Posts Tagged ‘Otto von Bismarck’

Frederick the Great shaped modern Europe

Monday, February 20th, 2017

King Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse) was born in 1712 in Berlin, Germany. In 1740, he inherited the Prussian throne from his father, Frederick William I (Friedrich Wilhelm I) and ruled until 1786. He was bestowed the epitaph of “the Great” during his lifetime and was affectionately nicknamed “Der Alte Fritz” (Old Fritz) by the Prussian people.

It is doubtful that Otto von Bismarck could have united Germany without Frederick the Great’s achievements. In addition to being an excellent military strategist and one of the most enlightened monarchs of the area, Frederick the Great was also an insightful historian, a probing philosopher, an accomplished musician and an insatiable reader. During his time in power, Prussia became one of the preeminent powers in Europe.

Frederick the Great’s childhood

Frederick the Great’s father was a violent authoritarian with a quick temper who expected his son to embrace the military to the exclusion of all other pursuits. But the young price preferred the arts and culture to the art of war. Frederick William responded by beating and humiliating his son. At age 18, young Frederick attempted to escape to England together with his friend, Hans Hermann von Katte. The two were caught and arrested for treason. In a cruel spectacle, Frederick William made his son watch the decapitation of his friend. Thereafter, Frederick the Great bowed to his father’s wishes.

Frederick the Great’s Domestic Achievements

Frederick the Great achieved a high reputation as a military commander and is often remembered as the father of Prussian militarism, but his impact was even more evident domestically. He not only reformed the military and the bureaucracy, he also established religious tolerance and granted a basic form of freedom of speech and press. He reformed the judicial system, abolishing most uses of torture and established the first German code of law. He also encouraged immigrants of various nationalities and faiths to come to Prussia.


Frederick II, King of Prussia (known as Frederick the Great), 1712-1786. Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia

Frederick II, King of Prussia (known as Frederick the Great), 1712-1786. Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia


Frederick the Great’s reign saw a revolutionary change in the importance and prestige of Prussia. Despite preferring the French language to his native German, Frederick distrusted France’s intentions. “Distrust is the mother of security” became his motto.

Frederick the Great’s Architectural Achievements

Frederick had many famous buildings constructed in Berlin. Most of them still exist today, such as the Berlin State Opera (Berliner Staatsoper), the Royal Library (Staatsbioliothek Berlin), St. Hedwig’s Cathedral (Sankt-Hedwig-Kathedrale) and Prince Henry’s Palace (now the site of the Humboldt University (Humboldt Universitaet.) However, the king’s most favorite place was his summer residence, Sanssouci, in Potsdam.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

How Prussian Virtues Came About

Monday, January 16th, 2017


Prussian virtues (Preussische Tugenden) are behaviors of high moral standards that are said to once have been the hallmark of the inhabitants of Prussia. Some of these values are still attributed to the German people today. The list of Prussian virtues depends on the author but can be condensed to the core values of discipline, self-control, punctuality, thriftiness, service and hard work.

Brief History of Prussia

Between 1925 and 1947, Prussia was a state that centered in the area of today’s Germany, but with boundaries extending far beyond Germany’s current borders. The House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia and expanded its size with the help of an extremely well organized army. Initially, the Prussian capital was Koenigsberg. In 1701 Friedrich I (Frederick I) became the first King of Prussia and chose Berlin as the capital. In 1871, the German states united under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck. Unification created a German Empire under Prussian leadership. In the aftermath of World War I, in 1918, the monarchy was abolished, and the Kingdom of Prussia became a republic, known as the Weimar Republic.  In 1933, the Nazi regime seized control of the Prussian government. Following World War II, Germany was divided into Allied occupation zones, and Prussia ceased to exist. On 25 February 1947, the Allied Control Council formally proclaimed the dissolution of Prussia.

Origin of Prussian Virtues

When Prussia became a kingdom under Friedrich I over 300 years ago, it was a poor state with fragmented territories. In 1713, his son, Friedrich Wilhelm I (Frederick William I) became King of Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm was known as the “Soldier King” because he made considerable reforms to the Prussian army’s training, tactics and conscription. He demanded discipline, efficiency and good work ethics from his soldiers. During the “Soldier King’s” reign, Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues became accepted concepts. Today’s interpretation of Prussian discipline tends to be one in which the soldier blindly follows orders. But under Friedrich Wilhelm’s reign, discipline was a two-way street. Soldiers and their superiors were subject to the same rigorous rules.

