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The Bismarck Cottage

Source: Städtisches Museum Göttingen

The Bismarckhäuschen bears this name because Otto von Bismarck, later Chancellor of the Reich, lived here during his time as a student. He came to Göttingen in 1832 to study law and political science. At first he found accommodation in the apartment of the landlord and baker Justus Friedrich Schumacher, at Rote Straße 299 (today Rote Straße 27). In 1833 he moved to the building, we see in front of us. It was formerly a tower of the city wall.

The main reason for his change of residence is said to have been his “rowdy and drunken lifestyle,” which had gotten him into trouble with the university and the city of Göttingen. Since 1933, the house has belonged to the city of Göttingen and is now partly used by the Geschichtswerkstatt e.V. (Association for local historical research) as well as a memorial to Otto von Bismarck. An exhibition tells about his life and work, also beyond Göttingen since he left the city in November 1833 to study in Berlin.

This stop is part of this city walk because we, as Göttingen postcolonial, believe that Bismarck’s actions as Chancellor of the Reich (1871-1890) should be critically evaluated from a postcolonial perspective. He was the head of state under whom Germany first colonized territories in Africa in 1884. In 1884, he summoned the Berlin Conference (also known as the “Africa Conference”) to divide up the African continent among the American, European and Ottoman superpowers. At the same time, he had repeatedly spoken out against the establishment of German colonies during his first ten years in office. Which domestic or foreign policy calculation guided his change of mind is debated; as is the question of how much responsibility should be assigned to him today for German colonialism. [If you want to know more, check out the conversation of two historians on this (source 1)].

Our position, however, is that it is not a matter of finding a single guilty person for Germany’s past. Instead, it is necessary to uncover facets that allowed Germany to participate and how it participated in colonial tyranny. With this understanding, it is then possible to see where these ideologies, courses of action, and decision-making processes continue to have an impact today.

Although Bismarck only lived in Göttingen for just under two years, there are several names and places that commemorate him. This follows a worldwide trend recorded in the Bismarkierung research project (Source 2). There is a tower on the outskirts of the city, a street name, a pub, the colloquial “elephant loo” and an oak tree in Thorner Park that bear his name. Bismarck is thus depicted somewhat less present than in Hamburg, for example, where the world’s largest statue of Bismarck stands. The Hamburg debate about what purpose such monuments serve today has not yet been held in Göttingen. For more information check out, for example, this panel discussion (source 3) or this article from Der Spiegel.

Sources

(1) On the controversial memorialization of Bismarck: https://kolonialismus.blogs.uni-hamburg.de/2020/11/12/video-prof-dr-christoph-nonn-im-gespraech-mit-prof-dr-juergen-zimmerer-ueber-die-zwei-seiten-des-fuersten-wofuer-steht-bismarck-wofuer-wird-er-erinnert/

(2) Bismarckization around the world: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1uLPtUnWFowK-24kJtcaHTO9keWM&ll=40.483518531038655%2C-5.8377617384083464&z

(3) Panel discussion on Hamburg memorialization of Bismarck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFBWw7tUi4E

(4) Spiegel article on Hamburg memorialization of Bismarck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7RSHQ44hyQ

(5) Bismarck’s time in Göttingen: https://www.bismarck-stiftung.de/2012/03/22/wilder-student-und-eiserner-kanzler-auf-den-spuren-bismarcks-goettingen/

(6) Bismarck’s complicated relationship with colonialism: https://www.bpb.de/apuz/202989/bismarck-und-der-kolonialismus

(7) The 1884 conference at which Africa was partitioned: https://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/sendungen/kalenderblatt/1511-Afrika100.

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