Don’t mess with Bavaria

Loud, proud and fiercely independent, Bavaria is Germany’s Texas. But are laptops starting to beat out lederhosen? Lois Jones takes the former kingdom’s temperature.

Don't mess with Bavaria
Photo: DPA

Bavaria, the deeply Catholic land of mountains, fairytale castles, beer and oompah bands has arguably shaped Germany’s image abroad like no other of the country’s 16 Länder, or states.

From Munich’s massive Oktoberfest to local village festivals decked out in lederhosen and dirndl dresses, Bavarians are set apart from other Germans by their unique heritage, dialect and identity. Some proudly distinct residents of the “Free State of Bavaria” even question whether the formerly independent kingdom is even part of Germany.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Bavaria has been home to a separatist movement for decades. The Bavaria Party advocates independence from Germany within the European Union. Under the BP’s proposal, Bavaria would become a fully-fledged member of the bloc, mirroring the aims of similar separatist movements in Spain’s Catalonia and Britain’s Scotland.

The party argues that independence would free Bavaria from shouldering an inflated tax burden – more than a quarter of Germany’s budget is derived from the state’s tax revenues and Bavarians pay more than €16 billion annually to poorer German states.

“Germany is financially dependent on Bavaria, not the other way around. We don’t need Germany financially or politically,” Bavaria Party spokesman Richard Schöps told The Local. “It makes sense for Bavaria to become independent.”

An economic powerhouse

Certainly it would have the means to stand alone. Its GDP in 2007 totalled €434 billion, making Bavaria one of the biggest economies in Europe and the 18th largest in the world.

Though the Bavaria Party has enjoyed some popularity since it was founded in 1946, the separatists failed to win a single seat in the European parliamentary election last summer.

And in a recent survey carried out by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the GMS institute, 56 percent of the 1,853 people surveyed said they didn’t want Bavaria to become independent. Another 37 percent even said they didn’t want more autonomy for the state.

Still staunchly conservative culturally and politically, there seems to be a slight breeze of change blowing in Germany’s deep south.

In October 2008, the Christian Social Union (CSU) – the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats – lost its absolute majority in the state legislature for the first time in 46 years. Forced to govern with a coalition partner, this was tantamount to a revolution to Bavarian voters.

“My impression is that outside of Bavaria it is not the Bavarians per se but rather the CSU and their personnel who are perceived as potential separatists always bringing forward this idea of ‘mir san mir’,” said Bernd Goers from Berlin, referring to the Bavarian expression meaning roughly: “Take us or leave us as we are.”

The younger generation also appears to be a little less engrossed with Bavarian tradition and, in turn, is becoming more open to the wider world. Dirndls, beer, and Gemütlichkeit, or “cosiness”, are becoming less important, according to the the Hanns Seidel Foundation survey. Only 23 percent associate “culture and tradition” with the concept of “life in Bavaria,” less than half the number than in the last survey in 2003.

“The modern Bavarian is much more cosmopolitan than before. The classical Bavarian attitude towards life is over,” said the 41-year-old sales manager Manfred Bauer from Munich.

Taking off the leather trousers

And though other Germans like to mock Bavaria as a nest of country bumpkins, the region is actually a prosperous industrial powerhouse and Germany’s high-tech hub.

Bavaria was first transformed from a pastoral backwater after World War II when Berlin-based titans such as Siemens and Allianz left the rubble and insecurity of the capital for a safe base in American-occupied Bavaria. Nowadays, the self-sustaining Bavarian locomotive powers on, fuelled by global players such as carmakers BMW and Audi, strong media and publishing interests, and healthy fashion and finance sectors.

Indeed, Bavaria boasts Germany’s lowest rate of unemployment, the highest salaries and its lowest debt per capita. With 12.5 million people and almost 20 percent of Germany’s total land area, the state looms as large here as Texas does in the United States. But instead of Stetson-wearing cowboys, in Bavaria it’s men in spiffy leather trousers.

“Laptops and Lederhosen,” the state’s slogan for the successful combination of tradition and economic progress, still applies. Increasingly though, Bavarians are more focused on their computers.

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10 unmissable events in Germany this October

From dazzling light shows to quirky food festivals, October is a jam-packed month in Germany. Here are some of the events you won't want to miss.

10 unmissable events in Germany this October

Oktoberfest, Munich Teresienwiese, September 17th – October 3rd

As possibly the world’s most famous beer festival, Oktoberfest needs no introduction – and for those who didn’t make it to Bavaria in September, there are still a few days left to catch it at the start of the month.

If you make it on the last bank holiday Monday, you can catch an especially rowdy party atmosphere as professional rifle shooters mark the end of the fest. But any other day at the Wiesn is an experience to remember, with live music and singing in all the tents, delicious Bavarian beer and a gigantic funfair for the most adventurous visitors.

And for those who can’t make it down to Bavaria at short notice, the Hofbräuhaus beer halls around the country celebrate their own mini-Oktoberfests with dancing, singing, live music and of course a crisp litre or two of Hofbräu. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Germany’s Oktoberfest

German Unity Day Celebrations, Erfurt Old Town, October 1st – 3rd 

Marking the day when West and East Germany were formally reunited back in 1990 – a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – Tag der Einheit (Unity Day) is a truly special bank holiday in Germany. 

