The Life of Otto Bismarck
May 20, 1988


Otto von Bismarck was born at one o'clock in the afternoon on April the first 1815, and he soon grew into a strong, healthy young boy. However, his childhood was not all that happy. He attributed this to his mother, who was overly concerned with her social life and status than for her two sons, Otto and Bernhard, two years older. She did not involve herself in her sons' problems and she was cold and hard to them both. His dad was a different matter. He enjoyed this sons' company, and while his wife went out enjoying herself he was content to stay at home with the boys on the estate. Otto inherited his mother's sharpness of mind, and his father's reasoning power. This made him potentially a formidable enemy.


Otto was sent to a boarding school when he was eight, and stayed there for five years. He complained that the teaching was too strict, the bread was stale, the meat was too tough, there was not enough warm clothing in winter, and the discipline.

When he was twelve Otto attended a high school and stayed at one of his parents' townhouses. Even at this age his mother continually criticized him, and so the became sullen and disobedient. This was sowing the seeds for a general 'anti-authority' feeling usually felt by teenagers, and this attitude stayed with Bismarck all his life. His teachers wrote, "...he has no proper respect for his teachers.". This comment was not uncommon.

On completion of high school, Otto went to the University of Gottingen, where he studied law. This was with the intention of becoming a diplomat, but he was still a rebel at heart and he behaved that way. He dressed more expensively than the other students, he got drunk, smoked, and fought. He had 25 duels in the first three terms! He quit after a year and went back to the estate. At 20 he decided to enter law again and so 'crammed' under a tutor and passed his exams. Bismarck practised law for a while but gave it away in favour of studying for a further, better, exam. He passed ease, and departed to a city called Aix-la-Chapelle. Here he was supposed to continue his studies, but after a time he quit and returned home again.

At this point in his life Bismarck did not know what to do. So he did nothing, except fooling around with male and female friends alike (no, not in the same way), getting drunk, and going to parties. In between this he spent a fair amount of time managing some of the farm. At this time he acquired the name of the "Mad Junker", because of all the ridiculous things he did. This included shooting up a friend's roof, drinking an entire bottle of drink in a swing, and getting engaged to three different girls by the time he was 27. The 'Junker' part of the name came from the fact that he was of the Junker class.

Then he met a girl, through religious contacts (he became involved with religion at about this time), called Johanna von Pattkamer, and six months later he was her husband.


In 1847 the King of Prussia, Frederick William, instituted a 'real' parliament and Bismarck decided that he would get in it. He got in, but only as a substitute-deputy. However, it was a start, and when of the permanent deputies became unpermanent (or SICK!) Bismarck was able to replace him. He made himself known quickly, and spoke his mind. This quality was what let him rise to greater heights.

In 1848 the residents of Berlin rebelled against the King and all he stood for, and eventually took the King captive. Bismarck got all the country people around on the King's side and then travelled to the King (in disguise) and asked him to grant permission for a retaliation. The King did accept this plan, and so granted the rebels a new constitution that they liked. Bismarck later criticised William to his face for this act, but he let it go at the time.

The rebels wanted a united Germany, ruled by the King or Prussia. However, in the present political climate this was not feasible, and so Bismarck set about a more subtle way of doing it, without anybody else noticing. Bismarck wanted several things for Prussia; the first was unification (on this point he agreed with the rebels - or 'liberals' - as they were known), the second was to 'settle accounts' with Austria, and the third was to reorganise the army to make it more powerful, efficient and effective. And to do all this he needed to become Foreign Minister.

The rebels wanted a union; this meant war, and this was something that Prussia could not do with its current military reserve. But the rebels would not take this for an answer, and so he made a speech in parliament to defend the King and his Ministers without damaging the government's image, the goverment's ego, his image, and all the time making sure that the rebels took his explanation. And so he made clear the horrors of war, and ended by laying a 'curse' upon all those that wanted war, and therefore a curse upon all who wanted unification (at present).

