For that are more relevant to more current


For centuries
civilizations have built monuments and memorials to commemorate significant historical
events and to honor important personalities. 
While some of these monuments have faded into the landscapes of cities
and become landmarks of the past, others still carry meaning throughout decades
of changes in the societies that erected them. 
The monuments and memorials built in honor of Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor
of Prussia and eventually the German Empire from 1862 to 1890, embody the
socio-political and art historical factors which spawned these very unique
designs.  Unlike the neoclassical arches
that were typical representations in public art at the turn of the 20th
Century, the death of Bismarck brought forth a need to create a new visual for
a 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 20th
Century, submitted the winning proposal, serving as a blueprint for 47 Bismarck
towersa and influencing the design of many others.  The significance of these memorials and the
departure from traditional memorial statues lies in the relationship between
Bismarck and the history of the German Empire, from the development of being an
association of small states and kingdoms embedded between imperial powers to
becoming a military power with ambitions of a great German nation.  The elemental shape of the structures was a
response to create a new architectural language, embodying the new German
Empire.  Understanding both the history
of Bismarck, as well as the architectural developments and influences, shows
that these monuments, although unlike any other, are a product of their

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Monuments are
not built without an agenda and to study them while neglecting their historical
significance would remove the very essence of why they were erected and why
monuments that are more relevant to more current socio-political events haven’t
replaced them.  Otto von Bismarck, also
known as the Iron Chancellor, was a forceful and influential politician who
within twenty-eight years changed the course of European history.  The consequences of his politics set Europe
on the path that would lead to two World Wars and the European boundaries we
know today.

Before the 1860s the
multitude of German principalities were loosely joined as members of the German
Federation.  The opportunity to unite the
German states as one military force and to bind them together more permanently
arose in 1863.  In dispute over the
succession of the duchies
of Schleswig and Holstein and with the support of
Austria, Prussia invaded Denmark, which ultimately led to Denmark renouncing
its claim on both Schleswig and Holstein. 
To ensure that the Duchies would remain under German rule Bismarck
convinced Austria to agree to the Gastein Convention in which Prussia
received Schleswig, while Austria received Holstein.  When Austria reneged
on this agreement in 1866 Bismarck took advantage of the situation and declared
war against Austria.  In alliance with
Italy Austria was attacked from the north and the south, forcing them to
divide their forces.  After seven weeks Prussia
won the decisive Battle of Königgrätz.  To
avaoid further conflict, and in hopes of restoring friendly relations, Bismarck
insisted on no annexations and no victory marches.  As a result the
German Confederation was dissolved and Prussia
annexed Schleswig, Holstein, Frankfurt, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, and Nassau.1

The victory over Austria increased the existing tensions
between Prussia and France. Although Bismarck did not avoid war with France he
feared that the Austrians or the Russians would ally with the French to avoid
major shifts in the power of balance in Europe.  Bismarck needed the Germans to perceive France
as the aggressor, so they would unite behind the King of Prussia.  To achieve this he kept Napoleon III involved
in intrigues, whereby France might gain territory from Luxembourg or Belgium.
Despite the fact that France never achieved any territorial gain, it made them
look greedy and untrustworthy.2

A suitable pretext for war arose in 1870, when France
interfered in the German succession of the Spanish throne.  After careful provocation by Bismarck France
mobilized and declared war.  The German
states saw France as the aggressor, and swept up by nationalism and patriotic
zeal, they rallied to Prussia’s side, as Bismarck had intended.  The war was a great success for Prussia as
the German army won victory after victory. 
In the end, France ceded Alsace and parts of Lorraine and Bismarck acted
immediately to secure the unification of Germany.  Jonathan Steinberg said of Bismarck’s
creation of the German Empire that:

the first phase of his great career had been concluded. The
genius-statesmen had transformed European politics and had unified Germany in
eight and a half years. And he had done so by sheer force of personality, by
his brilliance, ruthlessness, and flexibility of principle. … It marked the
high point of his career. He had achieved the impossible, and his genius and the
cult of genius had no limits. … When he returned to Berlin in March 1871, he
had become immortal …3

Having unified his nation, Bismarck now devoted
himself to promoting peace in Europe with his skills in statesmanship.  Fully aware that Europe was skeptical of this
powerful new Empire, Bismarck turned his attention to preserving peace in
Europe based on a balance of power. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, Bismarck “remained undisputed
world champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twenty
years after 1871, and devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, to
maintaining peace between the powers”. 
He was forced to contend with France’s
desire to avenge the losses of the Franco-Prussian War and therefore, engaged
in a policy of isolating France while maintaining cordial relations with other
nations in Europe.

