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DISCOVER GERMANY

10 things to know about Rhineland-Palatinate

How much do you know about Germany’s ninth largest state? Here are 10 historical and cultural facts to help you get to know the region better.

The famous Marksburg castle in Braubach, Rhineland-Palatinate
The famous Marksburg castle in Braubach, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Bernd F. Meier
  • A short history of the Pfalz

Located in the west of Germany, Rhineland-Palatinate (in German: Rheinland-Pfalz) was founded in August 1946 as the last state to be established in the Western zone of occupation after World War II, and soon after became part of the French zone. 

The city of Mainz in the north of Rhineland-Palatinate – known for its pretty half-timbered houses and medieval squares – was named as the state capital.

  • It even has its very own dialect – pfälzisch

Palatine German, or pfälzisch, is an amalgamation of many languages, in part due to its geography and history. Pfälzer have their own grammatical rules and French influences can be seen in the roots of some words.

There are even different variations within the region, such as Westpfälzisch, Nordpfälzisch, Vorderpfälzisch and Südpfälzisch.

The dialect is still spoken by many in the state, though mostly verbally and in more casual settings. Many Palatines are very proud of their language and have brought it with them when emigrating abroad, such as the US, where Pennsylvania Dutch is a form of pfälzisch.

Find out more about the distinct dialect and some common phrases here.

  • Home to some famous faces 

Helmut Kohl, the chancellor of Germany during the crucial era leading up to reunification and the years after, was a born and bred Pfälzer, growing up in the city of Ludwigshafen. 

The US’ established military bases in the Palatinate, specifically in Ramstein and Kaiserslautern, mean many famous Americans with military parents were born in the region, including action film star Bruce Willis. 

There’s also some links that many Pfälzer would choose to ignore, including former US president Donald Trump, whose paternal family hail from the village of Kallstadt in the region. Interestingly, the family behind the Heinz Company came from the same small village.

READ ALSO: Holiday like a local: Five of the best camping regions in Germany

  • They favour wine over beer

While Germany as a whole is known for its beer culture, Rhineland-Palatinate is known for its wine, due to its extensive winegrowing region, and is the leading producer of wine in the country. 

The state boasts over 250,000 acres of vineyards, with some of the most famous German wines being Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Spätburgunder and the classic sparkling wine, Sekt

Throughout the year, the state also hosts a number of wine festivals and Weinwanderungen along the famous wine route. 

They honour their wine culture so much that Rhineland-Palatinate is the only German Bundesland (federal state) to have a cabinet minister for winegrowing.

  • Pfälzer love a celebration almost as much as their wine

The Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt is the world’s biggest wine festival held annually in September in the spa town of Bad Dürkheim. The festival features fairground rides and food stalls selling regional specialities (as the name suggests, sausages) and of course wine.

The town is also home to the largest wine barrel in the world – although it is not used as a wine storage, instead containing a restaurant. 

A large Ferris wheel at the 600th Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt in Bad Durkheim

A large Ferris wheel at the 600th Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt in Bad Durkheim in 2016. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Uwe Anspach

The famous Mainz carnival is one of the biggest festivities of Germany’s fifth season and takes place right in the Rhineland’s capital. Their Rosenmontag parade is known for having huge Schwellköpp, which are life-size figures made of papier-mâché, often resembling relevant politicians to make political statements. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about celebrating carnival in Germany

  • There is some state rivalry

Like many places in Germany, there’s some natural state rivalry between neighbours. That is the case for Rhineland-Palatinate and neighbouring Saarland. 

Although we can’t figure out quite why these two states seem to have it in for each other, it may have something to do with its history. 

The Saarland was long governed by France after World War I until it was returned to Nazi Germany in 1935. Following WWII, the French military administration once more took control of the territory, until finally, in 1957, it became part of the Federal Republic. This back and forth, and close proximity both geographically and culturally with France, could be why the Pfälzer and Saarländer find themselves at odds. 

It is more the case of friendly banter, so the rivalry shouldn’t be taken too seriously. And as seen in many a reddit thread, maybe it is Saarland itself that’s the problem – “Nobody in Germany likes Saarland, except the Saarländer”. 

