Ode to Bavaria

When I was younger - back when I had never tried to live outside Denmark, I had the perception that Germany would be either East- or West Germany (I grew up during the time when we had the Berlin Wall and the “Iron Curtain”) and that German would be, well German, as in one language for the whole country. I never imagined they would have dialects, like I know them from Denmark, where I was raised by parents from Jutland, in Copenhagen, with all the lingual bullying that came along. To this day I have two “languages” when I speak Danish: The “official” “plain” Danish, and the “Jutland” version - for family and those in the inner circle. 

Now living in Germany I have, of course, realised that my first perception was completely wrong. I could have told myself this right from the beginning. For every 50 kilometers you move around you will find slight changes in dialect and also traditions and folklore will change just a bit. This is not an official number, it is only my theory. There are 13 “provinces” or states in Germany and they all have their own dialects and traditions. And there are 3 cities categorised as “city-states” - Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin.

We live in Munich, which is the capital in the province of Bavaria. Bavaria consists of no less than 2056 municipalities of various sizes, and the total landmass of Bavaria makes up 20% of the total landmass of Germany. Bavaria is the largest province and also the richest - in terms of purchasing power per capita - if you leave out Hamburg, which is not a real province anyway…

In Bavaria you find incredibly beautiful nature. The Alps down south, with hundreds of small village-communities, forests and lakes spread out all over. Massive woods towards the east. Posh cities are to be found all over the province…. Würzburg, Nürnberg, Bayreuth, Ansbach, Rosenheim and of course Munich. Within the borders of Bavaria the locals like to separate themselves “from the others” as well… Hence people from Franconia in northern Bavaria are quite proud of their heritage, just as natives from Munich could never imagine living anywhere else. I once made a BIG mistake when speaking at a conference in Franconia, when I said that I was very happy to be in Bavaria on that particular evening… A chill went through the room, before my hosts would relieve me from my pain with a forgiving smile…

Bavaria is home to industrial success companies like BMW, Audi, Bosch, Siemens, Linde and others. The European Space Agency also has a huge research center outside Munich. The province is “heavy” on technical companies and generally speaking people are fairly well-educated. In Munich alone it is estimated that up to 25% of the inhabitants are in fact foreigners. Average disposal income is high and the natives do feel that they are carrying a heavy burden when it comes to the financial difficulties in other parts of Germany - particularly the provinces in the former East Germany. Bavarians are also fairly reluctant to keep bailing out countries in southern Europe. When looking at the hard numbers they may in fact have a point that they are paying a lot of money to other parts of Europe. For this reason there are some political movements who would like to see Bavaria as an independent country, and not a part of Germany. However, the majority of the voters do not really take them seriously…

As a whole the Bavarians are very proud. And they “take no crap” - to put it in direct terms. Peace and order must be uphold. Politically the majority lean towards conservatism and the older part of the population are also believers. This is catholic territory and even though the younger population (I like to think of myself as part of this group - still) are no more religious than we are in Denmark - I do see that the elderly are still more frequent churchgoers than I am used to seeing from the older generation in Denmark. On Sundays everything is closed and it is strictly forbidden to wash your car at the carwash. Back in Denmark legislation has by now washed out any rules of opening hours during weekends and holidays, so you never really think about whether you need to buy something before the weekend or not. You can always just hurry to the nearest store. In Bavaria you better hope that your neighbour will lend you a cup of sugar, should you wish to sweeten your coffee.

Speaking of neighbours - in our neighbourhood we know each other. Sort of. We are all on last name terms and we greet each other nicely when we meet in the street. It is considered impolite not to do so. We talk about the current matters of the neighbourhood and on occasion we do exchange a bit of gossip. Not the harmful kind of gossip. It’s just that people actually do care about each other around here, in sharp contrast to the Denmark that I know of, where I could live for years in a residential building without knowing who lived right next door. When we talk it is usually in the formal form of “You” - which is common here. The children learn this right from their first year in Kindergarten. Many bavarians do say that they consider it old-fashioned, yet the tradition is kept nicely. Children at Kindergarten are not expected to use a formal “You” when they address adults, but often last names are used instead of first names. In Anton's Kindergarten they usually use both names, even the children among each other. This way they all know each other by full names. A bit strange for me… I was always just “Anders B” in school…

In general, when out and about in the city, the formal “You” is also used… In shops and restaurants it is mandatory. In the more “street-smart” cafés and trendy shops an informal “you” is ok. When in doubt, the rule is that the older part of the conversation starts out with either formal or informal “you” and this will dictate how formal the conversation should proceed… A rather nice and refreshing exception to these rules of formality is when you meet other hikers in the mountains. When chatting along the small mountain paths the informal greeting “Servus” is common and no-one will raise an eyebrow to an informal “you”. “Servus is the equivalent of “Hi” and is used throughout Bavaria by the younger generation, up through the 30´s and 40´s and even among informal elders. “Servus” is, by the way, also THE word that I miss the most, when not in Bavaria. To me, this is the very essence of Munich and Bavaria.

The people of Bavaria are direct and may seem somewhat grumpy and arrogant to outsiders. They have no tolerance for “stupidities” and generally you simply have to behave nicely to others when outside your own four walls. Sunday drivers and jaywalkers are very much frowned upon and you should expect immediate verbal “castigation”. Bavarians have a very dark humour and are often sarcastic. Most people also use self-irony as foundation for their humorist skills. When digging a bit further down, you will see that bavarians are actually very warm and forthcoming, once they have gotten to know you. And once you are “taken in” you really have to screw up BIG TIME to be sent out into the cold again.

The “Bavarian behaviour” may be the hardest thing to get used to for tourists and longer term visitors. The service in bars, restaurants and “bierstuben” may often come across as rude and impolite. It is part of the concept and the locals never even think about it. Should the service be slightly more rude than usual, no tip is given. But as tipping is not used by everyone anyway, the waiter may never even notice your “silent protest”. Generally speaking tipping is common, and a round-up plus a Euro or two is normal. Still, it is not a matter of course.

Speaking of money: Bavaria is “cash country”. In Germany they do have the omnipresent EC-Karte (debit-card) but smaller amounts and taxi-fares are always paid cash. Larger amounts in restaurants and cafés can of course be paid with creditcard. Some supermarkets do not accept creditcards but will accept your EC-Karte. A good advice: Ask the staff before loading all your groceries up on the belt. You may need to run out to get cash to be able to pay!

Right from the start - more than 10 years ago - I have felt very comfortable and at home here in Bavaria. I love the formal, and yet informal, tone they use here. The genuine interest in thy neighbour - without ever being intrusive or negative. I love the bavarian cuisine, which has both heavy winter dishes and light delicacies that could easily be served at NOMA in Copenhagen. I love the nature around here. In summer the continental heat gives us warm and long summers. In winter we have many weeks of thick and heavy snow. You notice the seasons. Back in Denmark everything was always grey - or so it seemed. 

Going back to the dialects that I mentioned in the beginning of this article: In Bavaria they speak “Bavarian” - which is absolutely nonsense to outsiders. To me, personally having been part of a bavarian family for more than a decade, it is still somewhat unintelligible. I often have to concentrate to get the essence of what is said. My immediate family do take this into account, but I still seem to be struggling sometimes. On the other hand, I do enjoy listening to the bavarian dialect very much, knowing that I will never be able to speak it fluently. It gives me a sense of “homeland” without actually being bavarian. I guess this means that I have settled in quite well…



Read more about Munich here!

Read our guide to Germany and the Germans here!

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