This is not Germany.


Credit: WikiCommons, senator86.

Credit: senator86.

 From the average American’s point of view, Germans still seem to fall in two categories: either the crazed Nazi (the typical movie stereotype) or the no less crazed lederhosen-wearing, beer-steins-holding, knuckle-of-pork-and-pretzel-eating Bavarian in travel magazines.

Meanwhile the awareness of Germany being a democratic nation has spread across borders, but it keeps annoying me how often people still mistake Bavaria for Germany.

Until a couple of years ago, I had been thinking that people know that this folkloristic representation of German customs and lifestyle is not real, that it is a kind of Bavarian carnival where everybody enjoys wearing funny costumes and drinking a lot of beer.

But I’m not so sure about this any more.
I’ve been observing the perception of German culture in the US media quite a while (especially in the travel sections of newspapers and on the internet), and I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of Americans actually think that this is the authentic culture of present-day Germany.

And how should they know better? If they have been to Germany, it’s mostly Munich or some villages like Rothenburg ob der Tauber that provide a picturesque backdrop for tourists.
And the mass proliferation of “original” Oktoberfests in the US hasn’t helped either.

It seems to me that a few common assumptions about Germany are in desperate need of an update.

1. First of all, Bavaria doesn’t equal Germany.

Germany is a Federal State which comprises 16 Bundesländer (sg. Land). Bundesländer are comparable to the States in the US.

Germany and its 16 States (Bundesländer)

Germany and its 16 States (Bundesländer), Credit: Stefan-xp

This is Germany. And the salmon-colored State in the south-east is Bavaria (=Bayern). As you can see, Bavaria is admittedly the biggest state within Germany, but it only makes up one-fifth of Germany’s overall expanse.

2. Blue and white are the colors of the Bavarian State, not the colors of Germany.

Every state within Germany has its own flag in addition to the flag of Germany as a whole.

Flag of Bavaria (lozengy).svg This is the Bavarian flag.

Flag of Germany.svgWhile this is the German flag.

If you want to throw a German party, use the colors black-red-gold, unless you want a Bavarian fest.

 3. The Oktoberfest is not celebrated all over Germany.

It takes place once a year in Munich, Bavaria and nowhere else.

Credit: Usien

4. Some of the food that tourists consider as ‘typical German’ is mostly eaten in Bavaria, if at all.

This is a knuckle of pork (Eisbein) with sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut was eaten almost everywhere in Germany, but I emphasize the past tense here. It is hardly eaten these days. Children hate it because of its sourish taste.
It is one of the dishes that restaurants in touristy German villages still sell as “typical” because the tourists want it, but in reality, not many people eat it any more.

As to Eisbein (knuckle of pork): This wasn’t eaten outside of Bavaria anyway, but even in Bavaria it isn’t eaten that often in an average household. It’s a high-calorie dish and more likely to please the elderly generation.

Credit: Rainer Z

 

This is white sausage (Weisswurst) with a pretzel and sweet mustard.

Weisswurst is mainly eaten in Bavaria, but one can purchase it also in other regions of Germany.
And yes, we do eat pretzels. But they are called Bretzel and sometimes Laugenbretzel.

 

 

5. Nobody is wearing Lederhosen or a Dirndl. Seriously.

 

Outside of Bavaria, nobody in their right mind is wearing lederhosen or dirndl. But it is a popular disguise during Carnival.
However, one thing’s for sure about Dirndl: They make a sexy neckline.

Within Bavaria, some people may wear the traditional Bavarian outfit when they go to village fests or as a fashion gadget.


Having said all this, one might wonder why Bavaria or the south of Germany could become an emblem of Germany as a whole, even though Germany has beautiful and interesting regions that don’t resemble Bavaria at all.

There are two quite obvious answers.

The first is that the American Occupation Zone in Germany after World War II consisted of Bavaria and parts of Baden-Württemberg and Hesse. So the older generation of Americans got to know mostly this part of Germany, and they spread the word when they returned home.

American Occupation Zone after World War II Credit: WikiNight2

The second explanation is that most of the American forces on German territory are/were based in the south of Germany.

US military bases in Germany (2008) Credit: Rama

US military bases in Germany (2008)
Credit: Rama

All this might explain why the middle or northern areas of Germany are virtually unknown to the American public.

And it has been a regrettable omission of the German tourism industry not to advertise those parts of Germany more. As a start, I’d like to give you some hints of beautiful destinations north of the White Sausage Equator:

The most beautiful big city in Germany: Hamburg.