  • A place of folklore

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but is home to a number of folklore tales, the most famous being that of The Lorelei, or Loreley. 

Legend says there was once a beautiful young woman named Lorelei who threw herself into the Rhine and drowned after her heart was broken. She was then transformed into a siren whose sad, haunting singing lures drooling sailors to come crashing onto the rocks to their death. A statue of the Lorelei has been placed over the stretch of water near Sankt Goarshausen, as well as an amphitheatre that is also named after the woman. 

Many German writers have written about the tale, including Heinrich Heine in his famous poem “Die Lorelei”.

Walkers stop to enjoy the view from the Loreley Plateau along the Rhine

Walkers stop to enjoy the view from the Loreley Plateau along the Rhine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

READ ALSO: Germany’s top myths and legends

  • Lots of cultural sites to see

Rhineland-Palatinate is home to not just one UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but a whopping 14, nine of which are located in Trier, Germany’s oldest city. Often nicknamed the ‘Rome of the North’, Trier features a number of Roman ruins, including the Porta Nigra, a large city gate, a Roman bath and the palace Basilica of Constantine.

  • There’s plenty of nature too

Over 42 percent of the state is covered by forests, notably the vast Pfälzer Forest nature park, making it the most forested state in Germany. The park features many walking routes, viewing towers and even castles.

The Palatinate also boasts several lakes, the rivers Moselle and of course Rhine, and even a mountain (der Erbeskopf), which makes it a perfect place for nature lovers and those looking for a nature escape from city life.

READ ALSO: Rhine valley – home to ‘river of destiny’

  • And we can’t forget about the food!

Although you will of course find a bratwurst and some good German bread, Rhineland-Palatinate has a lot more to offer than that.

The most famous Palatinate dish is the Pfälzer Saumagen (translating literally to pig’s stomach), which is a combination of pork, sausage meat, potatoes, onions and spices that is cooked in an empty pig’s stomach. It is then cut into slices, sauteed and served with a side of sauerkraut. While the name is not the most appealing, I can personally attest to its great flavour.

Judges examine a pig-shaped Saumagen at a Saumagen cooking competition in Herxheim

Judges examine a pig-shaped Saumagen at a Saumagen cooking competition in Herxheim, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

A speciality from the state capital, Spundekäs is a smooth cheese paste made from quark and seasoned with sweet paprika. It is usually served with mini pretzels as a starter or an accompaniment with some Palatinate wine.

Another popular dish is the Dampfnudel (“steamed noodles”), which is a sort of steamed white roll that can be eaten as a meal or as a dessert. The sweet version can be stuffed with plum sauce and traditionally served with a (sometimes boozy) vanilla sauce and has similarities to a Germknödel or Hefekloß.

Due to its proximity to France and the Alsace region, the Palatinate cuisine also features dishes such as Flammkuchen (or tarte flambée) and even escargots.

READ ALSO: QUIZ: How well do you know German food?

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays – and will it ever change?

Germany's strict ban on shops opening on Sundays can be a shock to foreigners. We looked at the culture around it, and spoke to one of the country's largest trade unions to find out if things are ever likely to change.

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays - and will it ever change?

It’s Sunday. You’ve invited people for dinner, but you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Tough luck – you’ll either have to do without or wait until Monday because your local shops are shut. 

Most of us are familiar with this inconvenience, and perhaps you’ve even found yourself screaming: “Why?” in frustration in front of a locked-up supermarket. 

But it’s something us adopted Germans have had to get used to. We decided to take a look at the reasons behind Germany’s ban on Sunday shopping – and to find out if it might change in future. 

Where does the rule come from?

The Sonntagsruhe or ‘Sunday rest’ principle is an integral part of German culture, so much so that it is enshrined in the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

Article 140 of the law, which has remained unchanged since 1919, says: “Sundays and state-recognised public holidays remain protected by law as days of rest from work and spiritual upliftment.” 

But the practice of not working on Sunday has been around for much longer. The idea that the seventh day of the week is a day of rest dates back to the old testament and was declared a general day of rest across the Roman Empire as early as 321, by Roman Emperor Constantine.

