Bismarck, Virchow and the apocryphal sausage fight/Bismarck und die Wurst

This is not the fictitious weapon with which Rudolf Virchow did not take up Otto von Bismarck’s genuine challenge to a duel:

(With thanks to Konstantin Binder of London Leben, who let me pinch the photo)

It seems that Bismarck did indeed challenge Virchow to a duel, but Virchow did not take him up on it.

Since I lived in Virchowstraße in Cologne for a year without knowing who he was, and even now knew only that he was a famous epidemiologist but not that he was a social reformer, here is something on Virchow. He worked at the Charité in Berlin and held speeches saying that progress in medicine would only come from three directions: clinical observations, animal experiments and pathological anatomy. But when he was one of a team sent to investigate a typhus epidemic in Upper Silesia, he found the desperately poor Polish minority and his report recommended political change and educational and economic reforms. He was then suspended from his post and had to go to Würzburg (I recall myself how dreadful it can be to leave Berlin and land in Franconia), but later returned to Berlin, became a member of the Berlin City Council and concerned himself with public health, including the Berlin sewage system and water supply. He was also a member of the Prussian parliament and opposed Birmarck. (Based on Peter Watson, The German GeniusGuardian review).

The myth is recounted by the Journal of a Southern Bookreader, quoting Wikipedia, in Fearing the wurst – thanks, Trevor.

The Sausage Duel
As a co-founder and member of the liberal party (Deutschen Fortschrittspartei) he was a leading political antagonist of Bismarck. He was opposed to Bismarck’s excessive military budget, which angered Bismarck sufficiently to challenge Virchow to a duel in 1865. There are two versions of this anecdote: in one version, Virchow declined because he considered dueling an uncivilized way to solve a conflict. The second has passed into legend but was well documented in the contemporary scientific literature. It states that Virchow, having been the challenged and therefore entitled to choose the weapons, selected two pork sausages: a cooked sausage for himself and an uncooked one, loaded with Trichinella larvae for Bismark. His challenger declined the proposition as too risky.

The Southern Bookreader has pursued the story further in Google Books.

Of course, Bismarck did make a famous remark about sausages: he said that the less people know about how sauages and statutes are made, the better they sleep.

There was a good example of this recently when a video showed how the German Bundestag managed the second and third readings and passage of a bill in 57 seconds and it later turned out that there was a last-minute insertion in the bill permitting everyone’s electronic details to be sold to advertising companies – video here Bundestag verkauft Bürgerrechte in nur 57 Sekunden (Bundestag sells citizen’s rights in only 57 seconds) the ad ist almost as long). This bill will not become law after all. At the time it was passed, incidentally, the Germany-Italy football match was on TV.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *