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GERMAN HABITS

Thrifty Swabians and haughty Hamburgers: A guide to Germany’s regional stereotypes

Punctual, organised, lovers of beer... we all know the stereotypes about Germans. But how well do you know the stereotypes for each of the German regions?

traditional dress bavaria
A woman in traditional Bavaria dress stands next to a garland-clad cow in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

We’ve probably all made jokes in our time about something being “typically German” – but on closer inspection, it turns out that typical Germans are a far more diverse bunch than it first appears.

As in pretty much any country in the world, Germans engage in a lot of good-humoured ribbing about themselves and people from other parts of the country. Whether it’s the north/south divide or the stereotypes about ignorant rural folk and snobbish city-dwellers, these cliches shape our worldview and our sense of where we fit in. Fascinatingly, some stereotypes endure over hundreds of years, while others fade into the mists of time.

One example of the latter are the terms “Besser Wessi” and “Jammer Ossi”. which paint a picture of the slightly tense relations between people from the former East Germany and the West after reunification.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

The stereotype of the West German (or the “better westerner”) was someone who felt superior to people from the DDR and looked down on them. Meanwhile, the rueful “Jammer Ossi” (or “sorry east German”) walked around in a cloud of self-pity and with a visible chip on their shoulder. 

“Besser Wessi” was actually the German word of the year in 1991, which gives you an interesting snapshot into the cultural preoccupations of the day. But a recent poll found that most young people in Germany actually have no idea what these idioms are meant to refer to. 

Nevertheless, there are many regional stereotypes in Germany that are still very much alive and well. While these are definitely not meant to be taken seriously, here are some of the main ones. 

Bavaria

Bavaria occupies a unique place in Germany for being responsible for the vast majority of cliches about Germans in general while also being determined to set itself apart from everywhere else. 

For most Germans, the Bavarian stereotype is of Dirndl or Lederhosen-clad yokels who love conservatism and Catholicism in equal measure. These quirky mountain dwellers speak in an impenetrable dialect and like to make a big deal about their “free state” status, while calling everyone else in Germany Prussian. Of course, their diet of veal sausage and habit of drinking at least a litre of beer for breakfast contributes to their ruddy complexions and boisterous, bustling nature.

If you find yourself in a picturesque Dorf in Bavaria, don’t be alarmed if you hear a high-pitched wailing of sorts. It’s called yodeling, and it’s another one of Bavaria’s favourite pastimes. 

Munich Englisher Garten

Men in Lederhosen drink beer in Munich’s Englischer Garten. Photo: picture alliance / Matthias Balk/dpa | Matthias Balk

Berlin

If you venture to the Hauptstadt, you’re likely to be confronted in an Eckkneipe by the gruff (and rather nasal) Berliner Schnauze accent. If you don’t understand it, it’s probably a good thing – because if you’re in Berlin, it’s bound to be something rude.

For people elsewhere in Germany, the very few “Urberliner” (the original locals) are seen as incredibly impolite, loud-mouthed, working class and a bit cheeky. 

Everyone else in the city is a hipster who lives on the breadline and makes sound-art installations in old warehouses that have since become techno clubs. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Austria and Germany’s ‘Stammtisch’ tradition

Hamburg 

Like most other North Germans, the enduring stereotype of Hamburgers is that they are as cold as the winds that sweep in from the north sea. The Hanseatic types aren’t big talkers, and some people say this standoffishness is down to the fact that they are also exceedingly rich.

While you’re trying to cobble together your last cents for a beer on the Reeperbahn (Hamburg’s notorious party district), you could find yourself getting splashed with puddle water as a shiny Mercedes-Benz comes screeching by. That, according to many Germans, is the Hamburg way.

Being close to the coastline has also done something strange to the people of Hamburg: while the rest of the country is munching on pork dishes, Hamburgers are far more likely to enjoy tucking into a juicy Fischköpf (fish head) on special occasions. Some Germans also think they speak like pirates, and that the sailor culture has left behind a mentality that is more than a little open to loose morality. 

East Frisians 

“Why do East Frisians drive in a tank to go and feed the sheep?” 
“Because they don’t know the Second World War has ended!”

This is just one of many gags in a genre of joke-telling dedicated entirely to poking fun of the East Frisians – the strange rural types “up there” who (according to other Germans) don’t have more than a single IQ point to rub together.

For people from the UK, the East Frisian stereotype can best be understood as the West Country bumpkin meets The Only Way is Essex. Most of them are believed to live on farms and exist in a cultural and intellectual wasteland. The most famous portrayal of this stereotype is by the comedian Otto Waalkes, who developed a typically East Frisian persona on-stage and authored a lot of East Frisian jokes. 

Be careful not to confuse the East Frisians with the North Frisians: the latter are secretly Danes and live on fancy islands like Sylt surrounded by pots of gold. 

