Major Facts about Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of Germany

Otto von Bismarck, a towering figure in European history, is best known as the Iron Chancellor who unified Germany. Beyond his political legacy, there are several lesser-known aspects of his life and character that provide a fuller picture of this complex man:

Nobleman with a Modest Background

Despite being a Junker (a member of the Prussian landed aristocracy), Bismarck came from a relatively modest family background. His estate was small, and his family’s financial situation was not as strong as many of his aristocratic peers.

Image: A photo of Bismarck during the early 1880s.

Attempted Career in Law

Bismarck initially studied law at the University of Göttingen and later at the University of Berlin, aiming for a conventional legal career. However, he found the profession unsuitable and eventually left it to manage his family estates.

Duelist in College

During his university days, Bismarck was known for his robust involvement in student life, including participating in duels, which were common among students at the time. He reportedly engaged in several duels, bearing lifelong scars from these encounters.

Image: A painting of Bismarck during his early 20s.

Interest in English Culture

Bismarck was an admirer of English culture. He spoke fluent English and was influenced by his time at the University of Göttingen, where he was exposed to many English students and ideas. He later sent his son Herbert to study in Oxford to further these cultural ties.

Image: An 1890 picture of Bismarck.

Health Issues

Bismarck suffered from various health problems throughout his life, including debilitating neuralgia and insomnia. He often sought relief in unusual remedies, including the application of leeches.

A Connoisseur of Food and Wine

Bismarck had a well-known appreciation for good food and wine. He was particularly fond of champagne and foie gras, and he famously promoted the consumption of herring, which led to a variety of the fish being named after him.

Complex Relationship with Wilhelm II

Bismarck’s relationship with Kaiser Wilhelm II was fraught with tension. Bismarck had served loyally under Wilhelm I, but he frequently clashed with his successor over matters of policy and imperial direction, leading to his dismissal in 1890.

Image: Wilhelm II (January 1859 – June 1941).

Retirement in Varzin and Friedrichsruh

After his dismissal, Bismarck retired to his estate in Varzin and later moved to Friedrichsruh, where he spent his remaining years writing and reflecting on his political career. He continued to wield considerable influence through his contacts and writings.

Innovative Social Reformer

Beyond his political maneuvers, Bismarck was also a pioneer in social welfare, establishing the world’s first modern welfare state. His social legislation included health insurance, accident insurance, and pension plans, aimed at appeasing the working class and undercutting socialist movements.

Image: Bismarck’s statue, situated in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Death and Legacy

Bismarck died in 1898 at the age of 83. Despite his complex and often controversial legacy, he is remembered as one of the principal architects of modern Germany, having laid the foundation for its emergence as a major European power.

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