The Shaping of the Western World.  Bismarck:

Germany from Blood and Iron (2008)




Director:     John Irvin. 

Starring:     Anthony Bate (Bismarck),  James Ottoway (Kaiser Wilhelm), Larry Cross (Motley),  Burnell Tucker (Elliot),  Russell Waters (General Moltke),  John Bailey (Napoleon III), Patrick Allen (narrator).

film only a half-hour long

a docudrama about Otto von Bismarck who was most responsible man to unite Germany into a real nation


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"When Bismarck was born in 1815 into an aristocratic Prussian family there was no such nation as Germany."  The people of the future Germany thought of themselves as:  Saxons, Prussians, Hessians and Bavarians. 

In 1848 a popular revolution broke out.  One of the goals was to create a unified, democratic Germany.  The revolt, however, was crushed by the military.  Bismarck decided from this that only strong leaders and wars can create nations.  By 1871 Germany was unified. 

On the night of unification Bismarck and his wife celebrate with two of their friends, who both are Americans.  One of the men is Jack Martley and the other is named Elliott.  The Americans ask Bismarck how did he unify Germany"  Bismarck gives most credit to the great economic might of Prussia. 

1862.  King Wilhelm's Palace, Prussia.  Wilhelm turned to Bismarck because he had no one else to turn to.  Moreover, Parliament wouldn't pay the military bills.  Wilhelm says that he is thinKing of resigning because Parliament is just so against him.  Bismarck says that would be taken as a sign of the King's weakness.  So the King makes Bismarck his prime minister (but without a Parliamentary majority).  The King warns Bismarck that he will be unpopular.  They will accuse him of being a dictator.  Bismarck dismisses all this as not very important.  He says what is needed is "iron and blood" to determine the fate of a unified Germany. 

1871.  The Americans tell Bismarck that he unified Germany through giving the average man order, but he also gave them war, such as the war against Denmark.   

A first step to unification: Bismarck goes to war against Denmark in 1864.  The Prussians won and the Germans started feeling the beginning of a sense of national pride.  Prussia annexes the former Dutch provinces of  Schleswig and Holstein.

In southern Germany, the provinces were dominated by the Austrians.  So Bismarck decides to go to war against Austria. 

1866.  King Wilhelm's Palace, Prussia.  The King is mad that Bismarck has gone to war against Austria without any warning at all.  He won't agree to the war and neither will Parliament.  Bismarck roars:  "I have no intention of asKing Parliament."  He says Germany will be united using the economic and military might of Prussia.  He adds that Ludwig the King of Bavaria is such a spendthrift that his province will soon be broke.  Then the King of Bavaria will want to turn to Austria for help, but this must not be permitted.  Rather Prussia will be the strong man to which the King of Bavaria will have to turn. 

The King shouts at Bismarck.  "My wife was right.  You want to be a dictator!"  Bismarck slowly responds:  "To be a dictator is never an end.  It is only a means to an end."  The King says he will not have Germans shooting at other Germans.  Bismarck says he will resign.  The King replies that Bismarck overstepped his power and authority, and now he wants to leave his King in the lurch.  Crying, the King adds:  "After all I've done for you."  Bismarck says that he wants the King to mobilize the army.  The King says they will mobilize, if Bismarck can promise that they will win.  Bismarck can't promise that. 

When the Prussians defeat the Austrians, the King wants to keep pushing onward.  He wants to go on and take Vienna.  Bismarck says they will not take Vienna.  Rather they will fall back and start playing the "protector".    Gen. Moltke comes over and the King tells him they are going on to Vienna!  Just then Bismarck kicks the King's horse in the side and the horse bolts out of there fast.  The general asks Bismarck what were the King's orders?  Bismarck tells him that he is not interested in a humiliated Austria for they will need the Austrians on their side if they have to face Napoleon III in France.

Bismarck was not loved before his recent victory over Austria, but as a victor now he is popular throughout Germany. 

1871.  Bismarck tells his American friends that finally the Germans learned on what side their bread was buttered.  On the Prussian side.  And Bismarck says he became the "best of friends" with Austria's Emperor Franz Joseph.  And four years later, when the Spanish kicked their queen off the throne, he knew the time to strike had come.  Bismarck says Prussia wants to put Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern on the throne.  This infuriates the French.  How did the King react to that?  "By taking the waters, my boy."

1870.  The spa at Ems.  Bismarck tells his King that the Germans can overcome the French.  But, he adds, Germany will not be the aggressor.  The King objects that Germany must pay at least some attention to world opinion.  Bismarck knows that a fight against France will unite all the Germans together.  This will be what it takes to make Germany a true nation.  The King tells Count Bismarck that he has already told the French that they may not push forward with their candidate for the Spanish throne.  Bismarck says he is resigning.  The King yells at him that his machinations in world politics is making Prussia hated throughout the world.  Bismarck responds:  "Not hated, majesty.  Feared!"  The King insists that Bismarck will stay in office until the Kings asks him to resign.  And he will sent this new telegram by wire to France at once.

