Useful Notes / Otto von Bismarck

"Nicht durch Reden und Majoritätsbeschlüsse werden die großen Fragen der Zeit entschieden — das ist der große Fehler von 1848 und 1849 gewesen — sondern durch Eisen und Blut." translation 

Born to a land-owning Prussian family — his father was a nobleman, his mother came from a family of (commoner) scholars and public servants — in 1815, Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck is most famous for the role he played in unifying Germany and forging it into an economic superpower, thereby creating the German Empire, his Blood and Iron speech, and for having been a Magnificent Bastard, earning himself the nickname the "Iron Chancellor".

Bismarck had a long career in politics, starting as a deputy in his local district (Kreis), then as a member of diets of the provinces of Pomerania and Saxony, where he became known as an arch-conservative and discovered his passion for politics. He failed to be elected to the Prussian national assembly in 1848 but was elected to the second chamber of the legislature in 1849. In 1851 he was appointed Prussia's representative to the Bundestag (the legislative body of the German Federation), where he prevented a mobilization of the federal army to intervene in the Crimean War, from 1859 on he served as Prussian Ambassador to Russia and then France. In 1862 he was appointed Minister President of Prussia during the conflict between King Wilhelm I and the legislature over the reform of the army. How Bismarck resolved the situation serves as a excellent example of his political ingenuity: By exploiting a border conflict in Denmark, Bismarck was able to provoke a war against the Danes in 1864, and as he predicted, the war was fairly swift and ended in a clear Prussian victory as Denmark was outmatched both in manpower and technology and not able to rally any allies to their cause. At the same time the war allowed him to paint the liberal politicians in the legislature who had blocked the army reform as unpatriotic for not supporting the army in a time of war, causing them to ultimately roll over and agree to implement the reform. In one fell swoop, Bismack had brought glory and territory to Prussia and successfully subdued his political opponents.

In 1871, after Wilhelm I crowned himself Emperor of Germany, he likewise promoted Bismarck to Chancellor of the German Empire. It should be said, that while the Chancellor was supposed to be subservient to the Emperor, Bismarck tended to just do what he wanted. He really only kept his position for so long because he was just that good at running Germany.

Ever the pragmatic politician, Bismarck knew that, even though Germany had established itself as Europe's most populated country and a leading economic powerhouse, and exactly for those reasons, war, especially a two-front one, was a looming threat to the country, and so it became his main goal during his time as Imperial Chancellor to make sure that stability in Europe prevailed above all else and that Germany's rivals would remain too divided to pull an Enemy Mine on the country. To summarize, Bismarck achieved this by constant political manoeuvring and trickery, eventually creating a byzantine mess of alliances between the European nations. This, of course, served him fine: His goal was to ensure that if war was ever brought up as a possibility, the stakes would be raised so horrifyingly high that everyone who didn't immediately step back down after measuring them, would at least think more than twice about actually going further in that direction. Unfortunately for Bismarck Wilhelm II, who ascended the German throne in 1888, quickly got fed up with him having his own agenda, and got rid of him in 1890. Even more unfortunately for Europe, and in the end, especially Germany itself, Bismarck's complicated patchwork of alliances remained in effect and would continue to breed discontent and subdued aggression between the European nations for years after his death in 1898, until a small push from a certain event in Sarajevo caused the Disaster Dominoes to fall...

Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • Nice Hat: Often seen on photos and paintings wearing a Pickelhaube, but he usually wore a peaked cap. The floppy civilian hat he wore during his retirement also became iconic, at least in Germany.
  • Realpolitik: The Trope Codifier. He even said "Politics is the art of the possible."

Appears in the following works:

  • Sir John Tenniel's famous caricature "Dropping the Pilot" on the occasion of Bismarck's dismissal in 1890.
  • Dubslav von Stechlin, the main character in Theodor Fontane's Der Stechlin, physically resembles Bismarck and often jestingly compares himself to him, as they are both retired and living in provincial backwaters in the vicinity of a big city.
  • Played magnificently by Curd Jürgens in two episodes (The English Princess and The Honest Broker) of the 1974 BBC miniseries Fall Of Eagles.
  • A major character in the second Flashman book, where he masterfully manipulates Flashman into preenacting The Prisoner of Zenda.
  • In Gore Vidal's novel Lincoln, an informal conversation between Secretary of State William H. Seward and the Prussian minister in Washington, Friedrich Baron Gerolt, draws a somewhat disturbing parallel between the Great Emancipator and the Iron Chancellor.
  • Slightly misquoted in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Admiral Nechayev tells Picard "Diplomacy is the art of the possible." Bismarck actually said "Politics is the art of the possible."
  • He is the main leader of Germany since Civilization III.