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Graffiti on Bismarck’s Statue

Masaaki Okamoto
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: American Literature

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Graffiti Spotted

A random encounter can lead a man’s thoughts down interesting paths.

It happened when I was strolling around Munich. As I headed towards the city center from the Deutsches Museum in the city’s south, I came across a statue of Bismarck at the foot of a bridge across the river Isar. It was a simple, somewhat roughly carved stone statue about 3 meters high. After a casual perusal of the statue, I started to resume my walk. That was when I spotted something on the statue.

There, just near Bismarck’s foot, was a mark of an X scrawled in red spray paint. It was quite large and had been painted on quite roughly, almost violently.

Shocked at this desecration of the statue of Bismarck, which seemed to be like some kind of protest, I stared at it for some time. Deciding that it was probably just the usual mischievous scribbling, I continued on my way.

From the Present to the Past

Days later, however, this “scribble” somehow was still on my mind and I could not stop thinking about it. Bismarck, Minister President of Prussia and a central figure in the unification of Germany, is perceived as a hero, and I found myself wondering why someone would paint a red X on the statue of such a figure, as if to sneer at or deride him. As I said, it probably was just the usual graffiti with no particular significance, but for some reason, I could not help pondering the connection between Bismarck and this X. Munich is the capital of what is now the German state of Bavaria, the former Kingdom of Bavaria. In that case, is there some deep connection, perhaps even some kind of friction, between Bavaria and Bismarck?

Somewhere along the way, my thoughts had started to go down this completely groundless, fanciful path. And, even though I knew that it was not always appropriate to superimpose events of the present directly onto events of the past, I started to search through the literature for references to the connection between Bavaria and Bismarck.

Bismarck and Bavaria

The first reference I found was this passage in Bismarck: Urpreusse und Reichsgründer by Ernst Engelberg. “The anti-unification, anti-Prussian movement among the peasants and petite-bourgeoisie of Bavaria began, in a manner, from the ground up. The Bavarian Patriot Party, which was led predominantly by the Catholic clergy, grew into a large political party in just a few years.” (translated into English from Japanese translation by Mikiko Nomura) Engelberg describes Bavarian resistance to Bismarck’s pro-unification, anti-Catholic policies (Kulturkampf, or “culture war”) as “fierce anti-Prussian sentiment.”

Jonathan Steinberg’s Bismarck: A Life is scattered with similar references. He writes that, at the time of the establishment of the new German Empire, in which Bismarck played a central role, “… in Bavaria opposition grew. On 11 January [in 1871] the debate began. The Patriot Party denounced Prussia and its militarism. A fierce debate followed and on 21 January the motion passed with the necessary majority but by a margin of only two votes.”

Bavaria had, just barely, ratified the new empire. Nevertheless, anti-Prussian sentiment among the citizens of Bavaria did not die down. Steinberg noted that there was particularly strong resistance against Bismarck’s anti-Catholic policies.

Undercurrents of History

This anti-Prussian, anti-Bismarck sentiment continued as a kind of undercurrent even after Bismarck’s death, but erupted to the surface with the revolution in Bavaria of 1918–19. In his book, Bavaria, Germany, Europe—Modern and Contemporary History of the Sovereignty of a Region (1918–1990) [Baierun-Doitsu-Yoroppa—Aru Chiiki Shuken no Kin-gendaishi (1918–1990)], Yasushi Kurokawa wrote, “The voices of the Bavarian people became increasingly radicalized during the Great War… ‘Hatred for Prussia’ had gripped the hearts of a broad spectrum of the Bavarian populace’… This anti-Prussian sentiment emerged during the unification of Germany by Prussia and, although the Bavarian government took a pro-Prussian stance, an undercurrent of that antagonistic sentiment continued among the Bavarian people, flared up as ‘hatred’ during the Great War.” Kentaro Hayashi also cited “the deep-rooted anti-Prussian sentiment present in Bavaria” as one cause of the revolution in Bavaria. He wrote, “It is no wonder that the anti-Prussian sentiment that had always been present in Bavaria so readily turned into dissatisfaction with this war that was started by the Berlin government” (History of the Bavarian Revolution 1918–19 [Baierun Kakumeishi 1918–19]).

The Afterword written by the translator and the outline author (Akira Moriyama and Mitsuyuki Funato) of Revolution und Räteherrschaft in München: aus der Stadtchronik 1918/1919 (edited by Ludwig Morenz) contains even broader-ranging views. Bavaria has always been particularly unique in terms of religion, language and customs, and Moriyama and Funato write that the people of Bavaria “somehow appear to be almost proud of that uniqueness” and show “indications of a desire to maintain a relative distance from the influence of Prussia.”

These are some of the frivolous musings that were prompted by that random encounter. Of course, it may very well be that the red X was just the usual mindless scribbling and that these musings of mine are no more than idle fancy. It may even be that this essay itself is no more than another scribbling.

Masaaki Okamoto
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: American Literature
Professor Okamoto was born in Tokyo in 1960 and graduated from the Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Letters, the University of Tokyo in 1983. After working as an assistant at Tokyo Metropolitan University and in other positions at Chuo University, he took up his current position in 1999. He specializes in American literature, but his areas of interest cover the full range of American history and Western literature. His books include A Promenade of American History [Amerika-shi no Sampomichi] (Chuo University Press, 2002), American History: More Interesting Than Fiction [Shosetsu yori Omoshiroi Amerika-shi] (Chuo University Press, 2005) and 20th Century Literature and Time—From Proust to García Márquez [20 Seiki Bungaku to Jikan—Purusuto kara Garushia Marukesu made] (Kindai Bungeisha, 2007), and his published translations include Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (Misuzu Shobo, 1999). His major papers include “Mishima in the Eyes of American Authors [America Sakka no Mita Mishima],” (Shincho, December 1990, Shinchosha) and “Supplementary Notes to 20th Century Literature and Time [20 Seiki Bungaku to Jikan: Hoki]” (Journal of the Chuo University Institute of Cultural Science [Jinbunken Kiyo], 2010).