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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Dietary habits of Otto von Bismarck

What Bismarck ate at the Siege of Paris (1870) :

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.

- from The Fall of Paris, Alistair Horne.

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. 


Galina L. said...

He was definitely an interesting character. Thank you for reminding us about that remarkable historical figure. Probably, a beer was the most fattening item in his diet.

Puddleg said...

I think you could say calories mattered in this case. Genuine food addiction trumps metabolism sometimes; had Ebstein, not Oertel, been his doctor, might the history of the world have been a little different?

Galina L. said...

I think his alcohol consumption played a role. It is easier to eat more while drinking for most people, and some foods(like a caviar and salted herrings) in his case , and may be at his time was consumed to increase the desire to drink more beer.Also, on the morning after many wake up very hungry, probably because their liver is too busy metabolizing alcohol to spare time for glucose production.
I got an impression that the standard amount of consumed alcohol used to be higher in the past, especially in Europe. Churchill is a good example, the diet which made Banting a famous figure in a diet world, is also remarkably high in alcohol. It looks like Bismarck drunk even more than his peers.

Puddleg said...

There is definitely a trend in alcoholism for starch to be swapped for alcohol. Itsthewooo pointed out the fat and protein nature of snacks sold in bottlestores... peanuts, beersticks, jerky. Compared to what is popular in convenience stores, which is more sugar and starch.
Bismarck, like Churchill or the Queen Mum, ate too much cholesterol, saturated and monounsaturated fat, and protein to get cirrhosis. And not enough PUFA or sugar.

LA_Bob said...

According to this link, Bismarck died from some sort of lung condition. He was confined to a wheelchair for most of the last year of his life.

I'm not quite sure if this post is about Bismarck's corpulence despite his meat-rich diet, his long life despite his corpulence, or merely musings about his remarkable gluttony. I wonder sometimes, having just turned 60, whether low carb living really leads to additional years of life. Certainly we hope for years free of the modern range of degenerative diseases, such as dialysis-flavored diabetes, cancer, and dementia, but we're certainly going to die of something, and I can't imagine it will be especially pleasant.

Mary Enig made it to 83 and left with a stroke, presumably consuming the diet she recommended. My uncle died recently of a heart attack at 92, slender despite consuming too much sugar (he bragged a few years ago about eating candy for breakfast sometimes). A bunch of incipient health problems seemed to catch him all at once (mild dementia recently diagnosed, spinal stenosis, anemia, bloating from what might have been undiagnosed bowel obstruction). I found out afterward he took cholesterol medication. He went quickly, but he was driving and getting around fine right up to the end. Just too many variables. You never really know how an individual is going to go.

I suppose the ideal experiment would be healthy low carb from infancy on. Maybe Peter's kids will be centenarians plus.

Very interesting post.

Puddleg said...

Yes, I'm not sure what lesson to draw from Bismarck. That overeating fat, protein, and alcohol produces a different pattern of ill-health from overeating a higher carbohydrate diet, probably.
And perhaps that Bismarck might have found Ebstein's high-fat protocol more sustainable than the Banting-type high-protein crash diet he used.

Asifur Rahman said...


Unknown said...

I can surmise that the more Bismarck gets stressed out, the more he ate, which sounded like most people today, right? All those rich food would've ultimately gone to his thighs or stomachs, sounds familiar? I think the diet that he had made him lose quite a lot of pounds - low carb, and that's why the 3 Day Military diet is effective in making us lose the extra pounds. For more information regarding this awesome diet, hop on to this informative site

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