The Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck -one of Europe's leading statesmen in the 19th Century and credited with the unification of Germany. He had a voracious ambition for his home state Prussia and made it indomitable among other states in the German Confederation. There was also the conflict that marked the beginning of his expansionist aims, a conflict that has gone down in history as a by-word for incomprehensible wars. The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, said: “The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.”
Whatever the causes of this conflict, it was just the beginning of Bismarck benefiting from regional power struggles. After vanquishing Austria and France, he led the new industrialising Germany, managing to remain in power for a further two decades. He founded one of Europe's first welfare states. But he was also known for his ruthless tactics, ignoring democratic institutions if they blocked his will and never afraid to dabble in dirty politics, leaking opportunely to the press and bribing journalists. Bismarck said: “The art of statesmanship is to steer a course on the stream of time”.
So was the unification of Germany a carefully planned campaign or a series of unpredictable events that Bismarck made the most of? How did his encouragement of nationalism bear fruit in Nazi Germany? And what is his legacy today in
Richard J Evans, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge
Christopher Clark, Reader in Modern European History at the University of Cambridge
Katharine Lerman, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at London Metropolitan University
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