Bavaria: The Yorkshire of Germany?
When non-Germans are asked to describe traditional Germany they will happily cite beer and sausages, followed closely by a reference to Lederhosen. They might mention a trip to Oktoberfest or a visit to Neuschwanstein. Push for more detail and you might hear about the countryside or the mountains. Unbeknownst to many non-Germans, what they often perceive to be the most obvious traditions of Germany are actually commonly connected to one state in particular, Bavaria. Curiously, even when I ask people who have only visited the North of the country, Hamburg and Berlin for example, they will still reference Bavaria before they discuss the particular nature of these two major German cities.
For those Germans living outside Germany’s second largest state, it must seem that the world can only ever describe the country through the lens of the South. How happy that makes them is anyone’s guess. I would imagine that many do not see it as a positive. Bavaria’s reputation seems to fluctuate along a continuum that features hay chewing bumpkin at one end and elitist snobs at the other. Unsurprisingly in a state as large as Bavaria, in some cases both are accurate descriptions. If I travel into the countryside, I will certainly begin to hear imaginary banjo music playing softly in the distance as hardy looking country folk trundle past on various forms of agricultural machinery. Should I option to drive to Munich, I will quickly become consumed with a fiery rage as I am accosted by numerous aggressive drivers, flashing their lights and indicating for me to move out of their way, the only explanation for their selfish behaviour being the letter M on their number plates indicating they reside in Bavaria’s capital.
Bavarian culture as rich as it is, does not necessarily relate to the rest of Germany. Sure, some cities such as Berlin will seek to get in on the tourist magnet that is Oktoberfest, but that doesn't mean they accept Bavaria as the cultural cpaital of Germany. Speaking to a local bar owner over the weekend, she described working at an Oktoberfest event that was held in Mainz. For her, this experience typified the difference she saw between the traditions of her state and those of the rest of Germany. “They only had one tent” she laughed, indicating the fact that any self-respecting Bavarian Volksfest will have at least two. She was also surprised by the choice of colours; instead of the traditional blue and white lozenge pattern that all Germans recognise as the Bavarian flag, Mainz had instead chosen to use their cities colours of red and white. “I told them that they better hope that there are no Bavarians coming, because they would definitely complain”. Bavarians, it should be noted, are very particular about their state symbols.
Expats living in Bavaria are often called upon by Germans and non-Germans alike to compare Bavaria to other places, if only to give people a sense of what makes it such a separate entity. Americans will claim Texas as the obvious counterpart; fiercely independent, continued relevance of state dress (Bavaria = lederhosen and Dirndel, Texas = Cowboy regalia), farming culture and indecipherable dialects. It also helps that Texas still has an aging population of Texan Germans, who learned German as a first language, despite being born in the USA. Interestingly, despite immigration from many different parts of Germany, Texan Germans are more likely to identify with Bavaria than perhaps the alternative Germany that can be found in Berlin.
Even though there are many similarities between Texas and Bavaria, however, in my mind Texas is only superficially similar. Should someone ask me to describe Bavaria, I would suggest that Yorkshire, in the North of England is a better example. Like Texas, Yorkshire has some common, yet superficial similarities, such as a love of locally brewed beer. What really stand stands out for me is the mentality of both the people who live in these areas. For example, I say Yorkshire like it is a coherent whole, when in reality it would be better to identify it as two places, North and South Yorkshire. Then again we could add two more versions of Yorkshire to the list, East and West. Within the Yorkshire whole, these invisible and sometimes imperceptible differences are vitally important. Dialectically, there are some similarities, but travel ten miles down the road and you will quickly realise, should you stop to ask for directions, that the accent can be different from North to South, East to West and even village to village.
The mentality I mentioned, is one of localism. Every area of Yorkshire, as in Bavaria, has its own identity and will often quibble over what type of Yorkshire or Bavaria they identify with. The towns and cities of West Yorkshire, for instance, have a lot in common, but you would be taking your life in your hands if you were to tell a person from Huddersfield that they are similar to the people of Leeds. The same can be said for Bavaria. Ask someone from Nürnberg about the difference between themselves and the people of Fürth and it would be easy to imagine that these two Bavarian cities are like chalk and cheese. However, unless you live there it would be almost impossible to tell the difference between the two, even once you have crossed the invisible Stadtgrenze that divides them. Ask the citizens of these two Franconian cities about the rest of Bavaria and they will often fiercely argue that they are nothing like their cousins in Munich. Yet all it takes to bring these supposed different Bavarian cultures together is to introduce someone from out of state, then we would see that the Bavarians are more than willing to unite, if only to take the piss out of everyone else.
Whether Bavaria is more like Texas or the many sided Yorkshire, it is certainly hard to say. This perhaps speaks to the varied nature of the state and the many different aspects contained within. Even though Germans of other states may dislike the belief that the south represents all that is most traditionally German, they still prefer to travel and holiday in here every year, making Bavaria one if not the most popular holiday destination for Germans. Perhaps the Northern states are too proud to admit it, but to find traditional Germany, you must travel South.