During his rule of the new German Empire he never enjoyed
the same approval he had during the war that united the country.  The Long Depression, which affected Germany
as well as much of Europe and America, was the first economic downturn since
industrial development began to surge in the 1850s.  Despite his efforts to boost economic growth
by enacting several tariffs protecting German agriculture and industry from
foreign competitors in 1879, his time as chancellor was subject to this
depression and not until after he left office was the economy heading for a
upswing.  The depression, out of his
hands to control, reflected badly on his approval by the German people.4

Bismarck was very straightforward when it came to what
he believed was best for the German Empire. 
While he was able to intricately and with great strength balance the
powers in Europe, he was more heavy-handed in inner political matters, which he
feared, were going to tear apart the newly founded country.  In 1871 Bismarck initiated an anti-Catholic culture
war.  He dreaded that the Vatican held
too 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 would
become too powerful, and so he limited their influence in high circles.  Although many of the restrictions Bismarck
had put on Catholics were lifted in 1878, they never forgot the effects it had
on their lives.5

Since fearing the rise of power from the Catholic
party in Germany, Bismarck was even more bothered by the growth of the
socialist movement, particularly the rising popularity of the Social Democratic
Party.  He attempted to stunt their
growing influence by establishing Anti-Socialst Laws in 1878.  Socialist organizations and meetings were
forbidden, as was the circulation of socialist literature.  Despite these efforts, the socialist movement
steadily gained supporters and seats in the Reichstag.6

Bismarck’s strategy in the 1880’s was to win the
workers over for the conservative regime by implementing social benefits.  He added accident and old-age insurance as
well as a form of socialized medicine. Bismarck worked closely with large
industry and aimed to stimulate German economic growth by giving workers
greater security.82 A secondary concern was trumping the Socialists, who had no
welfare proposals of their own and opposed Bismarck’s.  Bismarck’s idea was to implement welfare
programs that were acceptable to conservatives without any socialistic aspects.
He was dubious about laws protecting workers at the workplace, such as safe
working conditions, limitation of work hours, and the regulation of women’s and
child labor. He believed that such regulation would force workers and employers
to 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 from
all duties in 1890.  Wilhelm II resented
Bismarck’s vigilant foreign policy, wanting
vigorous and rapid expansion to enlarge Germany’s “place in the sun”.  Immediately
after Bismarck was removed from all duties, committees were founded across the
Empire to plan the erection of commemorative monuments. 

after the unification of Germany in 1871 Bismarck became a popular subject for monuments,
frequently honored alongside other figures involved in the unification
of the Empire.  Initially the most
frequently encountered monuments were bronze busts or statues. In most
cases, they portrayed, on a high plinth, an oversized cast statue of Bismarck as a military figure in the uniform of
a cuirassier, based on the prototype of the Bismarck
statue unveiled in 1879 in Cologne.  The
central squares of cities were usually decorated with these monuments. All over
the world, streets, town squares, fountains, and even whole cities were named
in his honor. 

With the rising Bismarck cult some 500 Bismarck
memorials 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 to
founding father and eventually would become the symbol for the empire
itself.  This development can be seen in
the different phases of monument building, the first after his dismissal, and the
second after his death.  Another type of
memorial shows Bismarck as the heroic father figure, the guardian of the
empire.  The most prominent of these
statues is the large Bismarck memorial in Hamburg.  And eventually a purely architectural
monument, usually in the shape of a tower, and then intensified in the archaic
monumental Bismarck column, with a brazier to be lit on specific holidays.  Over the years his popularity rose, setting
aside all the inner political differences, he was revered for his role in
uniting Germany, and would eventually, after his death, be separated from his
historical figure to become the mythological father figure of the nation.  This cult would remain strong throughout the
Weimar Republic and was only overshadowed by the rise of Hitler and the Third


Although Bismarck
towers, the solid columns made of rough stone, are distinct in design, there
are no visual representations of Bismarck, and mostly the ornamentation is left
to a bare minimum, with maybe a relief of the “Reichsadler” or an
inscription.  They are part of a
Denkmalkultur, a memorialculture, which flooded Europe in the late 19th
Century 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 mystic
aura, such as Stonehenge, remain powerful inspiration to this day.7

modern city should be structured by monumnets which relate to their meaning by
being “carriers of clear ideas but composed of spaces that responded to
shifting values of the functions that rulership should provide for the cultural
and economic life of the city.8  During the French revolution, for instance,
royal statues were perceived as symbols of royal rituals and their power and
were therefor demolished.  The repetitive
form of the royal monument was in fact its source of power; hence to search for
a new form of expression would have meant to “overlook the symbolic essence and
dynastic force – the use value – which made these statues important royal
portraits and key public works of art in early modern France.9

use of columns was popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th
Century, for example the Nelson Column in London, a Corinthian column with a
sculpture 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 his
victory over the Dacians.  This concept
of double performance was adopted by many other later memorials, among them the
Vendôme Column in Paris and the Siegessäule in Berlin, a feature that was
include in several of the individually designed Bismarck towers. 

need for societies to erect monuments to serve the purpose of displaying
national 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 true
symbol of imperialism.  Inspired by the
triumphal arches of ancient Rome it revived the ideas of their processional
ways, 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 architectural
landscape of large cities, witnessing defining moments, such as the
neoclassical Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, completed in 1791, commemorating the
Thirty Years War.10 