Previously to this encounter, the Austrians had quelled a revolution elsewhere and so the Germany of separate self-governing states was still strong, and Austria was its head. This Togetherness-But-Not-Togetherness was called the German Confederation. For Bismarck's troubles in the speech above, he was chosen as Prussia's representative in this Confederation. This put him in an important position, and so made him obvious to the higher members of the Parliament. At this time the Government and the King were 'fighting', and so one of the senior ministers asked Bismarck to come in and offer his services as a Foreign Minister. The King accepted his offer, and Bismarck was also appointed Head of Government as well.

The King and the parliament were still fighting, and so Bismarck set about bringing them together. He decided to kill two birds with one stone and so made a speech about the unification of Germany, with Prussia at its head. This made the two factions come together through ideals, and also showed them what his plans were for the rest of Germany as well. A phrase from this speech has stuck with him ever since: "The great questions of our time...will be decided with iron and blood." By iron he meant industrial strength, and blood was hard work. But the newspapers reversed the words to blood and iron, and so they were construed to mean 'war'.

The newspapers were not so wrong, though. Prussia had a huge share of the region's mineral wealth, mainly coal and iron, and an extensive network of railways. This, together with huge blast furnaces, a large sea-port, a maze of very productive mines and a whole class of businesspeople, made Prussia very formidable. Through all these resources Bismarck saw a dominant nation, and so he decided on a war with Austria. But Austria was still very powerful, and had powerful allies, and so Bismarck started bringing these allies onto Prussia's side and isolating Austria from them all. This plan worked, and when it was completed Austria was provoked into a war with Prussia. Napoleon III of France kept out of it, mainly because he was hoping to gain from two nations broken after a long and expensive war. But Prussia won after a short seven weeks. The Austrians were crushed and France severely shaken. However, he did not want Austria to remain an enemy forever, so he did not rub in his victory. The Prussian army was not allowed to march through Vienna, and granted an easy peace.

France was next. Bismarck repeated his 'isolationary tactics' on France, and once again Prussia was not the aggressor in a war; France made the first move. As with Austria, France went down quickly. However, Prussia was not fighting the war on her own. By now most of the other states that made up the old Confederation, including Austria, had joined Prussia, and this new unity was called the New German Confederation. France's armies were beaten everywhere, and an armistice was signed by the Confederation and France on the 28th January 1871. The former King of Prussia, King Willaim, was crowned as Emperor of Germany at Versailles, and now Germany was the strongest power in Europe.

The Confederation took two rich border areas from France and levied an imdemnity (a promise to pay) on the country, as revenge for Napoleon's tax on Prussia in 1807. The amount, per head of population (not allowing for inflation, if there was any, or exchange rates), was exactly the same.

Bismarck then left Europe alone. He did not try for any other territory - he actively opposed the idea - and then concentrated on keeping Germany out of any other wars, conflicts or international scuffles. Bismarck had achieved what he wanted to achieve; he was content. He also saved Germany from possibly becoming a communist or communist-type nation. By this I mean that he read and understood what Karl Marx, the 'starter' of the communist ideology, thought, and gave the workers the things that Marx played upon to get them on side. Bismarck gave the workers illness, job, age and working conditions security. This made the workers reasonably satisfied and so prevented them from becoming whole-heartedly involved with the Marxist ideas.

Although Bismarck sometimes showed himself to be cruel and lacking in morals, and how he blamed others for his mistakes, he also proved himself to be kind, understanding and true to his word.

I think the Bismarck was a very great man. He achieved all he wanted to achieve, both for Germany and for himself, and he overcame the effects of an unhappy and confusing childhood to do this. He deserved every award he got.

Bismarck was rewarded for all his efforts over the years with the title of Prince (1871), a Duke (1890), and a place in history. For Bismarck was one of the men you could say changed the world.


Focus on Nations - A.J. Koutsoukis - Longman Cheshire - 1984

Biographical Dictionary (A-J) - Chambers - 1975