Abstract: Information, Uncertainty, and Trust in German-Balkan Trade: A Case Study of the Leipzig Trade Fair 1920-1930

Stephen Gross


Historians and contemporary economists have argued that Nazi Germany established an informal empire in the Balkans during the 1930s by dominating the exports and imports of Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Yet the institutions that supported Germany's trade in the 1930s formed during the previous decade in direct response to the severe commercial problems that arose after World War I. German banks in the region had been nationalized, Germany's consular system was all but dismantled, and the reputation of German merchants was damaged by hyperinflation. German businessmen in the Balkans consequently faced problems of uncertainty and information. This paper shows how one institution, the trade fair in Leipzig, helped overcome the issues of uncertainty and information during the 1920s by building an extensive trading network across southeastern Europe that relayed economic news, found reliable agents for German firms, and advertised for German products and for Germany in general. The fair was Germany's largest and its representatives became the backbone of Germany's trade network in southeastern Europe during a decade when many firms were only slowly returning to the region. Ultimately, the fair helped lay the foundation for Germany's economic imperialism of the 1930s.