Franco-Prussian war as well as a strong sense of nationalism restarted the need
and 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 19th
and 20th Century Germany influenced what we expect of memorials in
the present.  While French urban planning
integrated memorials into the cityscape, monumnets in Germany were placed in
natural settings, in patriotic landscapes, exemplified in the monuments of the
Bismarck cult and their primitivistic neo-pagan elements.11

An already known
form, the battlefield monument, was a popular form of commemorating the
Franco-Prussian War.  The inspiration for
these 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 by
Emanual Josef Margold from 1908 reveals details of Neo-Assyrian palaces.12  

          German national
monuments, among them the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig, were intended IN
MIGHT HOLD.13  Bruno Schmitz aimed towards developing a true
German style while using two levels, first one of the crypt and the second for
the “Ruhmeshalle”.  Whether this
intention was realized through the monuments ceremonial outlook with a
rough-hewn granite pyramidal structure topping the whole complex, the interior
speaks of different themes as it evokes the atmosphere of` ‘untenanted
mausoleum, 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

`           Exploration
of grandiose structures in service of commemoration political figures


The prototype for this new generation of monuments
was the Bismarck tower at the Starnberger See in Bavaria, which was completed
in 1999.  It was conceived as a place of
pilgrimage, out in the open, placed far from any cityscape, not bearing any
representations of Bismarck.  It was much
more a monument to the confederate union of German states, celebrating the
equality and brotherly solidarity, shown in reliefs, intentionally rejecting
the Prussian historiography.  While he
was revered for his accomplishments in uniting the German principalities,
people were not willing to forget the Kulturkampf, especially in Catholic parts
of the country like Bavaria. 

his death in 1898 Bismarck’s already enormous popularity increased immensely,
especially in the student unions. They looked at to him as the ultimate father
figure, the ideal they wanted to live up to. 
This extraordinary admiration led to the initiative by the Burschenschaft
Alemannia Bonn to build Bismarck monuments across Germany.  After meeting with more than 30
representatives of other student unions, they sent out a proclamation
announcing the competition to design a monument worthy of Otto von
Bismarck.  Professor Paul Wallot, a well
respected architect at the turn or the century conferred with the student
unions about the terms of the competition. 
They agreed on four parameters, although they would be flexible
concerning material and the details of the adornment, which could be altered
for the sake of practicality.  The
architects were given free expression in terms of form and layout.  The upper part though needed to contain a
brazier, so that a fire could be lit for specific events.  The material to be used was German granite
and the location should be built on a high point, far away from any other
structures.  In addition to these
questions of design, the student unions determined that the monuments should
not cost more than 20.000 Marks for a 10 meter high structure.  Depending on the amount of money raised for
individual monuments could influence the material as well as the size of the

the student unions sent out pamphlets to towns and cities that had more than
5000 residents containing the intentions of building these monuments along with
information on setting up committees and the financial breakdown of the
monuments costs.  It was known that many
cities were interested in building a memorial for Bismarck and so the idea of
the student unions did not fall on deaf ears. 
Many cities, especially university cities, committed to building a
memorial based on the winning design and started collecting the funds to
complete their monuments immediately. 

Wilhelm Kreis was an
exceedingly prominent architect who influenced the Rhineland from the late
German Empire throughout the years of reconstruction until the 1950s. 

Before finishing his
studies he won first prize in the competition for the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in
Leipzig, but had to leave the construction to Bruno Schmitz, who was not only
older, 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 the
Neo-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 massive
pillar of fire, expressed the emotion the student unions desired to
conjure.  Awarded by the competition’s
initiators it was built 47 times until 1911, consequently becoming a standard
form.  The outstanding feature of these
solid structures was the requirement from the Student Unions that, on the top
of all columns, braziers would be positioned so that, on specific days, they
could be lit in honor of Bismarck, forming a network of beacons across
Germany.  Firing facilities were
installed on 167 Bismarck towers, but because a common day of lighting could not
be agreed upon, and with the outbreak of the First World War, this purpose was
never realized.

Kreis design of the column was
comprised of at least 10 meters height structured in three segments.  The basic square layout contains a tower with
four columns, set in the corners of the square are set so close they appear as
one bundle and slightly taper to the top. 
The solid square pedestal is a two-tiered foundation to this solid and
massive structure. The tower and colums are encompassed by a bulging capital,
which is set by a heavy architrave and the superstructure which was meant to
carry the brazier.  Kreis use of sophisticated stone construction was
influenced by the architecture of the Roman Empire and the Germanic structures
embodied in the mauseoleum of Theoderich in Ravenna.









Bergdoll p91

Andrew McClellan, The life and death of a Royal Monument

Pohlasander  AHns National Monumets and

op cit p 75

Brigitte Pedde

Clegg design and architecture incentral Europe