Otto von Bismarck - Figures in History

A statue of Otto von Bismarck in Berlin, Germany.
A statue of Otto von Bismarck in Berlin, Germany.

Otto von Bismarck was a Prussian statesman and conservatist who dominated European and German affairs between 1860 and 1890 until his forced resignation in 1890. Bismarck had a substantial influence on Europe in the 20th century especially in the unification of the German Empire. Bismarck was known for his skillful leadership and his masterful strategies which he employed during wars against Austria, France, and Denmark.

5. Early Life

Otto von Bismarck was born on April 1st, 1815 in Schönhausen in the province of Saxony, Prussia. He was born to Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Bismarck, a former Prussian officer and junker estate owner, and Wilhelmine Luise Mencken. Bismarck had two siblings, an older sibling Bernhard, and a younger sibling named Malwine. Bismarck was fluent in several languages including German, French, Polish, English, Russian, and Italian. Bismarck attended Johann Ernst Plamann's elementary school and studied at Graues Kloster and Friedrich-Wilhelm secondary schools before studying law at the University of Göttingen from 1832 to 1833. Between 1833 and 1835, Bismarck enrolled at the University of Berlin. While Bismarck was in Greifswald as an army reservist in 1838, he studied agriculture at the University of Greifswald.

4. Career

Bismarck desired to become a diplomat and began his practical training as a lawyer in both Aachen and Potsdam. After chasing after two English girls, his career was jeopardized and Bismarck took an unauthorized leave. Following the death of his mother, Bismarck returned to Schönhausen to run the family estate. Before that, he had served in the army for a year, becoming an officer in the Landwehr. Bismarck's political career began in 1847 at the age of 32 when he was chosen as a representative at the newly established Prussian legislature.

3. Major Contributions

Bismarck was considered the founder of the German Empire, and for nearly three decades he helped shape the fortune of Germany by playing a significant role in the country's unification. Bismarck's charismatic leadership at home and his diplomacy earned him the title of 'Iron Chancellor.' During his tenure as Chancellor of Germany, Minister President of Prussia, and Foreign Minister of Prussia, Bismarck introduced progressive reforms such as the conception of the modern welfare state. He also initiated the implementation of pension schemes for the old, accident insurance, and the national healthcare services. Most importantly Bismarck played a pivotal role in maintaining peace at all times by balancing power systems.

2. Challenges

Throughout his career, Bismarck faced numerous challenges from all corners. When France was defeated in the 1870 battle of Sedan, Bismarck was afraid that France would seek vengeance against Germany in the future. Bismarck resorted to ensuring that France was isolated in Europe by signing several treaties with different nations. Bismarck was consistently opposed by several political parties in Germany for his methods and policies, especially the socialists who were a vehement opposition. Germany was also economically divided which created a lot of issues, and Bismarck made a few internal reforms which saw the establishment of the Reichsbank and Reichsmark, a new coin.

1. Death and Legacy

Following years of health problems, Bismarck died in Friderichsruh on July 30th, 1898. He was 83 years old when he died. His body is entombed in the Bismarck Mausoleum. The most significant legacy left behind by Bismarck is the unification of Germany when the country existed as a cluster comprising of Free Cities and numerous separate principalities following the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire. As a result of the unification, Germany became one of Europe's most powerful nations. His legacy is remembered throughout Germany in the form of the bestseller books that were written about him, buildings named in his honor and the numerous statues and monuments erected in the countryside, towns, and cities of Germany.


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