Germany Still Has a Wall that Divides

Usually punctual, very comfortable

Usually punctual, very comfortable. Photo: wikipedia

If you travel by train or car in Germany for any distance, a few aspects of Germanness are inescapable. They all share similar ideas of orderliness, tidiness, and structure. Other pillars of Germanness, especially in the workplace, include punctuality, productivity, and thoroughness. These are the things that unite them, a sort of common consciousness,  a Teutonic core.

But there are great divides and differences between Germans. These fault lines are often geographic in nature. Surely it would seem that the East Germans, separated for decades by a physical wall of concrete and steel, would contrast immensely with the Western Germans. And, in fact they do. There is also a mental wall that has been even harder to overcome.

Many an Ossi has struggled mightily to come to terms with ideas of deadlines, competition and overall productivity, which come easier to those Germans who recovered from World War II in American, French or British Zones of occupation. Communism’s inferior business model, coupled with an overzealous and EXTREMELY well-organized secret police, the Stasi, adds to many East Germans distrust and narrower world view.

All of this comes a little surprise. What is a bigger surprise, and which can only be discovered after spending some time in Germany, is the polarity between Northern and Southern Germany. That is the greater divide.

When I travel back to Florida to visit my family and friends, someone somewhere invariably asks me, “Why do you live in Europe? And of all places, why do you live in Germany? France, sure, Italy great, but Germany?”

My patent response is “I live neither in Europe nor Germany. I live in Bavaria.”

Bavarians are not really Germans, but more like the Austrians or the Schwaben (think Stuttgart). Or the Austrians and Schwaben are like the Bavarians, and neither are Germans. Yes, they speak dialects of the same language, the similarities are fewer after that. It’s like trying to tell an Scotsman he’s a Brit, or a Texan he’s an American.

 

A brief history of the land that is now called Germany

Up to 60% of the German population was killed in the 30 Years War. Photo: wikipedia

Up to 60% of the German population was killed in the 30 Years War. Photo: wikipedia

For nearly 500 years, Germany served as a (the) battlefield of Europe. Sandwiched between the stronger powers (empires) of France, Russia or the Austro-Hungarian conglomerate, Germany became a sort of jetty that dispersed the waves of desire of its neighbors by providing a complicated group of territories whose rulers were often at war or in allegiance with each other. All of this changed, and was bound to change the face of Europe dramatically, with the rise to power of Otto von Bismarck.

The Iron Chancellor put Germany on the road to power. Photo: wikipedia

The Iron Chancellor put Germany on the road to power. Photo: wikipedia

When Germany united, through Bismarck’s masterful abilities, some great timing and luck, it immediately proved too strong for Denmark, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, and eventually Russia. Only Great Britain could compete and contain the new industrial and military behemoth. Germany’s ability to produce, organize and analyze was beyond comparison with other major countries then, and is still so today. This has caused a plethora of problems for Germany-and her neighbors. It caused them then as it causes them now. Germany is, and has always been, the question of Europe. It is still so today.

After a few embellishments, or half-truths (lies), Bismarck was able to unite the peoples who shared a common language-German-under a banner that would one day at different points terrorize, amaze and astound the rest of the globe.

Germany will continue to do so, though one hopes that their darkest days of the Third Reich are behind them. Many in Europe are not so sure, though it’s hard to determine if it’s politics being played or authentic fear. The quicker the rest of Europe (and the world) can resign themselves to (or rejoice) the fact that a reunified Germany is a world player, the better off it will be.

Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland would be a formidable economic union

But how unified is Germany? Are there still many obstacles to overcome before they can truly take their place upon the Pantheon of Nations as their robust economy demands?

From east to west in Germany, the differences are stark and clear. Certainly those Germans residing near the border with Poland can’t be very similar to those Germans abutted against France. And they are not. But they are both more German than the Bavarians, those strange, independent and wonderfully quirky Bavarians, who queerly and surely seem to share few of the qualities of their more northern kindred.

Munich's most famous attraction (non-museum). Photo: wikipedia

Munich’s most famous attraction (non-museum). Photo: wikipedia

Americans think of sausages, beer, Audi, BMW, Schweinebraten and Knödel (roast pork and dumplings), Munich, beer gardens, Neuschwanstein (Cinderella’s Castle), Mozart, Einstein, the Romantic Road, the Alps, Mercedes, Nuremberg Parade Grounds, Nazism, FC Bayern, etc., when they hear the word Germany. Most of these first thoughts are either mostly Bavarian or completely Bavarian! Not German! Thyssenkrupp, E.ON, Ruhrgebiet, Currywurst, cabaret, Reeperbahn, Berlin, Hamburg, Dortmund, and the close proximity to one another of more than 25% of the total German population in North-Rhineland Westphalia, that is Germany!

In Bavaria’s sort of sleepy capital, Munich, closes at about 11pm every night. Goths are really strange. Many people still listen to Oom Pah-pah music in Bavaria, or a more modern version led by Helene Fischer. Pretzels are everywhere. Wagner’s music confounds, excites and is controversial. It’s played regularly. Festivals of planting, harvesting and moon phases abound and held weekly in Summer. A few extra kilos on the frame is still considered attractive-and normal. Bavarians drive south for fun-many have never been to Berlin or any other more northern German city.

Northern Germany has most of the vice. Photo: wikipedia

Northern Germany has most of the vice. Photo: wikipedia

If anyone wants to see a real German city, send them to Hamburg. Or Cologne. Berlin is in the midst of major transitions, it needs a few years. Maybe Dortmund, or Düsseldorf, or Hannover, those cities are real German.

