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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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WEATHER

Surviving winter: 8 tips for enjoying the cold like a true German

Germany's first snow is set to fall on Friday, which means it's time to buckle up for the dark, cold German winter. Here are some tips for getting through the season with a smile on your face.

Surviving winter: 8 tips for enjoying the cold like a true German

When asked what the toughest thing is about adapting to life in Germany, most expats will mention the long, icy winters. As December approaches, temperatures can suddenly drop dramatically into the minus degrees, replacing the golden autumn sunshine with damp, gloomy skies.

According to the German Weather Service (DWD), the average winter temperature in 2021/22 was a chilly 3C, though it’s not unusual for the mercury to drop below zero – especially in the mountainous south. To make matters worse, during the shortest winter days people have to make do with just seven hours of daylight and an interminable 17 hours of darkness.

All of these factors combined can make the German winter feel like something of an endurance test. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect around a third of northern Europeans, and Germans are certainly no stranger to a case of the winter blues.

But if you’re already dreading the next three months of misery, it’s important to realise there are things you can do to make winter much more bearable. From embracing the festive season to concocting comforting beverages, these tips should help make the coldest months a little bit less dark.

1. Dress for the season

To master the art of winter, it’s important to first master the art of practical clothing. 

The ability to dress for all weather conditions is a source of national pride for Germans: in fact, they go about picking their seasonal-wear with such specificity that it’s not unusual to hear categories of clothing like Übergangsjacke, a special “bridging” coat to tide you over from autumn to winter or winter to spring. 

Though all of this can feel a bit intimidating, dressing for cold weather is really not that tricky – and once you’ve found a warm coat and a sturdy pair of winter boots, you’ll never go back. 

One of the best tips for dressing for winter is to follow the onion principle and wear as many layers as you can. Thermal leggings and tops are an ideal base layer, followed by warm trousers, long-sleeved tops, knitwear and a decent coat that’s long enough to cover your legs. 

Of course, a decent pair of gloves, a scarf and a hat are also essential when the temperature drops, as are thick socks and a hardy pair of boots. 

2. Learn to cook German comfort food 

Many of Germany’s traditional dishes are perfectly suited to cold winter days, when stodgy comfort food is a must. 

If you’re stuck indoors on a frosty evening, it could be the perfect time to try your hand at a few German dishes, whether it’s a hearty lentil casserole, Käsespätzel or roast pork with dumplings and red cabbage. 

German Christmas dinner

A traditional German Christmas dinner with goose and red cabbage. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Deutsches Tiefkühlinstitut e.V. | Deutsches Tiefkühlinstitut e.V.

A good place to start is to think of a German meal you’ve enjoyed in the past and see if you can find a recipe for it online. Once you perfect some of your favourite side dishes like Bratkartoffel (roast potatoes) and Sauerkraut, you can even start getting creative and inventing dishes from scratch.

Alternatively, check out some of our recent articles on the best German seasonal food for inspiration. 

READ ALSO: The 10 heartiest German dishes to get you through winter

3. Enjoy some festive activities 

Though it can be hard to find the motivation to get out and about, there’s absolutely no need to go into hibernation over winter. As the days get shorter and darker, numerous festivals and cultural events start springing up all over Germany – not to mention the Christmas markets.

At the start of December, Dresden holds its annual Stollenfest in homage to one of Germany’s most famous Christmas treats. Not only can you see masterful bakers at work, but you can also sample some of the delicious marzipan-filled cake washed down with a warming glass of Glühwein.

In Hamburg, an array of folk festivals – including the Winter Fair and the Dom Fair – kick off in winter time, drawing millions of visitors to the northern city-state. With food stalls, fairground rides, music and fireworks, the fairs have something for the whole family and are an ideal excuse to experience the romance of Hamburg harbour in wintertime. 

Tollwood winter festival 2021

The art installation “Phoenix” on display at Munich’s Winter Tollwood Festival in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

If you’re nowhere near the north, don’t despair: Munich’s Tollwood Winter Festival runs for a full month during November and December. Here, you can catch music, circus and theatre performances or simply soak up the atmosphere and enjoy some delicious German street food. 