Bale of hay farmland Germany

A bale of hay lies in a field. East Frisian people are all said to be farmers. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

Saxony and the former East

The Saxons – along with people from other former East German states – are seen as embittered folk who have either been seduced by the far-right or spend their days pining for the return of communism. 

Though the term “Besser Wessi” has long since died out, western Germans still have some very fixed (and not very flattering) ideas about those from the East, assuming that they all spend their days at the jobcentre espousing atheist views. 

Given the popularity of the AfD in the state, some believe Saxony may be, well, a little bit racist. But the city of Leipzig (or “Hypezig” as its come to be known) is something of a mini Berlin: full of young, hip people and eco-gardening projects. 

As you might expect, this part of Germany is seen a foreigner-free zone, though the number of line-dancing events and Dodge trucks you can see in the wild in Saxony-Anhalt may give the impression that they’d actually quite like to be American. 

Swabia 

Way down south in the region surrounding Stuttgart are a group of people who are among the most mythologised in Germany: the Schwaben (or Swabians). Despite the fact that this area is one of the priciest places in the country to live in, the Swabians have a reputation for being incredibly frugal.

According to Frank Lang, the curator of an exhibition on Stuttgart and its people, this stereotype dates back to a time when residents of the city lived in poverty. To stretch out their last cents, the Swabians would try and make their possessions last for as long as possible – and, when the time came to replace it, would be reluctant to spend too much on something new. 

READ ALSO: Introducing Swabians: ‘the Scots of Germany’

In addition to this love of penny-penching, the Swabians are seen as uptight neat-freaks. This is probably due to the tradition Swabian Kehrwoche – or sweeping week – when residents in an area get out their brooms en masse and sweep the streets.

This type of perfectionism apparently extends to other areas of a Swabian’s life as well. In fact, they’re known for being obsessed with accolades and achievements. This has become something of a meme in Germany, with one comedian doing a series of sketches about Prenzlschwaben: green juice swilling pushy parents who live in Berlin’s upmarket Prenzlauer Berg district.  

Rhineland 

When it comes to regional stereotypes, the Rhinelanders appear to have got off a fair bit easier than most. These group of people who inhabit the cities and towns along Germany’s most famous river are known for their Rheinische Frohnatur: a natural jolliness and friendliness. 

This laid-back, sociable way of being can be seen first-hand in the pubs of Cologne, where a newcomer barely has to take a seat before a local hands them a Kölsch. We don’t want to be cynical, but we half suspect that this easy going nature may have something to do with the sunny weather and the abundance of local wines on offer. 

Since the Rhineland is such a big region, there are also some more locally specific stereotypes you can find here. In the Ruhr region of North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, the locals are believed to spend most of their time mining coal. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Is it true that Germans don’t understand sarcasm?

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GERMAN TRADITIONS

10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

From scavenging for mushrooms to drinking Apfelwein, autumn is a truly magical season in Germany. Here's how to make the most of the fall months just like the locals do.

10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

As summer transitions to autumn, it can be easy to remain nostalgic for the long, sunny days. But the months leading up to Christmas can also be an immensely vibrant time to be in Germany – if you know how.

So as you swap your summer t-shirts for woolly jumpers, why not participate in some quintessentially German customs, from whipping up pumpkin dishes to collecting chestnuts in the park? 

If you’re not sure where to start, here are 10 ways to make the most of autumn in true German style this year. 

1. Give thanks for the harvest

Since the third century, Christian countries have organised festivals to thank God for the gift of the autumn harvest – and in Germany, these religious celebrations continue to this day.

Traditionally, Erntedankfest (Harvest Thanksgiving) is celebrated on the first Sunday of October in rural communities with church services, a parade (complete with a harvest queen), music and a country fair. Food is also collected for those in need. In some regions, the celebrations coincide with the wine harvest, and vineyard owners set up stalls where locals can sample the season’s wines.

A church in Lower Saxony collect food donations at harvest time.

A church in Lower Saxony collect food donations at harvest time. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

2. Eat pumpkin with everything

Say goodbye to Spargelzeit, the time of year when white asparagus is served on special menus in just about every German restaurant – autumn marks the start of Kürbiszeit, when Germans get creative with the humble pumpkin. 

From spicy soups to creamy pumpkin risotto, you may be surprised at how versatile pumpkin can be. In fact, if you happen to visit a farmer’s market in the next month or two, you may discover that there are far more varieties of pumpkin than you ever imagined.

And if you do start to get bored of pumpkin dishes as the season wears on, there’s plenty more seasonal produce to experiment with, from Grünkohl (kale) to Pfefferlinge (chanterelle mushrooms). 

