Update: 11.09.2011

Here are some frequently asked questions and my answers for the topic Bismarck-towers.


1.    For whatever reason were Bismarck-towers built?

Bismarck-towers are a unique German monument-phenomenon to honor the ex-Chancellor Otto von Bismarck [1815 - 1898].

After the dismissal of Bismarck by Emperor Wilhem II a definite Bismarck-Myth (Bismarck-Cult) emerged and strengthened noticably after Bismarck's 80th birthday in 1895 (over 400 honorary citizenships). Hundreds of streets were named after Bismarck, hundreds of monuments were built. Cities, districts, mountains, plants, ships were also named after the German ex-Chancellor. German emigrants, for example in the United States have chosen his name for the following cities: Bismarck [Capitol of North Dakota], Bismarck [Arkansas], Bismarck [Illinois] and Bismarck [Ohio].

Every Bismarck tower was to be built as a fire column on top of a mountain. Their fire-bowls were to be ignited on fixed days to honor the ex-Chancellor Bismarck to remember his achievement by the Unification of Germany from 1871. The aim was to illuminate the whole German Reich in order to have a wide view from one flaming Bismarck-tower to the next and so on (‘net-idea’).


2.    How many Bismarck-towers were built and how many still exist?

240 of these towers were built between 1869 and 1934 on four continents (Australia, South America, Africa and Europe).

173 Bismarck-towers, including newly discovered towers, still remain worldwide, overall 146 in Germany. 410 Bismarck-towers were planned.


3.    Do all Bismarck-towers look the same?

The German Student-Corporation (initiator of the idea of "Bismarck-towers") chose one of the  blueprints submitted in 1899 in an architectural competition by the German architect Wilhelm Kreis. The awarded blueprint ‘Götterdämmerung’ was selected as the standard-model for all Bismarck-columns. This massive and squat tower-model could be built in various heights and width depending on the donations received for a particular monument.

But only 47 towers were built as ‘Götterdämmerung’, other towers were erected on other blueprints, in many cases similar to the standard-model, in other cases with big differences. Some tower-committees conducted their own competition.


4.    What is the difference between Bismarck-towers and observation towers?

-      Bismarck-towers were built only by donations from German citizens. This was partially a protest against the imperialistic politics of German Emperor Wilhelm II, who had dismissed the long-standing Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1890.

-      Not all Bismarck-towers are observation towers. The original idea was to build fire columns, although this was not the intention of the German Student Corporation. But observation towers were very popular at this time.

-      The aim was to illuminate the whole German Reich by the flames that could be seen, in an extensive view, from Bismarck tower to Bismarck tower across the nation (‘net-idea’).

-      The towers were built to honor the ex-Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to remember his achievement by the Unification of Germany from 1871.

Some of the characteristics of Bismarck-towers are in common with characteristics of simple observation towers. In addition not every Bismarck-tower has a fire bowl or stands on the top of a mountain.


5.    Why are Bismarck-towers also named Bismarck-columns? Is there any difference between these terms?

The German Student Corporation announced on 12/03/1898 a competition for a ‘Bismarcksäule’ (Bismarck-column). A column is a vertical structural element that transmits, through compression, the weight of the structure above to other structural elements below.

In ancient history the term column is also used for other architectural forms like the ‘Igeler Säule’ (near River Moselle in Germany). The awarded model ‘Götterdämmerung’ from architect Wilhelm Kreis has three quarter columns at the corners supporting the architrave.


6.    Are all Bismarck-towers observation towers?

Not all Bismarck-Towers were designed as observation towers. It depended on the amount of donations and the preferences of the tower-committees.

14 of 47 Bismarck-towers (according to the blueprint ‘Götterdämmerung’) were mere Bismarck-"columns" without a lookout.


7.    Which building materials were used for Bismarck-towers?

According to the specifications of the German Student Corporation the towers were to be built from solid rocks. Most of the towers consist of the materials granite, limestone and sandstone. Some towers are built with tuff, greywacke, porphyry, wood, iron and others.


8.    What was the reaction of German Emperor Wilhelm II?

Wilhelm II responded by trying to create a cult around his grandfather Emperor Wilhelm I (‘the Great’). He promoted great monuments for Wilhelm I (for example Deutsches Eck in Koblenz, Porta Westfalica) and some Kaiser-Wilhelm-towers.


Other Questions about bismarck-towers?:
Please ask webmaster Joerg Bielefeld [mail: webmaster (at) bismarcktuerme.de]
Standard-blueprint 'Götterdämmerung' from architect Wilhelm Kreis
Our Bismarck - painting with motive 'Otto von Bismarck' [1815 - 1898]
Bismarck-tower in Hanau / Hessen, built 1905
Fire bowl from Bismarck tower Heidelberg / Baden-Wurttemberg
Different Bismarck-tower from Aachen / North Rhine Westphalia