The most interesting big city in Germany: still Berlin.

The most beautiful German island: Rügen (in the Baltic Sea).

The most beautiful cathedral in Germany: Cologne Cathedral.

Beautiful scenic landscapes: Upper Middle Rhine Valley between Koblenz and Rüdesheim and Mecklenburg Lake District.

Go north folks!

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Categories: MiscellaneousTags: , , , , , , , ,

25 comments

  1. VERY informative post. A history and cultural lesson that all should read before they travel to Germany.

    (I’ve seen that dirndls are making a comeback, at least in Austria. I actually thought about buying one…)

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  2. Maybe I should do a “This is not the U.S.” post. I’ll link to this as the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very cool look into how apparently my country has gotten it wrong. Honestly, do we think that it’s all lederhosen and dirndl? I’m not living there currently and understand people tend to generalize places so I’m curious. Pretty sad if that’s the case. People need to get that out of their heads.

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    • Maybe I was a little harsh 🙂 But when I was in the US, my impression was that all they know about present-day Germany is beer and oktoberfest. Additionally, I’m reading a lot of TravelBlogs and travel magazines, and the farer away people are from Germany, the more they equal Germany with Bavaria.

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      • Ah, it’s okay. No worries. I understand Americans sometimes don’t pay attention to the things they equate. I mean there are still so many who don’t travel. Of course, they’ll get it wrong. Here in Korea, there’s actually a couple of places that are German-themed.

        I went and had some pretty awesome Hamhock with Sauerkraut and Mashed Potatoes at one such place. It seems that Korea and Germany have longstanding cooperative agreements that have sent lots of people from there to here and vice versa. It’s interesting how many people I’ve met who either studied or visited Germany in their lifetime.

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      • Germany has become globalized as many other countries, as to food as well. Most poeple don’t eat stuff like sauerkraut any more. The German average household cuisine is a mix of mediterranean and northern cooking.
        I just find it strange that while travelling I’ve often been faced with long-standing stereotypes about Germany, and it is really difficult to change this.

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      • I think it plays into your theories surrounding the military’s presence in Southern Germany and the stereotypes which persist today. You’re right on.

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  4. Thanks for the post,
    the notion of non-unitary states is not always easily comprehensible for the outsiders. Most people also perceive India or Canada as single states, regardless of their formal division.

    But the Bavarians indeed have a very distinctive historically profiled identity. They’re not just German, they are well aware of being Bavarian as well. I’m not sure whether for example the Indians also identify themselves with the federal states they live in… as for this, you need the state to be a historical entity, not just an administrative unit.
    Any idea why the rest of Germans don’t feel such strong affiliation to their Bundeslandern?

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    • I think that this might be a common misperception. Other Germans feel as well a strong affiliation to either their Bundesland or to be more precise their region. I do think that for example Germans coming from the North (we say NordDeutsche) are very proud of their region and don’t want to be mixed up with Bavarians. They’re just not that known in the US, because of the reasons I cited.

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  5. Interesting and educative! Thanks for sharing. 🙂 Kamila

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  6. Thanks for your post explaining Germany. Great idea.
    The most in your post I like, that you say Hamburg is the most beautiful big City and you are so right about it 😀
    Cheers Angela from Hamburg ❤

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  7. Man, those dirndl are sexy! My brother collects fest mugs. I have bought him about 15-20 and he smuggled a few home from Germany. And I have one from the German exchange student I dated in high school. Your blog is lovely. Why did I take so long to come over here?

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  8. Ich trage auch keine Dirndl und bin von Paul Klee sehr beeindruckt.

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  9. Thank you so much for this article! And I agree: go North, people! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post! I would add, however, that being stereotyped is not unique to Germany. Most countries that are big enough to be immediately recognized tend to be known by their loudest and brashest aspects. The United States used to be thought of as one of two things: New York skyscrapers or Texas cowboys. Unfortunately, our reputation is now as the starter of foolish wars.
    If it makes you feel better, most somewhat educated Americans also know Germany for its autobahns, electronic music, riesling wine, Bauhaus design, and for its inexplicable love of our own country music. 🙂

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    • Lol, thank you for your comments. You’re right, being stereotyped is not a German prerogative.
      I was just referring to my own observations. Oktoberfests seem to pop up everywhere in the US, and all I see as reference to Germany are beer steins and checkered table cloths. And it’s really a pity that Americans haven’t yet discovered the north of Germany as travel destination. Especially the Baltic Sea coast is beautiful.

      Liked by 1 person

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