For centuriescivilizations have built monuments and memorials to commemorate significant historicalevents and to honor important personalities. While some of these monuments have faded into the landscapes of citiesand become landmarks of the past, others still carry meaning throughout decadesof changes in the societies that erected them. The monuments and memorials built in honor of Otto von Bismarck, Chancellorof Prussia and eventually the German Empire from 1862 to 1890, embody thesocio-political and art historical factors which spawned these very uniquedesigns. Unlike the neoclassical archesthat were typical representations in public art at the turn of the 20thCentury, the death of Bismarck brought forth a need to create a new visual fora new Germany, embodying Bismarck as a symbol of German unity.
Wilhelm Kreis,one of the most prominent architects in Germany in the first half of the 20thCentury, submitted the winning proposal, serving as a blueprint for 47 Bismarcktowersa and influencing the design of many others. The significance of these memorials and thedeparture from traditional memorial statues lies in the relationship betweenBismarck and the history of the German Empire, from the development of being anassociation of small states and kingdoms embedded between imperial powers tobecoming a military power with ambitions of a great German nation. The elemental shape of the structures was aresponse to create a new architectural language, embodying the new GermanEmpire. Understanding both the historyof Bismarck, as well as the architectural developments and influences, showsthat these monuments, although unlike any other, are a product of theirtime.
Monuments arenot built without an agenda and to study them while neglecting their historicalsignificance would remove the very essence of why they were erected and whymonuments that are more relevant to more current socio-political events haven’treplaced them. Otto von Bismarck, alsoknown as the Iron Chancellor, was a forceful and influential politician whowithin twenty-eight years changed the course of European history. The consequences of his politics set Europeon the path that would lead to two World Wars and the European boundaries weknow today.
Before the 1860s themultitude of German principalities were loosely joined as members of the GermanFederation. The opportunity to unite theGerman states as one military force and to bind them together more permanentlyarose in 1863. In dispute over thesuccession of the duchiesof Schleswig and Holstein and with the support ofAustria, Prussia invaded Denmark, which ultimately led to Denmark renouncingits claim on both Schleswig and Holstein. To ensure that the Duchies would remain under German rule Bismarckconvinced Austria to agree to the Gastein Convention in which Prussiareceived Schleswig, while Austria received Holstein. When Austria renegedon this agreement in 1866 Bismarck took advantage of the situation and declaredwar against Austria. In alliance withItaly Austria was attacked from the north and the south, forcing them todivide their forces. After seven weeks Prussiawon the decisive Battle of Königgrätz.
Toavaoid further conflict, and in hopes of restoring friendly relations, Bismarckinsisted on no annexations and no victory marches. As a result theGerman Confederation was dissolved and Prussiaannexed Schleswig, Holstein, Frankfurt, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, and Nassau.1The victory over Austria increased the existing tensionsbetween Prussia and France. Although Bismarck did not avoid war with France hefeared that the Austrians or the Russians would ally with the French to avoidmajor shifts in the power of balance in Europe. Bismarck needed the Germans to perceive Franceas the aggressor, so they would unite behind the King of Prussia. To achieve this he kept Napoleon III involvedin intrigues, whereby France might gain territory from Luxembourg or Belgium.
Despite the fact that France never achieved any territorial gain, it made themlook greedy and untrustworthy.2A suitable pretext for war arose in 1870, when Franceinterfered in the German succession of the Spanish throne. After careful provocation by Bismarck Francemobilized and declared war. The Germanstates saw France as the aggressor, and swept up by nationalism and patrioticzeal, they rallied to Prussia’s side, as Bismarck had intended. The war was a great success for Prussia asthe German army won victory after victory.
In the end, France ceded Alsace and parts of Lorraine and Bismarck actedimmediately to secure the unification of Germany. Jonathan Steinberg said of Bismarck’screation of the German Empire that:the first phase of his great career had been concluded. Thegenius-statesmen had transformed European politics and had unified Germany ineight and a half years. And he had done so by sheer force of personality, byhis brilliance, ruthlessness, and flexibility of principle. ..
. It marked thehigh point of his career. He had achieved the impossible, and his genius and thecult of genius had no limits. .