Bismarck takes the telegraph message and leaves.  He tells Moltke that he has changed the words of the message to make it sound a bit more "abrupt".  After all the French " . . . are an excitable lot."   Moltke reads the message and says that the French will be incensed.  Bismarck says:  "Well, let's hope so Moltke."

The French declare war against Prussia, which is just what Bismarck wanted.   The war united all the Germans in unity.  It only took them six months to defeat the French army.  "And only Paris held out."

1871.  Prussian Headquarters near Pans.  The King yells at Bismarck about the bad behavior of the German soldiers, both enlisted men and officers.  He goes on to say that the civilized world now sees them as monsters.  The reaction by Bismarck is to make his stance harder.  He will have Paris shelled and take no more prisoners.  Moltke strongly objects that thousands of women and children will die needlessly.  Bismarck does not budge.  Moltke leaves the room after saying goodbye to the King.

The King tells Bismarck that he sees that Bismarck wants to destroy France.   Bismarck gets very angry and yells that he doesn't want even an inch of French soil.  He says he wants a united Germany:  "One nation under Prussian leadership."  The King says that Bismarck is his only real friend and asks how could he ever have doubted his friend? 

Paris is shelled and France collapses.  "And now there was no one to block a united Germany."

Together Bismarck and Napoleon III in their fanciest uniforms pose for a picture.  Napoleon has to sign the peace treaty.  He's not happy about it. 

Bismarck tells the King of Prussia that he will now be called German Emperor.  The King insists on being called the King of Prussia or the King of Greater Prussia, but not German Emperor.  Bismarck keeps working on him until the King says he will consent to be the King of Germany.  Bismarck warns him that the German princes will interpret the title as a future claim on their princely lands.  Bismarck starts to leave and the King shouts:  "For this I swear I'll never forgive you, Bismarck.  I'm on the throne, remember?"  Bismarck responds:  "What does it matter who's on the throne?  I govern."

1871.  Bismarck says goodbye to his American guests. Elliott tells Jack that Bismarck is a very great man.  Jack responds:  "And yet most people can only perceive despotism triumphant."

As the film finishes, the future chants of "Sieg, Heil" are heard. 


I liked the short film.  Anthony Bate was very good as Bismarck.  I had not been able to find available a good film on Bismarck, so I decided to use this docudrama.  The film presents a lot of historical material and it is great to have a view of how the producers felt that Bismarck sounded and behaved.    Now I feel I have a much better understanding of Bismarck's goals and his conflicts with the future German Emperor. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Prussia, Bismarck and Germany:

What was once Prussia is now just an historical region in Central Europe.  Prussia, so important to the history of Germany, is now owned by Poland, Russia, and Lithuania.   The historic area of Prussia was where the Prussian people lived, part of the Baltic tribes.  The western border was the Vistula River in today's Poland.  The area was oriented in a southwest to northeast direction along the Baltic Sea. It's eastern border was a bit southwest of the Neman River (which now forms the boundary between the Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuania. 

10th century  --  establishment of Polans.

10 century - earl 13th century  --  Polans tried but failed to annex Prussia. 

1230  -- the Teutonic Knights were called in to take over Prussia in what is called the Prussian Crusade by the Pope.  Prussia came to be administered within their Teutonic Order state.

1308-1310  -- the acquisition of Pomerelia.  Now the term Prussia was widened to include areas west of the Vistula River. 

1525  --  the last Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Albert of Brandenburg, adopts the Lutheran faith, resigned his position, and assumed the title of "Duke of Prussia." The  Duchy of Prussia becomes the first Protestant state, a vassal of Poland.

1544  -- the establishment of the Albertina University in the ducal capital of Königsberg, now Kaliningrad.  The future Kaliningrad becomes a center of learning and printing.

1618  --  Ducal Prussia passes to the senior Hohenzollern branch, the ruling Margraves of Brandenburg.

1657  --  Polish sovereignty over the duchy ends with the Treaty of Wehlau.   Ducal Prussia lay outside of the Holy Roman Empire.

1701  --  Frederick I manages to elevate the duchy to the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701. The former ducal lands become known as East Prussia.

18th century  --  Royal Prussia is annexed from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Kingdom of Prussia during the Partitions of Poland and administered within West Prussia.

1815-1866 --  the Kingdom of Prussia is a member of the German Confederation, but the provinces of Posen and Prussia were not a part of Germany.  They becomes a part of Germany in 1871 with the help of Bismarck.

Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck seeks to extend Hohenzollern hegemony throughout the German states.  To do so he needed to unify the German states.  He also needed to eliminate Prussia's rival, Austria, from the subsequent German Empire.  Bismarck wants Germany to be Prussian-dominated.   Bismarck starts three wars to solidify Germany.

1862–1890  --  Bismarck becomes the Minister President of Prussia.  From this position he oversees the unification of Germany.   

1864  --the Second war of Schleswig against Denmark.

1866  --the Austro-Prussian War.

1867  --  Bismarck becomes Chancellor of the North German Confederation.

1870-71  --  the Franco-Prussian War against France.

1871  --  the creation of the German Empire during the unification of Germany.  Bismarck  becomes the German Empire's first Chancellor and dominates its affairs until Kaiser Wilhelm II gets rid of him in 1890. 



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