Otto von Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck was one of the most important figures in German history. He was not only a skilled diplomat and used his intelligence partly unscrupulously for his purposes, he was also one of the pioneers for the unification of Germany to a united German Empire. As the first chancellor of the German empire, Bismarck is still revered and valued today.




Origin and teenage years:

Otto was born on 1 April 1815 as the second son of Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Bismarck Luise Wilhelmine in Stendal, a province of Saxony. With Karl Wilhelm as his father, Otto was already born into a noble family, the so-called Junker family, which sprang from manor owners.

Otto spent his first years, after the resettlement in 1816 of the family, on the estate Kniephof in the district of Naugard in Pomerania.

Due to the bourgeois background of his mother, what was important to her that her children were not only educated and raised as Junker, but should enter the civil service to make a career there. Thus Otto was sent in 1821 at the age of six to the Plamann School of Education in Berlin, in which other senior officials of Prussia sent their children. There Otto got to know an education that was designed for drill and German truism. This also developed Otto's ability to disallow authority, which will play a crucial role in his later life.


Otto von Bismarck als Knabe, Kreidezeichnung von Franz Krüger, Berlin 1826

Otto von Bismarck as a boy, chalk drawing by Franz Krüger, Berlin 1826




Study, training and military service:

At age 17 Otto graduated from high school and began on May 10, 1832, the study of law at the University of Göttingen. This he continued from November 1833 at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, where he graduated in 1835 his first state examination. He then worked in the unpaid position of the first judicial training (Auskultator) at the Berlin City Court. However, a short time later, he moved from the judiciary in the administrative area. As Otto quickly became bored with everyday bureaucracy, he began to travel through Germany with various love affairs. As a result, he passed his 14-day vacation significantly and lost his clerkship on his return. Although he was able to resume his training in Potsdam, but here he decided after a few months to cancel this.


Otto von Bismarck als 19-jähriger Student in Göttingen

Otto von Bismarck as a 19-year-old student in Göttingen


In 1838 Otto began his 1-year military service in the Guards Hunters Battalion. In the autumn he moved to the Jäger Battalion No. 2 in Greifswald in Western Pomerania, where he also prepared to lead the family business at the Royal State and Agricultural Academy Eldena in order to pursue an activity after his military service.




The takeover of the family farms:

Otto's mother died in 1839 and together with his older brother Bernhard he began to farm the family farms Kniephof, Külz and Jarchlin. In 1841, Bernhard's election to the district administrator and Otto took over in 1845 after the death of his father, the leadership of the family Schönhausen near Stendal.

Through his 10 years in managing the manors, Otto has gained a lot of experience in agricultural management. But even this activity did not fill him completely.




The entry into politics:

After the election of his brother to the district administrator, Otto also began to contribute politically. His first activities were at the local level and as an advisor to his brother. During this time he also made contact with the leading conservative politicians brothers Ernst Ludwig and Leopold Gerlach. This also developed Otto's political orientation, which should be awarded the nobility more rights again.

1846 was his first appointment to a public office as dike captain in Jerichow. 1847 followed the convocation in the Saxon provincial parliament. In his local speeches, he quickly made a name for himself in conservative circles, but his extreme political stance did not fully support the politicians.




The professional politician:

After being summoned to the Prussian Parliament in January and July 1849, Otto decided to devote himself fully to politics. For this he moved extra with his family to Berlin to establish himself as one of the first professional politicians of Prussia.


Bismarck (rechts) und König Friedrich Wilhelm IV. 1848 (Zeichnung von Hermann Lüders)

Bismarck (right) and King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. 1848 (drawing by Hermann Lüders)


Here, Otto showed himself particularly as opponents of the aspired by German Friedrich Wilhelm IV aspired German Union, which should be more conservative and federalist than the previous variant. For Otto, this meant a significant weakening of Prussia if that state merged into an All-German state. Despite his aversion to a new Union, Otto was elected to the People's House of the Erfurt Union Parliament and became a secretary in him.