.. When he returned to Berlin in March 1871, hehad become immortal …
3Having unified his nation, Bismarck now devotedhimself to promoting peace in Europe with his skills in statesmanship. Fully aware that Europe was skeptical of thispowerful new Empire, Bismarck turned his attention to preserving peace inEurope based on a balance of power. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, Bismarck “remained undisputedworld champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twentyyears after 1871, and devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, tomaintaining peace between the powers”. He was forced to contend with France’sdesire to avenge the losses of the Franco-Prussian War and therefore, engagedin a policy of isolating France while maintaining cordial relations with othernations in Europe.
During his rule of the new German Empire he never enjoyedthe same approval he had during the war that united the country. The Long Depression, which affected Germanyas well as much of Europe and America, was the first economic downturn sinceindustrial development began to surge in the 1850s. Despite his efforts to boost economic growthby enacting several tariffs protecting German agriculture and industry fromforeign competitors in 1879, his time as chancellor was subject to thisdepression and not until after he left office was the economy heading for aupswing. The depression, out of hishands to control, reflected badly on his approval by the German people.4Bismarck was very straightforward when it came to whathe believed was best for the German Empire. While he was able to intricately and with great strength balance thepowers in Europe, he was more heavy-handed in inner political matters, which hefeared, were going to tear apart the newly founded country. In 1871 Bismarck initiated an anti-Catholic culturewar. He dreaded that the Vatican heldtoo much political power, not just in regard to the German Catholic population,but also on a larger scale within Europe.
Additionally he was concerned that the Catholic Center Party wouldbecome too powerful, and so he limited their influence in high circles. Although many of the restrictions Bismarckhad put on Catholics were lifted in 1878, they never forgot the effects it hadon their lives.5Since fearing the rise of power from the Catholicparty in Germany, Bismarck was even more bothered by the growth of thesocialist movement, particularly the rising popularity of the Social DemocraticParty.
He attempted to stunt theirgrowing influence by establishing Anti-Socialst Laws in 1878. Socialist organizations and meetings wereforbidden, as was the circulation of socialist literature. Despite these efforts, the socialist movementsteadily gained supporters and seats in the Reichstag.6Bismarck’s strategy in the 1880’s was to win theworkers over for the conservative regime by implementing social benefits. He added accident and old-age insurance aswell as a form of socialized medicine. Bismarck worked closely with largeindustry and aimed to stimulate German economic growth by giving workersgreater security.82 A secondary concern was trumping the Socialists, who had nowelfare proposals of their own and opposed Bismarck’s. Bismarck’s idea was to implement welfareprograms that were acceptable to conservatives without any socialistic aspects.
He was dubious about laws protecting workers at the workplace, such as safeworking conditions, limitation of work hours, and the regulation of women’s andchild labor. He believed that such regulation would force workers and employersto reduce work and production and thus harm the economy. He did not completely succeed, however.Support for the Social Democrats increased with each election.After the death of Kaiser Wilhelm I, Wilhelm II, dismissed Bismarck fromall duties in 1890. Wilhelm II resentedBismarck’s vigilant foreign policy, wantingvigorous and rapid expansion to enlarge Germany’s “place in the sun”. Immediatelyafter Bismarck was removed from all duties, committees were founded across theEmpire to plan the erection of commemorative monuments.
Shortlyafter the unification of Germany in 1871 Bismarck became a popular subject for monuments,frequently honored alongside other figures involved in the unificationof the Empire. Initially the mostfrequently encountered monuments were bronze busts or statues. In mostcases, they portrayed, on a high plinth, an oversized cast statue of Bismarck as a military figure in the uniform ofa cuirassier, based on the prototype of the Bismarckstatue unveiled in 1879 in Cologne. Thecentral squares of cities were usually decorated with these monuments.
All overthe world, streets, town squares, fountains, and even whole cities were namedin his honor. With the rising Bismarck cult some 500 Bismarckmemorials were built, varying in form and function from traditional statues,busts, and plaques to monumental towers. Over decades the essence of these memorials changed significantly. Early on Bismarck’s name was equivalent tofounding father and eventually would become the symbol for the empireitself. This development can be seen inthe different phases of monument building, the first after his dismissal, and thesecond after his death. Another type ofmemorial shows Bismarck as the heroic father figure, the guardian of theempire. The most prominent of thesestatues is the large Bismarck memorial in Hamburg.