In civilian society, Prussian virtues were initially frowned upon. With time, however, they began to seep in, particularly in light of the fact that Prussia had risen from nothing to greatness based on its Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues.

Prussian Virtues today

Even though the state of Prussia doesn’t exist anymore, Prussian virtues have not totally disappeared. In 2001, the German government proclaimed a “Prussian year” with celebrations of its Prussian heritage. Tolerance, reform, selflessness and modesty were highlighted to point out that during Prussian rule Jewish citizens were emancipated, feudalism and serfdom were eliminated, immigration was encouraged, the arts and sciences were celebrated and education of the young was made available and mandatory. In my own family, Prussian orderliness, sense of duty, honesty, punctuality, thriftiness, hard work, restraint and dependability were always stressed and expected.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of



Otto von Bismarck – visionary or villain?

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) was a powerful Prussian statesman, credited with unifying 25 previously independent German states in 1871. As a result of the unification, Germany became one of the most powerful nations in Europe. During most of his nearly 30-year tenure, Bismarck held undisputed control over the government’s policies.

Bismarck’s rise

Born in 1815 to a Prussian nobleman, Bismarck spent his early years studying law and running the family estate. In 1847, he became a delegate to the new Prussian parliament in Berlin. From 1851 to 1862 he held various ambassadorships: he served as an ambassador at the German Confederation in Frankfurt, in St. Petersburg (Russia) and in Paris (France). These posts gave him valuable insight into weaknesses of the great powers of Europe, an understanding he later used to his advantage.

In 1862, Prussian King Wilhelm I appointed him as his Minister President and Foreign Minister. Although technically subservient to the king, it was Bismarck who actually pulled the government strings. In the mid-1860s he orchestrated and won three successive short wars against Denmark, Austria and France. He engineered the wars in order to unify the German states into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership. In 1871, Wilhelm I became Emperor and raised Otto von Bismarck’s rank to Fuerst (Prince). The Emperor then appointed him as the first Reichskanzler (Imperial Chancellor) of the German Empire.

For much of the 1870s Bismarck pursued a Kulturkampf (cultural struggle) against Catholicism by placing parochial schools under state control and expelling the Jesuits. But in 1878 Bismarck reversed his position and aligned himself with the Catholics against what he perceived to be a growing socialist threat. To gain the support of the working class and to stave-off calls for more radical socialist alternatives, Bismarck created the world’s first comprehensive government social safety net by establishing national healthcare (1883), accident insurance (1884) and old age pensions (1889). In 1890, following the death of King Wilhelm I, Bismarck resigned at Wilhelm II’s insistence.


Otto von Bismarck statue across from the victory column in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

Otto von Bismarck statue across from the victory column in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

Bismarck – the visionary

Many historians praise Bismarck as a visionary for uniting Germany while keeping the peace in Europe. He was able to do so through skilled diplomacy and powerful rule at home and by carefully manipulating the balance of international rivalries. Bismarck has been called a master strategist who possessed not only a long-term national and international vision but also the short-term ability to juggle multi-faceted developments.

 U.S. historian William L. Langer, sums up the statesman by saying, “Bismarck at least deserves full credit for having steered European politics through this dangerous transitional period without serious conflict between the great powers.” (Langer, European Alliances and Alignments: 1871–1890 pp 503–04)

Bismarck – the villain

Other historians condemn Bismarck as a villain who dominated his cabinet ministers and smeared their reputations as soon as he no longer needed them. The historian Jonathan Steinberg portrays him as a demonic genius who was deeply vengeful, even toward his closest friends and family members. Bismarck’s friend, German diplomat Kurd von Schloezer, describes him as a kind of evil genius who successfully concealed his contempt for his fellow men while being determined to control and ruin them. British historian Richard J. Evans states that Bismarck was “intimidating and unscrupulous, playing to others’ frailties, not their strengths.” (Evans ,February 23, 2012, “The Gambler in Blood and Iron,” New York Review of Books)


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of



The anatomy of a lie

Thursday, August 11th, 2016


People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.

— Otto von Bismarck

(Not much has changed since the 19th century, has it?)


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of