Ruhrgebiet. This is Germany. Photo: wikipediaGermans have an edge, a strong affinity for industry, gray, rain and melancholy. Germans like hard rock, a bit of graffiti, wayward souls sleeping in the streets. Germans are accustomed to a bit of broken glass. Bavarians want (and have) little of that. Only the Swiss can call the Bavarians untidy. Germans eat more than pork and the trimmings-Bavarians can survive on only pigs and potatoes. Germans drink beer with strange names like Kolsch or Altbier, Bavarians drink the champagne of beers-lager, less bitter. Bavarian beer comes in big mugs, not flute glasses. Germans drink at night, Bavarians might have a beer for breakfast. Young Bavarians go to bed before midnight; Germans are in the shower preparing for the night’s festivities.

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For many years Germans were united in their basic political desires, win the Cold War (another war fought almost entirely over the idea of what to do with Germany), the World Cup and dominate Formula One. Now that they have them won, they are beginning to divide on ideas about the EU, integration, etc. Many Bavarians wouldn’t mind a separate country. The possibility of a chancellor for all of Germany being Bavarian is slim. Not impossible, but very slim.

If one is to get the EU’s support, it must be able to win the support of Germans (and Bavarians) from north to south. This is a more difficult task than winning that support from east to west. The Berlin Wall may be no more, but there still exists one that runs from east to west. But, regardless of the geographical location of native German speakers in Germany, one thing is certain. They all make jokes about the Austrians.

So maybe a recent report of a union of Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria and its neighbor to the west, Baden-Württemberg, was simply a silly season (Sommerloch) story, to tide us over till school starts. School does start later in Bavaria than the rest of Germany. Oh, Bavaria has more bank holidays than the rest of Europe. Go figure.

Man CAN Live on Bread Alone. In Bavaria.

Bavarian AlpsThere are many things about Bavarian culture that I have embraced. A close connection to the land, hearty food in winter, and an affinity to art and history are but a few. Another thing that fits nicely into my world view is the absolute worshiping of the sun in Bavaria. I was born in San Diego, after all, and did most of my growing up in Florida. Yes, the sun is alright by me.

Now, compared to those two places my general impression of Germany’s weather is it’s gray. It does have countless shades of gray, however. So when the sun makes her infrequent appearance (for some odd reason the sun is feminine in the German language) in Munich, the older Bavarians sit bundled on every available park bench, heads tilted towards the light with slight smiles on their faces. Conversation is limited. They remind me of  jay-hawks sitting on the telephone lines along I-35, on the seemingly endless open prairies of Kansas.

Bavaria is the traditional mixed with the technically advanced; I have no qualms with either. Though ‘laptops and lederhosen’ was first mentioned years earlier, this idea of old and new became the campaign slogan of the former president of Bavaria, Dr. Edmund Stoiber, when he was running for the chancellor of Germany many years ago. “Laptops and Lederhosen”. Yes, that sums up Bavaria succinctly, and makes a great name for a blog.

With the exception of France, Bavaria may quite possibly have some of the most beautiful, diverse landscape in Europe, and therefore the world. From rolling grasslands dotted with many lakes left from the last great Ice Age, these give way to hills and primordial forests that are topped with rocky crags of the Alps. Bavaria has it all.

Bavarians love flowers, nature, and anything outdoors.

Bavarians love flowers, nature, and anything outdoors. It is a bit untidy, no?

Bavarians keep their farms postcard picture pretty. Only the Swiss can call the Bavarians untidy, and they never fail to do so when the opportunity arises.

The infrastructure in Bavaria is excellent, with regular trains supplemented by buses that reach the most difficult corners of this state.

The water in Munich is rated the best city water in Europe (a distinction it shares with Vienna).

These things and more I miss whenever I go away from here for any period of time. But they pale in comparison when it comes to the thing that I yearn for the most upon my return home to Munich-freshly baked Bavarian bread. That’s right, freshly baked whole grain hurts your teeth to chew-brown bread. Bread that you better hold on tightly to as you saw through it with your knife, and watch your fingers!

Bread abounds!

Bread abounds! Most bakeries have between 20 and 30 varieties.

I faintly remember some kind of bread on the table when growing up, a kind of white sponge cake. Couldn’t spread butter on it without it coming apart in shreds  This was not my mom’s fault, in America there are few selections of bread at the local suburban grocery store. There’s just not enough demand for it, though things are slowly changing. You can find good breads in America, but they are usually in the bigger cities of the Northeast or Midwest. In Orlando, it’s easier to get great tortillas or flan than fresh baked crusty bread.

Pork fat, butter, ham, cheese, jam, honey, sunflower oil, gravy, or any other semi-liquidity spread is more than sufficient to ingest this Bavarian bread, anything basically, to keep the crumbs from falling. In fact, I’ve even seen some people eat it plain.

Bavarian bread with pork fat!

Bavarian bread with pork fat!

The best time of the year for me to enjoy this bread is  in October and November, on Sunday mornings. The local bakery is open at 6:30, and since not nearly as many people are out and about on Sundays, I like to take the long way around the neighborhood while the streets are still quiet. If there’s a slight drizzle, even better. The dream scenario is when there is just enough dampness in the air to feel it on your clothes but not your skin, and only empty, dark, quiet streets with few rumblings except the ones in your stomach.

On a final note, and this is very important, the Bavarians also think of beer as bread, only in liquid form. Fresh bread, pork fat, raw onion or radishes and cold beer. Yes, I like Bavaria. Yes, indeed.