At the request of his acquaintance Leopold von Gerlachs Otto was appointed on August 18, 1851 Prussian envoy to the Bundestag in Frankfurt, at that time one of the highest political offices in Prussia. In his position as Bundestag envoy Otto made no secret of his rejection of Austria and his endeavor to further expand the position of power of Prussia. After the Crimean War he also advocated a diplomatic approach to Russia and France, thus isolating Austria. With his memorandum he not only triggered protests but also his former good acquaintances the Gerlach brothers distanced themselves from Otto.


Das Palais Thurn und Taxis in Frankfurt, Sitz des Bundestages, um 1900

The Thurn und Taxis Palace in Frankfurt, seat of the House of Representatives, around 1900


Bismarck als Bundestagsgesandter, 1858

Bismarck as Politician, 1858


In January 1859 Otto was sent as ambassador to St. Petersburg. At first it seemed to Otto that he should be politically deported by this circumstance, but he took the time and gained extensive diplomatic knowledge and made friends with the Russian imperial couple. In 1862 he was sent as ambassador to Paris, where Otto wanted to use this site only as a springboard for higher posts in Prussia.




The appointment as Prime Minister:

In the course of 1862, the fronts between the King and the Parliament in Berlin hardened over a much-needed army reform. The Prussian army was to be enlarged and modernized in the course of this, but it lacked the proponents in the parliament of support. When the parliament was dissolved in March and new elections took place, contrary to the hope of the king, the newly formed Progress Party won and the Conservatives had to cope with considerable losses of votes. From this point of view, King William I thought even of abdication, but under the pressure of General Roon this finally agreed to order Bismarck from Paris back to Berlin and use him as Prime Minister in order to enforce the reform against the will of Parliament.


Otto von Bismarck, Kriegsminister Albrecht von Roon und Generalstabschef Helmuth von Moltke (von links nach rechts)

Otto von Bismarck, Minister of War Albrecht von Roon and Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke (from left to right)


Otto arrived in Berlin on September 20, 1862, and was summoned to the king two days later. In this conversation Otto underscored his loyalty to the king, advocated at the same time a period of dictatorship to carry out necessary reforms. Wilhelm I was impressed by Bismarck's determination and shortly thereafter appointed him prime minister and foreign minister.




Bismarck in the unification wars:

Bismarck pursued a political line, in which he placed the supremacy of Prussia over the other, small German states in the foreground and tried to suppress the influence of the outside, especially by Austria. For this he had tried in the years before to politically isolate Austria. In the German-Danish war from February to October 1864, however, he allied himself again with Austria in order to enforce the Prussian interests on the duchies of Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg. In the peace talks of Vienna on October 30, 1864 Bismarck, who led the negotiations for the Prussian side, Denmark could take the claims over the duchies, which were then distributed to Prussian and Austrian authorities. Austria, however, was not well-disposed toward Prussia's dominance of northern Germany, and by clever provocations Prussia headed for the next war.

The German-Austrian War began with the submission of the dispute over Schleswig and Holstein to the Bundestag of the German Confederation on 1 June 1866 by Austria. Through this move, Prussia saw a violation of the Gastein convention and subsequently occupied Holstein. Austria then mobilized its troops and also called on the German Confederation to make its troops ready for war. In response to this demand, Prussia declared the German Confederation dissolved and read its troops into the kingdoms of Hanover, Saxony and Kurhessen. Through clever military leadership and some luck, Prussia won the war against Austria. At the peace negotiations in Prague on August 23, 1866 Bismarck again led the negotiations for the Prussian side. He consciously renounced territorial cession of Austria and high payments in order not to drive Austria into the arms of the French. However, Austria had to accept the founding of the North German Confederation under the leadership of Prussia and the independence of the last South German states.

The Franco-German War was triggered by the succession to the Spanish throne when a military coup in Spain deposed the reigning king and sought a suitable successor in Europe. Bismarck proposed Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to occupy Spain by the line of the Hohenzollern, on the other hand to the French Emperor Napoleon III. to pre-empt diplomatically and to humiliate him. Although Prince Leopold later withdrew his candidacy on Bismarck's advice, as the diplomatic incident with France threatened to aggravate, but the Prussian Kaiser Wilhelm I renounced the French demand entirely for the future on candidates from the House of Hohenzollern to renounce. This demand was artificially inflated in the Ems Dispatch by Bismarck, so that Napoleon III. because of the public pressure, there was nothing left but to declare war on Prussia.

