Benjamin, Walter
  Bismarck, Otto v.
  Brecht, Bertolt
  Celan, Paul
  Döblin, Alfred
  Fontane, Theodor
  Grosz, George
  Grünbein, Durs
  Heartfield, John
  Honigmann, Barbara
  Isherwood, Christopher
  Johnson, Uwe
  Kleist, Heinrich v.
  Kollwitz, Käthe
  Kracauer, Siegfried
  Lang, Fritz
  Lasker-Schüler, Else
  Liebermann, Max
  Liebknecht, Karl
  Luxemburg, Rosa
  Marc, Franz
  Ossietzky, Carl v.
  Riefenstahl, Leni
  Ruttmann, Walther
  Schinkel, Karl Friedrich
  Speer, Albert
  Tieck, Ludwig
  Tucholsky, Kurt
  Ury, Lesser
  Varnhagen, Rahel
  Wenders, Wim


Bismarck, Otto von

Early Years Early Career Prime Minister German Unification Foreign Policy Domestic Policy Political Assessment

b. April 1, 1815, Schönhausen, Altmark, Prussia
d. July 30, 1898, Friedrichsruh, near Hamburg

in full OTTO EDUARD LEOPOLD, FÜRST (PRINCE) VON BISMARCK, GRAF (COUNT) VON BISMARCK-SCHÖNHAUSEN, HERZOG (DUKE) VON LAUENBURG, prime minister of Prussia (1862-73, 1873-90) and founder and first chancellor (1871-90) of the German Empire. Once the empire was established, he actively and skillfully pursued pacific policies in foreign affairs, succeeding in preserving the peace in Europe for about two decades. But in domestic policies his patrimony was less benign, for he failed to rise above the authoritarian proclivities of the landed squirearchy to which he was born.

Early Years

Bismarck was born at Schönhausen, in the Kingdom of Prussia. His father, Ferdinand von Bismarck-Schönhausen, was a Junker squire descended from a Swabian family that had ultimately settled as estate owners in Pomerania. Ferdinand was a typical member of the Prussian landowning elite. The family's economic circumstances were modest--Ferdinand's farming skills being perhaps less than average--and Bismarck was not to know real wealth until the rewards flowed in after the achievement of German unification. His mother, Wilhelmine Mencken, came from an educated bourgeois family that had produced a number of higher civil servants and academics. She had been married to Ferdinand von Bismarck at age 16 and found provincial life confining. When her son Otto was seven, she enrolled him in the progressive Plamann Institute in Berlin and moved to the capital to be near him. The young Bismarck resented exchanging an easy life in the country for a more circumscribed life in a large city, where in school he was pitted against the sons of Berlin's best-educated families. He spent five years at the school and went on to the Frederick William gymnasium for three years. He took his university entrance examination (Abitur) in 1832.

With his mother's encouragement, he took up the study of law at the University of Göttingen in the kingdom of Hanover. Evidently Bismarck was a mediocre student who spent much of his time drinking with his comrades in an aristocratic fraternity. After a brief stint at the university in Berlin, he entered the Prussian civil service, where he was plagued by boredom and an inability to adhere to the hierarchical principles of the bureaucracy. His mother's death in 1839 gave him the opportunity of resigning in order to come to the assistance of his father, who was experiencing financial difficulties in the management of his estate. From 1839 to 1847 Bismarck lived the ordinary life of a Prussian country squire. Subsequently he was to romanticize these years on the land and wonder why he had abandoned an idyllic existence for the insecurities of a life in politics. This frequently expressed nostalgia may have been more guise than reality.

During this period he met and married Johanna von Puttkamer, the daughter of a conservative aristocratic family famed for its devout pietism. While courting Johanna, Bismarck experienced a religious conversion that was to give him inner strength and security. A subsequent critic was to remark that Bismarck believed in a God who invariably agreed with him on all issues. There is no question that the marriage was a very happy one. In fact, Bismarck's last words before dying in 1898 expressed the wish that he would once again see Johanna, who had passed away some years earlier.


"Bismarck, Otto von" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.