Bismarck's secretary, Dr Moritz Busch, who kept a detailed account of the great man's tabletalk, reveals that when he was not throwing out brutally cynical observations on how to deal with France, or complaining at his treatment by Moltke and the King, or discoursing on the joys of hunting in his native Pomerania, conversation tended to revolve around the theme of food. At length the Iron Chancellor would propound to his court his special recipes for roast oysters; grumble that once upon a time he could devour eleven hard-boiled eggs for breakfast but now he could only manage three; boast how in his diplomatic training he and his fellows practised drinking three-quarters of a bottle of champagne while negotiating. 'They drank the weak-headed ones under the table, then they asked them all sorts of things... and forced them to make all sorts of concessions... then they made them sign their names." It was a revealing insight into the art of "blood and iron" diplomacy.
Early in October, somewhat reluctantly, Bismarck moved his headquarters to Versailles, where the King had already set up court. There the gluttonous obsession with the pleasures of his vast stomach continued, spiced by a liberal flow of offerings from adulators at home that prompted the faithful Busch to make entries like the following:
"Today's dinner was graced by a great trout pastry, the love-gift of a Berlin restaurant keeper, who sent the Chancellor of the Confederation a cask of Vienna March beer along with it, and - his own photograph!" Even within Paris, few can have been so concerned with what they were eating: "December 8th... we had omelettes with mushrooms, and, as several times previously, pheasant and sauerkraut boiled in champagne..." December 13th... we had turtle soup, and, among other delicacies, a wild boar's head and a compote of raspberry jelly and mustard, which was excellent". By comparison with some of these bizarre collations, a simple salmi de rat might almost have seemed more digestible, and at times even Bismarck rebelled. On December 21st he interrupted a mealtime discussion on the French sortie of the previous day to exclaim : "There is always a dish too much. I had already decided to ruin my stomach with goose and olives, and here is Reinfeld ham, of which I cannot help taking too much, merely because I want to get my own share... and here is Varzin wild boar too!"
Archibald Forbes, the correspondent of the Daily News with the Saxon forces to the north of Paris, recorded eating as a guest of the 103rd regiment in the front line a sumptuous Christmas dinner comprising sardines, caviare, various kinds of Wurst, boiled beef and macaroni, boiled mutton, and ending with luxuries long unheard-of inside Paris - cheese, fresh butter, and fruit.
Bismarck's health problems at this time included varicose veins.
In his younger days, gastronomy was Bismarck's ruling passion. Once he started attending the Diet his intake increased even more. In 1878 Bismarck presided over the division of Africa by the colonial powers at the Conference of Berlin while eating pickled herrings with both hands. By 1883 he was very bloated, over 17 stone, which made him ill and very bad tempered so for months he lived on a diet of herrings. By 1885 he was down to 14 stone. So the lesson that can be learnt from this is, if at first you don't recede diet, diet again.
A chronic insomnia sufferer, the Iron Chancellor would nightly devour caviar to give him a thirst for strong beer to help him to sleep. His favorite tipple was Black Velvet, a mixture of champagne and Guinness. He was also partial to burgundy wine.
- From Trivial biographies
Note that the Bismarck Herring name for pickled herrings persists to this day.
After the publication of Banting's "Letter on Corpulence," his diet spawned a century's worth of variations. By the turn of the twentieth century, when the renowned physician Sir William Osler discussed the treatment of obesity in his textbook The Principles and Practice of Medicine, he listed Banting's method and versions by the German clinicians Max Joseph Oertel and Wilhelm Ebstein. Oertel, director of a Munich sanitorium, prescribed a diet that featured lean beef, veal, or mutton, and eggs; overall, his regimen was more restrictive of fats than Banting's and a little more lenient with vegetables and bread. When the 244-pound Prince Otto von Bismarck lost sixty pounds in under a year, it was with Oertel's regimen. Ebstein, a professor of medicine at the University of Göttingen and author of the 1882 monograph Obesity and Its Treatment, insisted that fatty foods were crucial because they increased satiety and so decreased fat accumulation. Ebstein's diet allowed no sugar, no sweets, no potatoes, limited bread, and a few green vegetables, but "of meat every kind may be eaten, and fat meat especially." As for Osler himself, he advised obese women to "avoid taking too much food, and particularly to reduce the starches and sugars."
- from Good Calories. Bad Calories, Gary Taubes
Otto von Bismarck lived to be 83, and wrote his memoirs Gedanken und Erinnerungen, or Thoughts and Memories during his final years.