READ ALSO: German Word of the Day: Der Kürbis

3. Go foraging for mushrooms

As soon as the first touch of autumn frost is in the air, many Germans wrap up warm and head out to the forest for a popular national pastime: mushroom foraging. The idea is simply to head out into nature, basket in tow, and see what wild mushrooms you can find, from the beefy Steinpilz to the slippery Butterpilz

A word of warning, though. Legally speaking, the mushrooms should only be for personal use (i.e. not to sell), and some mushrooms may not be edible at all. If you’re a beginner forager, it’s a good idea to head out with some experienced mushroom gatherers to start with, or take your treasure to your local Pilzberater (mushroom consultant) who can let you know if your mushrooms are safe to eat. 

READ ALSO: What’s behind the German fascination with foraging for wild mushrooms?

Mushroom foraging in Brandenburg

A forager collects mushrooms in a basket in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

4. Visit your local Herbstfest 

Though the days are getting shorter and colder, there’s no excuse to hibernate just yet. Whether you live in a small town or a big city, there’s bound to be at least one Herbstfest (or autumn festival) going on, which can be a great reason to get out of the house and spend time with friends.

The most famous autumn festival in Germany is obviously Oktoberfest – an enormous fairground and beer festival that runs in Munich from late September to early October. If you can’t make it to Bavaria, there are usually little copy-cat festivals dotted around Germany, as well as other local events where you can enjoy delicious seasonal favourites from Apfelwein (apple wine) to Flammkuchen and Käsespätzle

5. Celebrate the reunification of East and West Germany

October 3rd is a special day in the German calendar, marking the date on which East and West Germany were reunified after 41 years apart. Though reunification can bring up complex feelings for some Germans, Unity Day (Tag der Einheit) is a national bank holiday, which is reason to celebrate in itself.

This year, the date falls on a Monday, meaning people can look forward to a long weekend with fireworks and local celebrations. Why not get a group of friends together and check out what’s going on in your area? In Berlin, for instance, stages are set up all around Brandenburg Gate each year, with music performances, comedy and street theatre. 

6. Make paper lanterns on St. Martin’s Day 

Largely celebrated in Germany’s catholic states, Martinstag (St. Martin’s Day) on November 11th is a charming German custom that has a fair bit in common with Halloween. Traditionally, children dress up and head out onto the streets in a little procession with paper lanterns. In some regions, they also go door to door and sing for sweets, fruit or cookies. 

Families marking St. Martin’s Day will generally eat a Martinsgans (Martin’s Goose) for dinner. This is in reference to a part of the legend of St. Martin in which Martin, believing himself unworthy of becoming a bishop, attempts to hide himself in a stable filled with geese. 

In protestant Berlin and other parts of northern Germany, the processions have been rebranded as the secular Laternenfest (Lantern Festival).

St. Martin's Day procession Thuringia

Thousands of people join a St. Martin’s Day procession in Erfurt, Thuringia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Reichel

READ ALSO: Six signs autumn has arrived in Germany

7. Collect chestnuts in the park

As the leaves starts to fall, you may notice something else lying on the ground on your street or in your local park: chestnuts. Heading out on a walk to collect chestnuts can be a great way to while away a bright autumnal afternoon, but more than that, these versatile nuts have a million uses that may surprise you.

From making your own face masks to creating organic cleaning products, not to mention using them in seasonal dishes and as home decorations, you’re bound to find a way to use up the chestnuts. But if not, animal parks and forest wardens are often thrilled to get a chestnut donation for feeding wild animals throughout winter. 

If you do go chestnut collecting, however, make sure you follow the rules: only chestnuts that have fallen to the ground can be picked up and taken home.

8. Dress up for Halloween

Though celebrating Halloween is much more popular in the United States, some American traditions – from fancy dress to trick-or-treating – have slowly but surely taken hold in Germany over the past few decades. 

Instead of saying “trick or treat”, German children tend to say, “Süßes oder Saures” (sweet or sour?) as they blackmail their neighbours into emptying their sweet cupboards.

But even if you’re not keen on an American-style Halloween, there are ways to celebrate Halloween like a true German. Why not spend the day carving pumpkins and then head out for a spooky tour of a haunted castle in the evening? 

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

9. Fly a kite 

The hot, humid days are over and a chill wind is in the air, so what better time to indulge in another German obsession – flying kites? 

Adorably known as Drachen (dragons) in German, autumn is prime kite-flying season in Germany, so be sure to take your kite (and your family) out to your park on the next windy Sunday afternoon to see what all the fuss is about.  

Kite flying in Berlin

People fly dragon kites at the Drachenfest on Berlin Tempelhofer Feld. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

10. Remember lost loved ones 

In a more sombre autumnal tradition, All Saint’s Day on November 1st is a time to remember loved ones who are no longer with us.

Taking place on November 1st, the day after All Hallow’s Eve, many Germans will take the opportunity to place candles or wreaths on the graves of their relatives. Churches will generally hold sermons dedicated to the theme of remembrance and in the evening, religious families may gather together for dinner. The following morning, on All Soul’s Day, there are more religious services and prayers for the dead. 

Even for those who aren’t believers, November 1st can offer an opportunity for reflection, contemplation and most importantly, a chance to spend time with the people you love. 

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