For lack of a designated Weimar-era sub-forum, I felt it most appropriate to post this thread in the “Imperial Germany and Austro-Hungary” one.
The Kriegsdenkmünze 1914/18 des Kyffhäuserbundes [War Commemorative Medal 1914/18 of the Kyffhäuserbund] is surely the best-known and by far the most common of the many unofficial decorations of the Weimar era. For those unfamiliar with the background of this medal, first a bit of history:
Since 1917, plans had been made to institute a commemorative medal for participants in the Great War and, after the Kaiser and King of Prussia Wilhelm II. as well as all other German regents had agreed, the actual design process began in July 1918. Just a few months later, the collapse of the German monarchy, the subsequent political changes and the general chaos following the end of the war would put an end to this project.
However, the Kyffhäuserbund veterans' association felt the responsibility to revive it and in early 1919 made a petition to the office of the Reichs Chancellor towards the creation of a commemorative medal for the Great War of 1914/18. After the matter had been passed through several government ministries and undergone thorough deliberation and evaluation, the Reichswehrminister [Secretary of the Armed Forces] pointed out the various difficulties that the creation of such a medal would involve (not least the cost for an estimated 15,000,000 required medals) and recommended the cabinet not to institute such a medal.
The cabinet followed his proposal and in January 1921, the final decision was made that there would be no official decoration awarded for participation in World War I. This meant breaking with a long tradition: Such medals had existed since the wars of 1813/1815, but now, following the largest, bloodiest, most severe and most fateful conflict in all of Germany’s history, no such decoration would come to be.
Needless to say, this fact was extremely unpopular with WWI veterans who felt they were entitled to such a medal just like those who had fought in the earlier wars. (This wish would have been particularly strong in those who had served honorably but had not been awarded any decoration before the war was over.) In order to meet this demand and rectify the perceived injustice, a large number of unofficial decorations sprang up during the Weimar years, some awarded by already-existing veterans’ associations, some by new organizations that had been specifically created for this purpose, some born of genuine patriotic feelings, some primarily from good business sense.
Naturally, the Kyffhäuserbund, too, created its own medal, and in 1921, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Kyffhäuser-Denkmal [Kyffhäuser Memorial], the Kriegsdenkmünze 1914/18 des Kyffhäuserbundes was instituted.
The medal was designed by the renowned German sculptor and medalist Prof. Hermann Hosaeus (6 May 1875 – 26 April 1958), who was a member of the Kyffhäuserbund's board, where he functioned as an artistic adviser ["Künstlerischer Beirat"]. He had also designed the well-known WW1-era “Iron Time” medal given for gold donations.
The medal was oval, made of gilt bronze and measured 31 x 47 mm. It was worn from a ribbon in the traditional Imperial-era national colors of black, white and red.
Obverse and reverse view of the full-size medal and a miniature version:
Let's have a closer look at the design. The obverse of the oval medal shows a war-torn banner assaulted by lightning bolts. Above it is the motto “Blank die Wehr / Rein die Ehr” [rouhgly translated: “Shining arms / untainted honor”], on the left the first and last year of the war “1914 / 1918” and at the bottom, the designer’s name “HOSAEUS”:
The reverse features a famous quote by Field Marshal (and honorary President of the Kyffhäuserbund) Paul von Hindenburg , taken from his Armeebefehl [Army Order of the Day] of 12 November 1918: “Aufrecht u. [und] stolz gehen wir aus dem Kampfe, den wir über vier Jahre gegen eine Welt von Feinden bestanden. Hindenburg“ [„Upright and proudly, we emerge from the struggle in which we have perserved against a world of enemies for four years. Hindenburg”] Above this is the dedication “Für Treue im Weltkriege” [“For loyalty in the World War”] and below the words “Der Kyffhäuserbund”:
Obverse and reverse views of a mounted medal:
The medal could be awarded to all members of the Kyffhäuserbund who had served in WW1. Unsurprisingly, combat veterans wanted some device to go with their medal to visually distinguish themselves from those whose service had been in the rear areas or the homeland and so, in 1922, the Frontkämpfer-Abzeichen [Frontline Soldiers’ Device] was instituted. This was a pair of crossed swords made of gilt metal, to be worn on the medal ribbon. Officially, the swords were to be worn pointing upwards, but they are frequently found mounted the other way around, pointing downwards. It is generally believed that this was done by the wearers to symbolize their mourning for the lost war.
Obverse and reverse view of a mounted medal with the Frontkämpfer-Abzeichen:
However, this was not the final word in terms of ribbon devices. In 1927, the Sächsischer Militärvereinsbund [Saxon League of Military Associations] introduced a series of Schlachtenspangen [Battle-/Campaign Clasps], which proved immediately popular and were soon adopted by the other regional associations, too. There were a total of 76 “official” and another 23 “unofficial” clasps, covering all theaters, campaigns and major battles of the war. However, no more than 5 clasps could be awarded to or worn by an individual.
Obverse and reverse view of a mounted medal with the Frontkämpfer-Abzeichen and the “OST-GALIZIEN” [EASTERN GALICIA] clasp:
When all unofficial Weimar-era decorations were banned by new laws of 15 May 1934, the medal could no longer be worn, although some veterans ignored this and continued to wear the medal, sometimes side by side with the official decoration instituted that year, the Ehrenkreuz des Weltkrieges.