In the centuries since, however, most of Europe has gradually relaxed the strict ban on commercial activities on Sundays. 

But in Germany, the rules remain restrictive. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon partly because of religious reasons, and also in relation to the interests of workers.

Germany’s biggest trade union Verdi spelled out their view. “It’s not ‘modern’ to work seven days a week,” they told The Local. “That’s the Middle Ages.” 

What exactly does the law mean?

On the face of it, the German law forbids all forms of work on Sundays and public holidays, though numerous exceptions are laid out in the Working Time Act. 

As well as emergency and rescue services, hospitals, nursing and care facilities, exceptions include cultural and sporting activities, and the hospitality sector. 

Another notable exemption to the rule is bakeries, which are allowed to open for three hours on Sundays – which is why you may often find a long queue at your local baker if you want to get your freshly baked Brötchen on Sunday morning. 

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery.

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Illustrating how seriously the rule can be taken in Germany, there have even been cases of bakeries being sued for selling bread for too long on Sundays.

Shops, however, aren’t exempt from the rule and, the only way they can legally open on a Sunday is on a so-called verkaufsoffener Sonntag – Sunday trading day.

In most federal states, shops are allowed to open on between four and eight Sundays per year, and the States can decide when these should be. The chosen days must, however, be linked to a relevant occasion – such as a local festival, a market, a trade fair, or a similar event. 

Sunday openings also have to be recognisable as an exception to the general rule and Sunday openings that have already been approved can often be later overturned by the courts.

How strictly is the rule enforced?

Retailers who break the rules and open for business on Sunday can face fines ranging between €500 and €2,500.

The strictness of enforcement can vary widely between different regions.

In Berlin, for example, you can still find lots of Spätis (late night shops) open on Sundays. Although this is technically illegal, the authorities in the capital seem to take more of a relaxed approach to enforcement than in other states. 

A "Späti" late-night shop in Berlin.

A “Späti” late-night shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

In the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria, for example, the law is much more strictly guarded and enforced.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has strict shop opening hours

Is the law likely to change?

A survey by Spiegel in 2017 showed that 61 percent of Germans wanted to be able to shop on a Sunday, and this desire is shared by the trade industry.

The German Trade Association, for example, which represents around 400,000 independent companies, has strongly criticised Germany’s refusal to budge on the issue of Sunday openings on several occasions and argued that Sunday opening is also popular with staff, with many shop assistants appreciating the work in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In its latest statement on the issue, the association stated that, especially after following the economic impact of the pandemic, many retailers would benefit greatly from being able to open on Sundays. 

READ ALSO:

“It is remarkable that in no other EU country Sunday opening is as restricted as in Germany,” the association said. “Even in strongly Catholic EU countries such as Italy and Poland, shoppers can generally shop on Sundays. The same applies to France, although they place great value on culture and socialising.”

However, even if there is a widespread desire in some quarters to allow Sunday trading, an amendment to the constitution would require the consent of two-thirds of the German parliament. Also, there remains strong opposition to changing the rule from many workers’ groups and trade unions.

Trade union Verdi, which regularly files complaints against states and organisations which seek to deviate from Sunday trading restrictions, said that Sunday rest is still very important for workers.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Arne Dedert

A spokesperson said: “We have just one day a week when employers can’t stop us from going to football together, meeting friends, attending cultural events, or spending free time with the whole family.

“And we want to keep it that way. There are six days a week when we can go shopping, take the car to the garage, do our banking, or get the package delivered from the online retailer. On Sunday, there has to be peace and quiet.”

The Verdi spokesperson added that it’s important to think about “work-life balance, and not about being available 24/7 for a company”.

We also asked the union if the law looks set to change in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Sunday, which is a non-working day for most people, has so far been protected by the majority of political parties in Germany.

“Verdi, with its almost two million members, continues to work to ensure that working on Sunday does not become an everyday occurrence.”

So it appears that the culture shock for many non-Germans of shops being closed on Sundays won’t change anytime soon. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches – the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

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