Understandably whenever German leadership figures are mentioned people automatically think Adolf Hitler. But let me introduce you to a key predecessor to Hitler; Otto Von Bismarck. The man who created the Germany we recognise today.
The time period is the 1860s and the map of Europe looks very different. Below you can see the collection of German states that existed prior to German unification. The largest, and therefore most powerful state within this arrangement was Prussia, and this is where Bismarck originated.
Germany was finally united in 1871 after 3 wars of unification that started in 1862. All three wars were a tactical move by Bismarck to secure the territorial lines of the new German state. The first war was waged against Denmark on the North-Eastern border, next came the war with Austria. This war was more of an internal war because prior to this point Austria was actually one of the Germanic states, however as the main power rival to Prussia Bismarck needed to exclude Austria from the power dynamic of the new Germanic state. The last and most consequence heavy war was against France. The Germanic states won all three of these wars, and especially in the case of France this caused much resentment. But Bismarck had successfully realised his dream of a strong, united Germany positioned almost directly in the middle of Europe. [a pretty impressive feat really when you think about it]
Bismarck The Man:
Bismarck as a figure is somewhat of a puzzle. Often Bismarck’s reputation portrays him as an all-powerful dictator who acted as the puppet master of all the events in the newly unified Germany. Although this may be the initial impression technicalities dictate that in reality Bismarck was no all-powerful dictator.
Although Bismarck did hold immense power in his own right as the chancellor of Germany, he was ultimately answerable to the Kaiser [Wilhelm I in this case]. On the occasions when the Kaiser and Bismarck disagreed Bismarck would often threaten to resign until he got his way. [here we see the more childish aspects of his personality]
Also with hindsight it is easy to assume that Bismarck followed his own clearly defined plan, but again reality proves just the opposite. The evidence from this comes from Bismarck himself. On more than one occasion Bismarck has been quoted saying that in the realm of politics to have a set long term plan is actually very bad politics, which leads to all sorts of misfortune. Instead the key to politics for Bismarck was his ability to adapt and respond to the situations and issues he was presented with. It is this flavour of his leadership style that was most admirable. Whilst he did have non-negotiable long-term goals, the central one being to protect and secure the newly created Germanic state, he was able to chop and change his short-term goals in order to fit in with his current circumstances.
Now whilst I have only just skimmed the surface on the enigma that is Otto von Bismarck, I feel that this post is an adequate introduction to the subject and contains the essentials that should be known about Bismarck. I’ll leave a more in depth look at Bismarck for another post, watch this space.