News from Bismarck’s Germany


“Cultural struggle” against the Catholic church, Cologne cathedral.

[America and Germany, around 1880] Germany was united, and a deeply-felt wish of many people had been fulfilled. However, 10 million Austrian Germans lived outside the Empire, and now Prussia’s dominance was overwhelming: it was by far the biggest state, had the largest army, the crown was hereditary within the Hohenzollern dynasty, and the Prussian Prime Minister was in personal union Imperial Chancellor. The German Reich was not the democracy the 1848ers had fought for, and the Iron Chancellor Bismarck grimly fought everyone who stood against him and his state, particularly the Catholic Church and the Socialists.

Cologne Cathedral (1880, Germany)

“You won’t believe it, you won’t believe it,” began a letter which Lorenz received at the end of the year 1880. Obviously, Emil could hardly believe himself what he wrote. Finally, Cologne Cathedral was completed! Throughout the late Middle Ages*, the people of Cologne had wanted be built a huge gothic church , but it had quickly became obvious that they had not enough resources. At the beginning of the 16th century, the project had been abandoned, and since then the unfinished south tower with a crane on top had risen into the Cologne sky. In 1842, the construction work had been resumed in a celebration act; King Frederick William IV himself, a Protestant, had been present.

And now the Cologne Cathedral had been completed. In August 1880, Emperor William I and Empress Augusta had come to Cologne, for the celebration and to seal the peace between the State and the Catholic Church, but the Archbishop was not there and the atmosphere had been frosty. His family had been there, Count Andras Csabany on the VIP rostrum, Sophie and her children with Lena and Emil at their winemaker’s stand. “No wonder,” Lorenz thought, “Bismarck’s campaign against the Catholic Church has done too much damage.”

Bismarcks “Kulturkampf” (1871-1880, Germany)

For much of the 1870s, the “Iron Chancellor” had pursued a Kulturkampf (cultural struggle) against Catholics, who made up 36 percent of Germany’s population, by placing parochial schools under state control and expelling the Jesuits. The Archbishops of Cologne, Münster and Trier were arrested and expelled. Bishoprics and parishes stood vacant. Catholic schools and orders did not exist anymore.

The Church had also been doing much of the social welfare work, and many people were suffering. The world economic crisis of 1875 had hit the German economy hard, destroyed many existences, and now many people were pushing into the big cities as industrial workers. The living conditions were devastating.

Once again, Anni’s “Stübchen” was refuge for many who were at a loss, preparing and distributing food. Dear Anni! She did not agree with the Pope and many of the high clergy, not at all – their dogmatic, intolerant nature was unbearable. And this Pope in Rome, Pius IX, not only condemned all viewsthat did not follow his extremely conservative understanding of Christianity, but had even proclaimed the Pope’s infallibility by the First Vatican Council of 1870.

But Bismarck had gone too far. Compassion and the concern for the poor and the weak were Christian values in which she believed, and they were crucial to any society. were deeply rooted in her. No dogmatist, neither in Rome nor in Berlin, was needed to see that this was crucial for any society.

Some of Bismarck’s laws were perceived as harassment, also Protestants standing loyally to the state, and even by members of the Imperial family. Eventually, in 1878, Bismarck had given in.


But another grim fight had already begun. By 1875, two previous parties had united into the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei). As chairman August Bebel had put it, the SPD saw in Bismarck’s state the class enemy of the proletariat, and therefore they stood against the Empire and the Hohenzollern monarchy. Bismarck used two failed assassination attempts on Emperor Wilhelm I as pretext to introduce an Anti-Socialist Law in the Reichstag, although he knew that the Social Democrats had nothing to do with the attacks. The majority in the Reichstag passed it. From 1878 until 1890, all Social Democratic clubs and events, press and books were prohibited; many Social Democrats were imprisoned or expelled from the country. However, the hardships endured strengthened cohesion among the Social Democrats, and they got more votes with every election.

A funny coincidence of events

What a funny coincidence of events, Lorenz thought and grinned to himself. North Dakota’s capital had been renamed to “Bismarck”, to attract German immigrants. Billy the Kid was still on the run, In Tombstone, Arizona, the Earps and the Clantons clashed violently.”It’s sort of weird,” he thought, “back home in Cologne, Kaiser Wilhelm celebrates with all the dignitaries the inauguration of the cathedral, here in the West the colts celebrate. If Wilhelm and Bismarck ever came to the West, they would probably experience a culture shock.”

Bismarck’s social security system

Bismarck fought the socialists grimly, because they fought his state. At the same time, he saw the great need of the working class and considered it the state’s duty to help. Against fierce resistance from the Left and from the Right, he implemented a remarkable social security system: health care in 1883, accident insurance in 1884, invalidity and old-age insurance in 1889. Back then, it was the largest in the world, but it did not win the working class over for the state.

The picture is from the German Wikipedia, public domain section.

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