Each year, a different German city takes it in turn to host the annual Bürgerfest (citizen’s festival) in honour of Germany’s national day. This year, the Thuringian capital of Erfurt will be putting on an action-packed programme of political and cultural events all weekend. To start with, Germany’s five constitutional bodies – the Bundestag, Bundesrat, Federal President, Federal Government and Federal Constitutional Court – will be represented with large information stands on the theme of “Experiencing Politics”. And for those less keen to take a deep dive into the workings of government, each of the 16 states will have the best of their culture and cuisine on display. 

There’ll also be live concerts, performances and a light installation representing German reunification over the weekend, making a visit to scenic Erfurt well worth it. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart, September 23rd – October 9th 

If you want to experience big folk festival but want to steer clear of the tourist crowd in Munich, look no further than Oktoberfest’s Swabian sister, the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. 

First launched in 1818, the festival has become a mainstay of the autumn calendar in Baden-Württemberg, and it’s an event that is fiercely proud of its Swabian roots. If you go, you can sample some of the best local beers and wines around, as well as other traditional Swabian delicacies. You can also go on rollercoasters and other fairground rides, hear trumpeting Oompah bands and get dizzy on the world’s largest mobile Ferris wheel. 

Weimar Onion Market, October 7th – 9th

Nobody can say that Germans don’t make the most of their seasonal produce – and Weimar’s historic Zwiebelmarkt (onion market) is no exception.

The Zwiebelmarkt tradition dates back as early as the 15th century, when traders would come to the bustling town of Weimar to sell their wares. Over the years, the onion market days became a major social event where locals would also gather to eat, drink and barter. These days, you’ll still find all things onion-related at the onion market, from arts and crafts to culinary treats. But there’s also a funfair, live music, beer tents and family friendly activities to boot.

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, August 26th – December 4th

If you’re a fan of all things autumnal, look no further than Ludwigsburg Palace, which becomes home to the world’s largest pumpkin exhibition each year from late August to early December. 

It may sound novel, but a walk around the grounds of the palace will show you that in Ludwigsburg, the pumpkin artists certainly don’t do things by halves. Not only can you see incredible sculptures made from around 450,000 pumpkins in total, but you’ll also see a jaw-dropping 600 different varieties of pumpkin there as well. And if you work up an appetite while soaking up the exhibition, you can also sample some delicious pumpkin-based dishes, from soup to Maultaschen.

Pumpkin exhibition Ludwigsburg

Balu and Mowgli from the Jungle Book at the Ludwigsburg pumpkin exhibition. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Filmfest Hamburg, 29th September – October 8

Though it tends to get overshadowed by the show-stopper Berlinale, film buffs who can’t wait until February will enjoy a trip to its Hanseatic sibling: Filmfest Hamburg.

Running throughout the first week of October, the Filmfest brings together the best of contemporary cinema from around the world at a range of venues around the city. This year, the festival is also celebrating its 30th anniversary, so there’s bound to be a truly special atmosphere at the event. 

You can find the full programme in English here.

Berlin Festival of Lights, October 7th – 16th

Each year in the middle of August, the familiar sights of the German capital are bathed in colourful light and transformed each evening into weird and wonderful artistic creations.

This year, the theme of the world famous light festival is “Visions of the Future” as artists explore the question: What will our future look like?

The fruits of their labours can be seen around the city each evening from 7-11pm, after it gets dark. Organisers says there will be a big focus on sculptures this year – as well as the usual large installations – as they seek to reduce their electricity use by 75 percent. 

Berlin cathedral at Festival of Lights 2018

Berlin cathedral lit up in colourful lights at the 2018 Festival of Lights. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Frankfurt Book Fair, October 19th – 23rd 

The world’s largest book fair is returning to Frankfurt this October with the theme of “translation”, exploring the idea of translating ideas into new languages, mediums and contexts.

Alongside the sprawling trade fair and conference, there will also be a packed schedule of literary events where people can hear reading and talks by popular authors. You can find out all about the exhibitors at the book fair this year and what’s on at the conference in English on the Frankfurt Book Fair website

Deutsches Weinlesefest, September 23rd – October 10th 

The picturesque wine-growing regions of western Germany hold wine festivals throughout the year, but the Wine Harvest Festival – or Weinlesefest – is by far one of the biggest.

Fittingly enough, the festival is held in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, a pretty little town located along the famous Wine Route. For the few weeks of the festival, this sleepy little town hosts an enormous wine parade and around 100,000 wine-loving visitors. Head there on the 7th to see the crowning of this year’s Palatinate Wine Queen and sample some Rhineland wines out of a dubbeglas, a big glass that holds a whopping 50cl of wine. As always, drink responsibly! 

READ ALSO: 10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

Halloween at Frankenstein’s Castle, October 21st – November 6th 

If the name of Frankenstein’s Castle sounds familiar to you, it should do: apparently, Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, could well have been inspired by the castle when she visited the nearby town of Gernsheim in 1814. 

These days, however, the castle is known for something slightly different: in 1978, American airmen set up an annual Halloween festival at the castle, and the spooky tradition has continued to this day.

Halloween at Frankenstein Castle

A blood-curdling character at Frankenstein Castle’s Halloween Festival in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

If you want to enjoy what’s been described as one of the most spectacular Halloween experiences in the world, it’s well worth booking tickets to go up to the castle in late October. In the weeks around Halloween, the 1000-year-old castle is transformed in a phantasmagoria of monsters and evil beings lurking in the shadows.

Every year, the organisers of the festivals pull yet another technical trick out of their sleeve to ensure that visitors are more spooked than ever. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you think you can handle the adrenaline, it’s bound to be an action-packed night. 

READ ALSO: What are Germany’s 8 spookiest places?