This is no longer the case. America’s economy—with its $30 trillion-plus debt—is even shakier than Europe’s.
Spiegel International published an article on September 22 titled “Germany on the Brink.” It describes the general mood of many Germans about their economic future:
That the German economy will slide into recession this winter is no longer really a question. And there is growing evidence that it could become particularly severe—with a 10-fold increase in the exchange electricity price, numerous corporate bankruptcies and a permanently damaged economy. The losses in prosperity, says economist Michael Fratzscher, will be permanent. Germany, according to the forecasts, is in decline. …
This is uncharted territory for Germany. After nearly two golden decades of rising incomes, steady economic growth and little unemployment, a tough decade is looming. At least for those who aren’t happy about paying up to €1,000 more a month for gas and electricity, €3 for butter, and purchase prices of €1 million for a two-bedroom apartment. In other words, everyone but the top 10 percent of the country.
In a country usually characterized by economic and political prosperity, these are unusual times. Germany is the wealthiest and most populous country in the European Union. Its chancellor is often considered the unofficial leader of the bloc. If Germany of all countries is struggling, then circumstances are serious for all of Europe.
With no end to inflation in sight, where will Europe turn? What happens when circumstances get worse? What happens when recession turns into depression?
It’s a dangerous situation, and not just from an economic point of view. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest in the cities of Leipzig, Magdeburg and Pforzheim in recent weeks, and it’s possible this is only the beginning. Politicians in all camps are warning of the possibility of a “hot autumn,” some of a winter of rage, referring to possible protests and unrest. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is tasked with monitoring extremism, has set up a working group to investigate if a movement is materializing.
The fears are justified. People who feel left behind tend to gravitate toward the political fringes. Injustice, even if only a perceived unfairness, fosters populism and extremism.
Much of Europe is already turning to “populism and extremism.” Italy concluded its parliamentary elections on September 25. The Brothers of Italy, successor to Benito Mussolini’s fascist party, won the most seats. In Sweden’s parliamentary elections earlier this month, the far-right Sweden Democrats won the second-largest number of seats. Inflation isn’t the only reason people are being drawn to these kinds of parties, but economic mismanagement helps delegitimize the status-quo parties in favor of more radical alternatives.
Europe’s current economic woes are not on the level of the Great Depression—yet. But like the hyperinflation of 1923, they are a good sign that far worse times are ahead.
Germany’s solution before was to turn to a strongman. If historical parallels mean anything, the current situation suggests another is coming.
The Trumpet has been watching for the rise of a European strongman for decades. We watch for this development because of Bible prophecy. Revelation 13 and 17 prophesy of a strong European empire in the spirit of ancient Rome to come on the scene right before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. (Please request our free booklet Germany and the Holy Roman Empire for more information.)
Daniel 8:23 talks about this empire being led by “a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences,” or “one who understands riddles” (Revised Standard Version). Verse 24 talks about him having “mighty” power. Verse 25 states that he will “destroy many.” He will be in the mold of his predecessor, Adolf Hitler.
This man hasn’t appeared yet. But the circumstances that brought Hitler to power are again taking hold in Europe, especially Germany. It won’t be long before people look for somebody—anybody—to deliver them. The Bible prophesies that when this man comes, he will shake the world.
To learn more, please request a free copy of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire. Also read our Trends article “Why the Trumpet Watches the Rise of a German Strongman.”