The war with France proceeded on the same principle as against Austria. French troops were encircled by rapid and aggressive troop movements and destroyed or had to capitulate. At the Battle of Sedan succeeded also the French emperor Napoleon III. as a prisoner of war, however, was impeached in Paris and the French emperor overthrown. The war now had to be continued against the French Republic.


Napoleon III. und Otto von Bismarck nach der Schlacht von Sedan

Napoleon III. and Otto von Bismarck after the Battle of Sedan


Despite the continuing war, under Bismarck's leadership, on January 18, 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles, the united German Empire with Wilhelm I was proclaimed emperor. Thus Bismarck had achieved his political goal to unify the German states. A short time later, the French Republic had to surrender and, at the urging of Bismarck, ceded the territories of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany.


Proklamation zum Deutschen Kaiser, Gemälde von Anton von Werner

Proclamation to the German Kaiser, painting by Anton von Werner




The farewell from politics:

The political farewell Bismarck began with the reign of the new German Emperor Wilhelm II. He had, in contrast to his grandfather Wilhelm I, a completely different character and different mentality. Bismarck described this as immature and unable to take responsibility for the German Reich. Thus, the tensions between the two personality strengthened until William II. Bismarck on March 15, 1890 finally withdrew the support. On March 18, 1890 Bismarck filed his dismissal.


Der junge Wilhelm II. und Bismarck

The young Wilhelm II. And Bismarck




Bismarck's End of Life:

After his resignation as Chancellor Bismarck began over the Hamburg news criticism of the new Chancellor Caprivi and thus indirectly to the emperor exercise. Some time later, when the emperor himself publicly attacked Bismarck, the population responded with a Bismarck's assistance. Wilhelm II was thus forced to officially initiate a phase of reconciliation.

In 1894 Bismarck's wife, whose death had hit him hard, died. In the following years, his own health deteriorated to the point that from 1896 he was dependent on a wheelchair. On July 30, 1898 Bismarck died in his bed due to age-burning and other diseases. Bismarck was buried next to his wife in the mausoleum in Friedrichsruh.


Bismarck auf dem Totenbett vom 31. Juli 1898 von Willy Wilcke und Max Priester

Bismarck on the deathbed of July 31, 1898 by Willy Wilcke and Max Priester


Sarkophag Bismarcks

Sarcophagus of Bismarck



Bismarck's family:

At the wedding ceremony in October 1844 his school friend Moritz von Blanckenburg and Marie von Thadden-Trieglaff Otto Johanna was assigned by Puttkamer as a table lady. In the summer of 1846, the couple went with Otto and Johanna a trip to the Harz where they got to know each other better. After the early death of Marie von Thadden-Trieglaff, Bismarck traveled to Johanna's parents to stop after the daughter's hand. In 1847 the wedding took place in Reinfeld. From this marriage came 3 children:
- Marie (1848-1926)
- Herbert (1849-1904)
- Wilhelm (1852-1901)


Johanna von Bismarck, geb. von Puttkamer, 1857

Johanna von Bismarck, b. by Puttkamer, 1857






You can find the right literature here:


Bismarck: A Life

Bismarck: A Life Reprint Edition

This riveting, New York Times bestselling biography illuminates the life of Otto von Bismarck, the statesman who unified Germany but who also embodied everything brutal and ruthless about Prussian culture.

Jonathan Steinberg draws heavily on contemporary writings, allowing Bismarck's friends and foes to tell the story. What rises from these pages is a complex giant of a man: a hypochondriac with the constitution of an ox, a brutal tyrant who could easily shed tears, a convert to an extreme form of evangelical Protestantism who secularized schools and introduced civil divorce. Bismarck may have been in sheer ability the most intelligent man to direct a great state in modern times. His brilliance and insight dazzled his contemporaries. But all agreed there was also something demonic, diabolical, and overwhelming in Bismarck's personality. He was a kind of malign genius who, behind the various postures, concealed an ice-cold contempt for his fellow human beings and a drive to control and rule them. As one contemporary noted: "the Bismarck regime was a constant orgy of scorn and abuse of mankind, collectively and individually."