And eventually a purely architecturalmonument, usually in the shape of a tower, and then intensified in the archaicmonumental Bismarck column, with a brazier to be lit on specific holidays. Over the years his popularity rose, settingaside all the inner political differences, he was revered for his role inuniting Germany, and would eventually, after his death, be separated from hishistorical figure to become the mythological father figure of the nation. This cult would remain strong throughout theWeimar Republic and was only overshadowed by the rise of Hitler and the ThirdReich. Although Bismarcktowers, the solid columns made of rough stone, are distinct in design, thereare no visual representations of Bismarck, and mostly the ornamentation is leftto a bare minimum, with maybe a relief of the “Reichsadler” or aninscription. They are part of aDenkmalkultur, a memorialculture, which flooded Europe in the late 19thCentury and early 20th Century. This new shape of memorial derived shapes and forms from ancient Egypt,Greek and Roman antiquity, Byzantium and the Middle Ages. These ancient structures and their mysticaura, such as Stonehenge, remain powerful inspiration to this day.7 Amodern city should be structured by monumnets which relate to their meaning bybeing “carriers of clear ideas but composed of spaces that responded toshifting values of the functions that rulership should provide for the culturaland economic life of the city.
8 During the French revolution, for instance,royal statues were perceived as symbols of royal rituals and their power andwere therefor demolished. The repetitiveform of the royal monument was in fact its source of power; hence to search fora new form of expression would have meant to “overlook the symbolic essence anddynastic force – the use value – which made these statues important royalportraits and key public works of art in early modern France.9 Theuse of columns was popular in Europe in the 17th and 18thCentury, for example the Nelson Column in London, a Corinthian column with asculpture of he admiral mounted on it. The only taller memorial in London is dedicated to the Great Fire. This is the first interactive memorial,combining the column with a viewing platform. The spiraling staircase was inspired by Trajan’s column, commemorating hisvictory over the Dacians.
This conceptof double performance was adopted by many other later memorials, among them theVendôme Column in Paris and the Siegessäule in Berlin, a feature that wasinclude in several of the individually designed Bismarck towers. Theneed for societies to erect monuments to serve the purpose of displayingnational unity and royal power through its military triumph is common. The most well known example is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile in Paris, a truesymbol of imperialism. Inspired by thetriumphal arches of ancient Rome it revived the ideas of their processionalways, while serving its purpose of a commemorative monument.
This form of monument spread across Europe,for instance the Siegestor in München. These large marble arches became a vital part of the architecturallandscape of large cities, witnessing defining moments, such as theneoclassical Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, completed in 1791, commemorating theThirty Years War.10 TheFranco-Prussian war as well as a strong sense of nationalism restarted the needand importance for public monuments.
During the years of Bismarck a Denkmalkultur developed within Europe,which called for new expressions in monument art. The Denkmalflut, the flood of monuments, in 19thand 20th Century Germany influenced what we expect of memorials inthe present. While French urban planningintegrated memorials into the cityscape, monumnets in Germany were placed innatural settings, in patriotic landscapes, exemplified in the monuments of theBismarck cult and their primitivistic neo-pagan elements.11 An already knownform, the battlefield monument, was a popular form of commemorating theFranco-Prussian War. The inspiration forthese colossal structures was the German excavations in Babylon and Assur,accompanied by reconstructions of designs of Ancient Mesopotamia. An unrealized design for a war monument byEmanual Josef Margold from 1908 reveals details of Neo-Assyrian palaces.12 German nationalmonuments, among them the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig, were intended INRECALLING THE PAST, TO SPEAK PERSUASIVELY TOO THE PRESENT OF WHAT THE FUTUREMIGHT HOLD.13 Bruno Schmitz aimed towards developing a trueGerman style while using two levels, first one of the crypt and the second forthe “Ruhmeshalle”.
