BISMARCK THE MAN
As with Frederick the Great and Napoleon, his ego was paired with a strong dose of cynicism, and this not infrcquently led him to underestimate friends and foes. He saw in friends will-less tools of his plans, chess figures that he could arbitrarily push to and fro on the board of his politics, and even sacrifice if this fit the game; in his enemies, [he saw] only scoundrels and fools. Friends were of use to him only if they identified completely with him. He regarded them with mistrust as soon as they ventured to have an opinion other than his or to adopt a stance that failed to conform to his expectations.
This is how Bismarck was characterized by his closest colleague, Christoph Tiedemann, head of the Chancellor's Office from 1878 to 1881. Bismarck commanded respect in his circle, but his singular habit of making decisions alone, reacting allergically to any criticism, and preferring to gather around him only loyally devoted factotums was felt to be disadvantageous by many politicians, including foreign ones. On 4 April 1875 the Austro-Hungarian minister in Berlin, Count Aloys Karolyi, wrote to his foreign minister, Count Gyula Andrassy, that Berlin had no political culture:
Prince Bismarck loves, and has structured his entire existence around, surreounding himsclf merely with subordinates and like-minded people, without the slightest misgivings and his business life is usually confined to these circles as well. Nowhere is ... the social type of political intercourse that plays a large and useful role in politics in, say, Paris, London, and St. Petersburg as meagre and barren as in Berlin.
Bismarck responded to political resistance with ill feeling and such physical distress as stomach cramps. He loved good food and drink, and his appetite astonished nearly everyone who had the opportunity to dine in the Bismarck home. Even in the war of 1870-71, he presided over "a good table, which, where circumstances allowed [as at Versailles], was elevated to opulence" thanks to "donations from our native country." One of his colleagues, Moritz Busch, spoke of smoked breast of goose, wild game, "noble físhes," pheasants, layer cake, good beer, and outstanding wines as well as "other most estimable things." Lucius von Ballhausen observed in 1874 that
after [Bismarck] had already consumed soup, a large, fat trout and roast veal,. . . he [ate] three or four of those large, heavy ... gull eggs that he had received as a present from Silesia. ... And in his opinion he was still on a special diet.
Baroness von Spitzemberg, a regular guest in the Bismarck home, was repeatedly impressed by the delights of the man's table:
The prince feasts with the best of appetites and genuine Pomeranian refinement. Lobster, breast of goose and jellied goose, sprats and herring, smoked meat and turkey, one after the other makes its way into his stomach.
Weight was not the only problem Bismarck had with his health; the peculiar way he would organize his day caused him trouble as well. In Varzin and Friedrichsruh he would appear for breakfast between noon and 1:00P.M. Around 2:00P.M. he and a colleague would go horse riding for three to four hours, during which time business and other matters were discussed.
At 6:00 RM. the evening meal was served, always four courses with champagne, dinner wine, and port.... At 9:00 P.M. the prince retired to his study. Somewhat past midnight the mail was completed. The servants appeared to put the letters and other postal matters into envelopes and seal them. At 12:30 A.M. the day's work was done. In the room of the princess there followed the tea hour, which usually lasted for hours. (Tiedemann)
The journeys of the 1860s to take the waters at Carlsbad, Badgastein, and Baden-Baden in the company of the Prussian king, the regular stays in Kissingen since 1874, and the advice of the house physicians, Struck and Frerich, all failed to convince Bismarck to adopt a healthier way of life. There was no progress until Ernst Schweninger took over the supervision of Bismarck's health in the summer of 1883 and prescribed a diet and a different daily routine. By November Baroness von Spitzemberg noted with surprise in her diary that Bismarck was "scarcely recognizable as the ponderous, bloated man of this spring: . . . the way he strode so nimbly, youthfully slim of build; above, of course, his white head with his face heavily creased from the loss of weight." Ballhausen observed in December 1883 that
he had become very lean, but sprightly and free of pain, takes long walks and keeps a strict diet under Schweninger's constant supervision. The obvious success of the prescribed regimen makes him willing....His current schedule is: 7:00A.M., rise; from 10:00A.M. to 12:30P.M., walk and speak with visitors, then lunch together. Walk alone until it gets dark. 6:00 P.M., supper, one to two pipes; 9:30 P.M., he retires punctually.
Schweninger's successes did not last long, however. As soon as the physician turned his back on the patient, the old appetite came back. Bismarck suffered from insomnia and facial pains as well. To deal with the insomnia, he had earlier received morphine, which Schweninger was now unable to refuse him.
The fact that Bismarck lived to such a great age (83 years) despite the problems with his health was attributable primarily to the support he found in his wife, Johanna, and the warmth and security of his family circle. Baroness von Spitzemberg formulated a discriminating assessment of Johanna:
That she was only the loving wife and a doting mother besides is beyond doubt, just as it is certain that she honestly hated her great husband's political plans as inimical to her happiness and his health. But her warmheartedness, her faithfulness, her original, at no point shallow, powerful individuality, is nevertheless also worth coming to know.
As a diversion from politics, Bismarck read a great deal, rode horses, hunted, and walked his dogs. Painting and music interested him less:
I knew Richard Wagner, but it was impossible for me to make anything of him.... I have given up listening to music, too; I cannot get the melody out of my mind afterwards, and then the music brings tears to my eyes and it greatly tires me when I allow myself to be moved. (Bismarck's comments to an English paintcr called Richmond, November 1887)
Bismarck found it difficult to express his feelings. When his beloved mastiff, Sultan, died, Bismarck tried to conceal his tears from Tiedemann, according to whom Bismarck explained the next day that "it was sinful to set his heart on an animal the way he had, but he had had nothing dearer in the world."
Bismarck regained his emotional balance when riding and hiking, and numerous accounts of his intimate relation to nature have survived. His letters to Johanna abound with descriptions of his impressions from excursions. As he wrote in 1867 from Varzin:
When I have eaten breakfast and read the newspaper, I hike with hunting boots in the woods ... and think about areas to plant.... Here there are ... brooks, moors, heaths, bramblebushes, roe deer, wood grouse, impenetrable stands of beech and oak, and other things I take joy in when I listen to the trio of dove, heron, and harrier.
In Friedrichsruh in 1889 he showed Baroness von Spitzemberg "his beloved forest [and] various protected groves of trees he had planted." He told her he had planted a hill with "undergrowth" that was supposed to remind him of Pomerania. "As an old man he often stretched out in the heather [there] and gazed at the sky to forget himself and the world!" Because of his idiosyncracies the pronounced feeling of his own value and the steadfastness of his political decisionsBismarck was often compared by his followers with an oak tree, the symbol of the German soul and the German national character since the eighteenth century.