Bismarck: The Man and Statesman

OTTO VON BISMARCK was born at Schönhausen in the Old Mark of Brandenburg on 1 April 1815. Both place and date hinted at the pattern of his life. Schönhausen lay just east of the Elbe, in appearance a typical Junker estate –some sheep and cattle, wheat and beetroot fields, with woods in the background. Life seemed to follow a traditional rhythm, far removed from the modern world. Yet if Bismarck had been born two years earlier, the kingdom of Westphalia, ruled by Jerome Bonaparte, would have been just across the river. French troops had occupied Schönhausen during the wars; French revolutionary ideas lapped to the edge of its fields. The true Junkers lived far away to the east, in Pomerania and Silesia. These Junkers were a Prussian speciality–gentry proud of their birth, but working their estates themselves and often needing public employment to supplement their incomes. They looked with jealousy at the high aristocracy with its cosmopolitan culture and its monopoly of the greatest offices in the state. We may find a parallel in the English country-gentry with their Tory prejudices and their endless feud against the Whig magnates; but the Junkers were nearer to the soil, often milking their own cows and selling their wool themselves at the nearest market, sometimes distinguished from the more prosperous peasant-farmers only by their historic names.

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