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Bernhard von Bülow, "Revolution in Berlin" (Published Posthumously, 1931)

In this account, former Reich Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow contrasts daily life during the revolution in Berlin, which seems quite ordinary at first glance, with a fanciful, aesthetically exaggerated portrayal of revolutionaries and statesmen, taken mainly from French history. He even appears to sympathize with Louis Charles Delescluze, one of the central figures of the Paris Commune of 1871 (the telling reason for Bülow’s affinity: Delescluze “got himself killed at the barricades”). Bülow systematically denounces the political leaders who presided over the upheaval in Germany, calling Max von Baden a “neurasthenic prince” and referring to Friedrich Ebert merely as “Fritz” Ebert to express his condescension. Bülow’s political and moral standards are reflected in his callously nonchalant account of the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. By contrast, the sight of revolutionary soldiers tearing off officers’ epaulettes inspires him to remark that he had “never . . . seen anything more brutally vulgar.”

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In Berlin on November 9, I witnessed the beginnings of revolution. Alas, she did not come, as Ferdinand Lassalle had envisaged her in his moments of giddiest ambition, in the shape of a radiant goddess, her hair flowing in the wind, and shod with sandals of iron. She was like an old hag, toothless and bald, her great feet slipshod and down at the heel. The German revolution was drearily philistine, lacking in all fire or inspiration. It revealed no such figures as the Danton whose statue in bronze stands on the Paris boulevard: erect, with clenched fist, to the left of his plinth a sans-culotte with fixed bayonet, to his right a tambour, beating up the levée en masse. Our revolution brought us no Gambetta to proclaim war to the knife and prolong our resistance by five months, not even a Delescluse, to get himself killed at the barricades. I have never in my life seen anything more brutally vulgar than those straggling lines of tanks and lorries manned by drunken sailors and deserters from reserve formations which trailed through the Berlin streets on November 9. That afternoon, from the window of my suite at the Adlon, I had a view both of the Linden [street] and the Pariserplatz. I have seldom witnessed anything so nauseating, so maddeningly revolting and base, as the spectacle of half-grown louts, tricked out with the red armlets of social democracy, who, in bands of several at a time, came creeping up behind any officer wearing the Iron Cross or the order Pour le mérite, to pin down his elbows at his side and tear off his epaulettes.

When young Captain Bonaparte stood watching the attack on the Tuileries of August 10, 1792, the sight inspired his well-known exclamation: “Avec un bataillon on balayerait toute cette canaille,” and there can be no possible doubt that on November 9, 1918, the Berlin streets could easily have been cleared with a few battalions of storm troops. Such battalions would have been easy enough to form from the troops and officers of Berlin, who were positively itching for such an order. With a few machine guns set in position simultaneously at the Brandenburger Tor, in the Schlossplatz, and the Alexanderplatz; a few tanks, each with a crew of sharpshooters, sent through the streets of the town, the Berlin canaille would soon have scuttled back to their holes. But for this, not an authorization but the formal order to fire with ball ammunition would have been necessary. Prince Max had not the courage to give this order, especially since he feared it might disqualify him from succeeding to the Baden throne.

While the populace gained possession of Berlin’s streets, endless telephone conversations were in progress between Berlin and Spa, Spa and Berlin. At the Berlin mouthpiece sat Privy Councillor Wahnschaffe, at Spa, von Grünau, the Councillor of Legation; Wahnschaffe, as a rule a sound official, had managed to lose his head completely under the enervating influence of Prince Max. As for Grünau, he had no head to lose. He was a young and very callow diplomat with neither knowledge nor practical experience, utterly ignorant of the questions of civil law to be decided. The fruit of a morganatic marriage between a Prince von Löwenstein and a governess, he was on fairly intimate terms with the Court at Karlsruhe, and therefore in the confidence of Prince Max, who had attached him to the emperor’s person at Spa. In this hour of deadly peril to his dynasty, a tragic fate had given the King of Prussia, as his sole adviser, a young man, possibly endowed with every talent, but not, in any case as yet, a prudent and vigilant guardian of the glorious and menaced Prussian throne.

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