Search This Blog

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Otto Von Bismarck

Otto Von Bismarck was born on his family estate at Schönhausen, a village on the Elbe, North West of Berlin, on April 1, 1815. His father, Ferdinand Von Bismarck, was a landowner and a former Prussian military officer; his mother, Wilhelmine Mencken, originally belonged to a prosperous bourgeois family. Otto had several siblings, but only an elder brother (Bernhard) and a younger sister (Malvina) survived into adulthood.

A very mischievous child, as a youth Otto was an indefatigable duellist. He was known as the mad Junker.

Bismarck was ungainly, physically dominating, stern in expression, prematurely bald. Small hands and feet, clear and ruddy complexion, sparkling eyes, bushy eyebrows. He had a bushy upside v moustache.

Bismarck in 1873

His brain weighed 4lb 3oz.

Bismarck liked to wear informal, simple Prussian country gentleman attire, with a soft hat, neckerchief, coat, trousers and double soiled boots. His formal uniform was that of a Prussian military officer.

Bismarck had a wily and calm temperament. Once in the Prussian Diet he was howled down. He calmly leaned against the tribune, took out a newspaper from his pocket, and read it until everything was calm.

After leaving university, Bismarck entered government service but could only obtain minor administrative positions in Aachen and Potsdam. As his work proved monotonous and uninteresting, he soon resigned as a civil servant.

Bismarck placed his civil service career in jeopardy after falling in love with an English heiress in Leicester and outstaying his leave trying to win her.

Bismarck married the noblewoman Johanna von Puttkamer (1824–1894) in 1847 on 28 July 1847 in Alt-Kolziglow, near Reinfeld. Their long and happy marriage produced three children, Herbert (b. 1849), Wilhelm (b. 1852) and Marie (b. 1847). Johanna was a shy, retiring and devout Lutheran. She helped iron out some of his madder tendencies.

Bismarck nearly enrolled in the British army in India whilst in England but he decided against it as he couldn't work out what the Indians had done to warrant what they had coming.

In 1862 he was offered a place in the Russian diplomatic service after the Czar misunderstood a comment about his likelihood of missing Saint Petersburg. Bismarck courteously declined the offer and instead was made sent to Paris to serve as ambassador to France.

During his time as ambassador to France, Bismarck spent as much time as possible in Biarritz as he greatly disliked Paris.

In 1862, King Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck as Minister President of Prussia, a position he would hold until 1890 (except for a short break in 1873).

Bismarck provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France, aligning the smaller German states behind Prussia in its defeat of France

During the Battle of Sadowa in 1866, the King of Prussia exposed himself to danger from gunshot and refused to withdraw in spite of military advice. Bismarck remained silent during arguments, but he gave the king’s horse a sharp unnoticed kick in the flank that caused the animal to go back. With victory at the Battle of Sadowa he warded off Austria and allowed Prussia to take an important place in the confederation of North Germany.

The 1870-71 Franco- Prussian War was engineered by Bismarck by means of an alteration in the famous ems telegram. He tricked the French into this war by altering a telegram from the king of Prussia in which he struck out the king's conciliatory words so that the telegram sounded belligerent. As a result the French declared war.

A chronic insomnia sufferer, the Iron Chancellor would nightly devour caviar to give him a thirst for strong beer to help him to sleep. His favorite tipple was Black Velvet, a mixture of champagne and Guinness. He was also partial to burgundy wine.

In 1878 Bismarck presided over the division of Africa by the colonial powers at the Conference of Berlin while eating pickled herrings with both hands. By 1883 he was very bloated, over 17 stone, which made him ill and very bad tempered so for months he lived on a diet of herrings. By 1885 he was down to 14 stone. So the lesson that can be learnt from this is, if at first you don't recede diet, diet again.

The idea that the age of 65 is officially "elderly" was originated by Bismarck when he wanted to get rid of some ageing army officers.

Bismarck in 1881. By Bundesarchiv, Wikipedia Commons

He was the first leader to introduce between insurance schemes for illness, work related accident and chronic invalidism. In 1889 he introduced pension schemes.

The phrase ‘Dropping the Pilot’ meaning to dispense with a valued leader originated in Prussia in 1890 when a Punch cartoon showed Kaiser Wilhem II leaning over the side of the ship as Otto Bismarck dressed as a pilot walked down the steps to disembark.

Otto Von Bismarck died on July 30, 1898 at the age of 83 in Friedrichsruh, north Germany, where he is entombed in the Bismarck Mausoleum.

Bismarck on his deathbed,

Bismarck changed Germany from an unruly collection of states dominated by Prussia to a rich powerful country by provoking wars with Denmark, Austria and France. The ensuing patriotic fever united all the states and in 1871 Bismarck founded the new German empire.

1 comment:

  1. "In 1878 Bismarck presided over the division of Africa by the colonial powers at the Conference of Berlin while eating pickled herrings with both hands."

    Oh God, made my day. Thanks for the article.