Alongside the big events, getting out to your local Christmas market or to see a concert with friends can be a great way to beat the winter blues. We’ll keep you updated on all the best things going on each month around Germany.

READ ALSO: 10 unmissable events in Germany this November

4. Get out in the daytime 

This may sound simple, but when the daylight hours are limited, it’s important to make the most of them. In the shortest days of December, it tends to get light around 7 or 8am, while the sun sets around 4:30pm, which means you’ll need to be strategic about when you get out and about.

One simple way to get some natural light and exercise is to bike to work each morning. It may seem unappealing on a chilly day, but you’ll warm up quickly once you get going and may enjoy it more than being crammed onto a bus with the other commuters.

Another option is to try and get out for a jog or a long walk on your lunchbreak, so you don’t find yourself accidentally missing the daylight hours while stuck at your desk. Or be sure to get out into the countryside each weekend for a rejuvenating hike followed by a hearty lunch.  

5. Find your favourite winter sport 

There’s a reason that winter sports are so popular in Germany. From the Harz mountains in the north to the Bavarian alps in the south, there are countless places to enjoy skiing and snowboarding when the temperature drops. 

What’s more, enjoying a winter hobby can totally shift your perspective about winter. Instead of looking ahead with a sense of dread, you may find yourself getting excited about the start of the new ski season and counting the days until you can hit the slopes once more.

Winter hiking in Germany

Winter hikers ascend a snow-capped mountain in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Martin Erd

Not all winter sports need to be money or labour-intensive, either. In recent years, ice dipping has become a major trend, with adventurous types heading out to local lakes to lower themselves into the freezing water for a minute or two.

Though this may sound about as pleasant as a kick in the teeth, many ice-dippers say the natural high you get more than makes up for a few seconds of discomfort. Aside from energising you for the day ahead, a minute or so in cold water also delivers numerous health benefits, from boosting your immune system to protecting against Alzheimer’s. 

READ ALSO: How learning to ski helped me shake off my German winter blues

6. Embrace Gemütlichkeit 

Forget the Danish Hygge: in Germany, it’s all about Gemütlichkeit. This charming word encapsulates that feeling of being warm and cosy – especially on a cold day. 

To get through this winter season, we recommend setting yourself up for maximum Gemütlichkeit. That might mean digging out some cosy blankets or knitwear from the cellar, making a soothing winter playlist or simply snuggling up on the sofa with a good book each evening.

It may also mean decorating your home with things like fairy lights and evergreen branches for the festive season, or brewing up some hot beverages like Glühwein, spiced apple cider or a cinnamon latte. 

Not everyone’s definitely of peak Gemütlichkeit will be the same, so you may want to experiment to see what it means for you.

READ ALSO: 5 things you need to know about German Glühwein

7. Head to the sauna 

Germans love their saunas, and for good reason: there’s nothing quite like a blast of intense heat to help you unwind and soothe any winter aches and pains.

If the cold is getting you down, make like a German and pencil in some time at your local sauna and steam room. You’ll usually find these at gyms and swimming pools, but there are also stand-alone saunas like Gewölbe Sauna in Berlin – a traditional East German sauna room that even has its own little bar. 

A relaxing sauna room in Germany.

A relaxing sauna room in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Harvia | Kristian Tervo

To really treat yourself, a thermal spa is the way to go. These unique spas use extremes of heat and cold to stimulate the senses and leave you feeling refreshed and aglow. You can find these all over Germany, often housed in opulent classical surroundings, like the Roman-inspired Carolus Thermen in Aachen.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s sauna culture

8. Take care of your health 

As if the grey skies and drizzle weren’t enough, the winter months also mark the start of cold and flu season in Germany – and with Covid-19 still part of everyday life, there’s an even greater chance of falling ill.

For that reason, looking after your health and well-being in the winter months is super important. 

Many people in northern Europe suffer from vitamin D deficiencies over winter due to the lack of natural sunlight, which can have a huge impact on your mood. Taking supplements can help with this, as well as so-called light therapy boxes or SAD lamps, which replicate natural light in your home. 

Meanwhile, staying hydrated and taking vitamin C and zinc supplements can help boost your immune system, while getting out for walks in nature will do wonders for your mental health. 

READ ALSO: Five ways to make the most of Germany this winter

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