Whether thisintention was realized through the monuments ceremonial outlook with arough-hewn granite pyramidal structure topping the whole complex, the interiorspeaks of different themes as it evokes the atmosphere of` ‘untenantedmausoleum, a site for mourning irreparable loss.”14 The sculptures created by Franz Metzner,allegories of German virtues and the mask of destiny, were described as”barbaric modernity.”15 ` Explorationof grandiose structures in service of commemoration political figures The prototype for this new generation of monumentswas the Bismarck tower at the Starnberger See in Bavaria, which was completedin 1999. It was conceived as a place ofpilgrimage, out in the open, placed far from any cityscape, not bearing anyrepresentations of Bismarck. It was muchmore a monument to the confederate union of German states, celebrating theequality and brotherly solidarity, shown in reliefs, intentionally rejectingthe Prussian historiography. While hewas revered for his accomplishments in uniting the German principalities,people were not willing to forget the Kulturkampf, especially in Catholic partsof the country like Bavaria.
Afterhis death in 1898 Bismarck’s already enormous popularity increased immensely,especially in the student unions. They looked at to him as the ultimate fatherfigure, the ideal they wanted to live up to. This extraordinary admiration led to the initiative by the BurschenschaftAlemannia Bonn to build Bismarck monuments across Germany.
After meeting with more than 30representatives of other student unions, they sent out a proclamationannouncing the competition to design a monument worthy of Otto vonBismarck. Professor Paul Wallot, a wellrespected architect at the turn or the century conferred with the studentunions about the terms of the competition. They agreed on four parameters, although they would be flexibleconcerning material and the details of the adornment, which could be alteredfor the sake of practicality.
Thearchitects were given free expression in terms of form and layout. The upper part though needed to contain abrazier, so that a fire could be lit for specific events. The material to be used was German graniteand the location should be built on a high point, far away from any otherstructures. In addition to thesequestions of design, the student unions determined that the monuments shouldnot cost more than 20.000 Marks for a 10 meter high structure.
Depending on the amount of money raised forindividual monuments could influence the material as well as the size of thestructure. Additionallythe student unions sent out pamphlets to towns and cities that had more than5000 residents containing the intentions of building these monuments along withinformation on setting up committees and the financial breakdown of themonuments costs. It was known that manycities were interested in building a memorial for Bismarck and so the idea ofthe student unions did not fall on deaf ears.
Many cities, especially university cities, committed to building amemorial based on the winning design and started collecting the funds tocomplete their monuments immediately. Wilhelm Kreis was anexceedingly prominent architect who influenced the Rhineland from the lateGerman Empire throughout the years of reconstruction until the 1950s. Before finishing hisstudies he won first prize in the competition for the Völkerschlachtdenkmal inLeipzig, but had to leave the construction to Bruno Schmitz, who was not onlyolder, but also more experienced in completing a project of this magnitude.After his final exams, Kreis accepted a position as an assistant for Paul Wallot,an important architect at the time, best known for his design of theNeo-Rennaisance Reichstag in Berlin. Kreis described himself as a Prussian, a German national,and he deeply admired Otto von Bismarck. His formidable tower design,entitled Götterdämmerung, a massivepillar of fire, expressed the emotion the student unions desired toconjure. Awarded by the competition’sinitiators it was built 47 times until 1911, consequently becoming a standardform.
The outstanding feature of thesesolid structures was the requirement from the Student Unions that, on the topof all columns, braziers would be positioned so that, on specific days, theycould be lit in honor of Bismarck, forming a network of beacons acrossGermany. Firing facilities wereinstalled on 167 Bismarck towers, but because a common day of lighting could notbe agreed upon, and with the outbreak of the First World War, this purpose wasnever realized. Kreis design of the column wascomprised of at least 10 meters height structured in three segments. The basic square layout contains a tower withfour columns, set in the corners of the square are set so close they appear asone bundle and slightly taper to the top. The solid square pedestal is a two-tiered foundation to this solid andmassive structure. The tower and colums are encompassed by a bulging capital,which is set by a heavy architrave and the superstructure which was meant tocarry the brazier. Kreis use of sophisticated stone construction wasinfluenced by the architecture of the Roman Empire and the Germanic structuresembodied in the mauseoleum of Theoderich in Ravenna.
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