A brilliant study in power, this comprehensive biography brings Bismarck to life, revealing the stark contrast between the "Iron Chancellor's" unmatched political skills and his profoundly flawed human character.

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Otto von Bismarck: The Life and Legacy of the German Empire’s First Chancellor

Otto von Bismarck: The Life and Legacy of the German Empire’s First Chancellor Paperback – Large Print, December 28, 2017

*Includes pictures
*Includes Bismarck's quotes about his life and career
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
In 1832, 17 year old Otto von Bismarck had just entered university and was already rejecting the republican indoctrination of his grade school years. Unlike so many of his day who had championed representative government, Bismarck longed for the glory of a nation he believed would only be found under a single, strong leader. Though his early university days showed him he would be isolated by this thinking, he strongly believed not only in the ideal of a national German state, but in its possibility. In his memoirs, Bismarck recalls that at this young age, he “retained [his] own private National sentiments, and [his] belief that in the near future events would lead to German unity; in fact, [he] made a bet with [his] American friend Coffin that this aim would be attained in twenty years.”
Though it would take longer than he had predicted, Germany would eventually be united and he would be the person responsible for accomplishing it. Bismarck would go on to accomplish his goal and strengthen Germany into a modern political state by embracing specific political principles, despite their lack of popularity. Bismarck biographer Jonathan Steinberg refers to these principles as the “Prussian legacy,” including “the army inherited from the ‘genius King’ Frederick the Great; the fusion of the Junker class with the army and the bureaucracy, the pervasive idea of ‘Deinst’ or service; the rigid distinction between the nobility and the bourgeoisie; [and] a military conception of honor.”
As “the most interesting character of the nineteenth century,” Bismarck would spend his life in service of the Hohenzollern Kings, elevating William I from a Prussian King near abdication King to the first German emperor. He would alienate many along the way, but under William, he would retain what he wanted most: the power to shape Germany's future.
Otto von Bismarck: The Life and Legacy of the German Empire’s First Chancellor looks at the life and work of Germany’s most famous politician. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about Otto von Bismarck like never before.

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Bismarck and Germany: 1862-1890

Bismarck and Germany: 1862-1890 (Seminar Studies in History Series) 3rd Edition

Bismarck’s role in the unification and consolidation of Germany is central to any understanding of Germany's development as a nation and its consequent role as aggressor in two world wars.

This study provides students with a concise, up-to-date and analytical account of Bismarck's role in modern German history. Williamson guides readers through the complex events leading to the defeats of Austria and France in 1866 and 1870 and the subsequent creation of a united Germany in January 1871. He then explores the domestic and foreign problems Bismarck faced up to 1890 in consolidating unification.

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Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 Edition Unstated Edition

In the aftermath of World War II, Prussia--a centuries-old state pivotal to Europe's development--ceased to exist. In their eagerness to erase all traces of the Third Reich from the earth, the Allies believed that Prussia, the very embodiment of German militarism, had to be abolished.

But as Christopher Clark reveals in this pioneering history, Prussia's legacy is far more complex. Though now a fading memory in Europe's heartland, the true story of Prussia offers a remarkable glimpse into the dynamic rise of modern Europe.

What we find is a kingdom that existed nearly half a millennium ago as a patchwork of territorial fragments, with neither significant resources nor a coherent culture. With its capital in Berlin, Prussia grew from being a small, poor, disregarded medieval state into one of the most vigorous and powerful nations in Europe. Iron Kingdom traces Prussia's involvement in the continent's foundational religious and political conflagrations: from the devastations of the Thirty Years War through centuries of political machinations to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, from the enlightenment of Frederick the Great to the destructive conquests of Napoleon, and from the "iron and blood" policies of Bismarck to the creation of the German Empire in 1871, and all that implied for the tumultuous twentieth century.

By 1947, Prussia was deemed an intolerable threat to the safety of Europe; what is often forgotten, Clark argues, is that it had also been an exemplar of the European humanistic tradition, boasting a formidable government administration, an incorruptible civil service, and religious tolerance. Clark demonstrates how a state deemed the bane of twentieth-century Europe has played an incalculable role in Western civilization's fortunes. Iron Kingdom is a definitive, gripping account of Prussia's fascinating, influential, and critical role in modern times.

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