Of Pickled Fish & Weißwurst

north and south with circles

Schleswig-Holstein, of which Kiel is the capital, was the third state I have had the pleasure of calling home in this Around Germany in an Unspecified Amount of Days ride I seem to be on. It is very north. Indeed, it is the northernmost of Germany’s states, its coastlines lapped by the Baltic Sea on one side and the North Sea on the other. It is home to very northern Germans who are a breed of Germans quite different to, say, the Eastern Germans, or the Baden-Württembergers or … the Bavarians.

Moving to Bavaria the first time hit SG harder than it hit me. As a foreigner in this country, I am able to approach most places with the attitude of ‘it will be an adventure!’, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Living in the back arse of beyond has indeed proven to be an adventure, but one of the more ‘character building’ variety rather than the ‘this is the best thing I have ever done in my life’ kind. SG, as an out and out Northerner, a-couldn’t-be-more-Northern-if-he-tried Northerner, one for whom ‘moin’ covers all greetings, ‘yo!’ can mean ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘yes’, ‘whatever’ or ‘cool’, Bavaria is home of all things inherently bad and small talk is a craft that must be worked at only because he has the misfortune of having a chatty Australian girlfriend, came at it differently. He knew he was in for something nasty. He was a fish being pulled out of the brackish waters of the Baltic and dumped, unceremoniously into the green hills of southern Germany. His culture shock was greater than mine and, in the following months, so has been his resistance to, his resentment of, all things South. (He also can’t understand the people we live around, which makes me feel so much better about myself and my linguistic abilities. That being said, he doesn’t even try – what could an Oberpfälzer possibly say that would interest a Schleswig-Holsteiner?)

north and south food text

Come, I hear you say, soothingly, the North and South of a country the size of Germany (a pea when compared to the USA or Canada or Australia or Brazil) cannot be that different. Let’s not be so precious. Isn’t everyone just one big unified family now that wall has come down? And wasn’t that wall between the East and the West, anyway? 

I thought so too. I soothed him with such unsoothing comments. I said it just wasn’t possible for things to be as bad as he claimed them to be, for the Bavarians to do things so differently to the Schleswig-Holsteiners.

But then I went and lived in the North off the back of living in the South and I stopped trying to soothe. They’re different, so very different. Deliberately, proudly different (on all things not noticed here). Remember the whole thing about dialects down here, in a state of seven regions? That’s the mentality we’re dealing with, sweet readers. Germans like being identified by their region, even when that region is the size of a paddock in a state that’s the size of ten paddocks. That’s something the Germans all have in common, regional pride. (And wurst.) 

Add to this inherent pride, the following;

  • Bavaria’s long and colourful history as its own Kingdom, a rather evident chip that remains on its shoulder today.
  • The whole sea vs mountains thing, a rivalry as old as time (I, personally, am on team sea).
  • The Northerners’ ongoing thirst for pickled fish and chewy little shrimps, unmet in Bavaria’s sea of weißwurst.
  • The Bavarians are traditionally conservative and the Northerners are traditionally the precise opposite, something about which Der Spiegl once said, ‘cool, practical, intellectual, industrialized, liberal north of Germany think the lazy hick farmers in the south are backward and racist, and they talk funny too.’
  • Catholic (South) vs Protestant (North).
  • Neither of them can understand each other.

northsouthenvirongreeting

Living in the north did three things; it made a lot about SG make sense; it absolutely shredded the preconception I had been fed, repeatedly, that Northern Germans are the most aloof, the least friendly – not the case, they are the most open, cheerful and flat out friendly of all the German types I have thus far met, the aloof and unfriendly title remains with the Münsteranians; and it made very real the yawning chasm between The Bavarians (said with narrowed eyes and a clenched jaw and/or a dismissive eye roll) and The Northerners.

It’s sort of like Game of Thrones on a far less dramatic, less sexy scale. With lederhosen statisically more likely to make an appearance.

25 Replies to “Of Pickled Fish & Weißwurst”

  1. So funny! Makes me want to visit the north. I’ve only been to Bavaria and Rheinland-Pfalz. Maybe next year

    1. Yes you must visit the north! It has so much to see and you’ll really feel like you’ve been to two different little countries, if the south has thus far painted your German picture!

      1. Lately I came across a TV Show (on WDR or MDR or so) where they packed up a group from the South and one from the north to visit vice versa the other region. I think it is even still on, because they divided it in several parts. That was really interesting

  2. Love the comparison shots and stories. I’ve often wondered about what life would be like in other parts of Germany. Especially as the common German retort to “Why did you move to Germany?” is “But Berlin is not Germany.”

    For now, I will just have to keep reading your blog and live vicariously.

    1. Haha I think Berlin is like London for England and New York for the US – it’s not quite and accurate representation of the country it’s in, BUT an amazing city. I’d love to get to Berlin eventually and live there for a bit – I think a lot about its energy would suit me. That being said, I’d also love to try Hamburg. If living in the south were to be a more permanent thing, I’d try for Nürnberg or München, or even Freiburg. One thing is for sure – once this stint is up, I’m not doing the small town thing again, no siree.

  3. Liv, you’re kinda cute and I come to love your blog, the more I read from you.

    My Experience with southern Germany is just a 2 month internship in Munich, which is not as Bavarian than the rest of Bavaria, and a part of family living in Schwaben, which is not Bavaria either, but nevertheless still strange. Yes, there is this huge difference between the North Germans and the South. Coming from Bremen – I know what I’m talking about. Even I have no desire moving down there. At the moment I’m looking for a new job, but jobs or places that are too far south suddenly lose my attention. When I moved to Bremen (from a Part of Niedersachsen) I at first had trouble to fit in, because the people here are a little bit more uncommunicative, then where I came from. But after I managed to break the ice, it was very comfortable living here. The people are very straight forward and honest. And I like that.

    But it is not easy to throw away the prejudice a find a way to be comfortable at the new home, when the feeling is so negative. A friend of mine had the same feeling just like your boyfriend after moving from Berlin to Oldenburg. She never arranged herself with the smaller city, where everybody knows each other. She didn’t feel better, until she moved back to Berlin. Maybe this is awaiting you too? Moving back north? Either way, I wish you the very best.

    PS: In case of really weird English, please feel free to correct me. 🙂

    1. I have heard such wonderful things about Bremen, yet haven’t been there myself (which is ridiculous, I went through it every time I travelled between Kiel and Münster!) SG is exactly the same as you when it comes to looking for future job openings after our time in Weiden is up – his rule is he will look ‘everywhere north of Bavaria.’ The south just holds no interest. Having now lived here and seen a lot of the state, I can appreciate it but it isn’t for me either.

      I think moving back north definitely awaits us – we’d be very happy to return to Kiel or move to Hamburg. Even Berlin would be wonderful – it’s bigger and more progressive and there’s a lot happening there. Ultimately, though, I will need to settle somewhere near the sea – so we shall see!

      1. Bremen has a culture by itself. For Example the “Bremer Eiswette”, which is a very historical Event on January 6th, where a tailor bets against the City, if the Weser is frozen at that date or not (ob die Weser geht or steht), the Freimark which is sort of like Oktoberfest, but with less Beer-Tents and more fairground rides and for carnival we invite all kinds of Samba-Groups, that come, play and dance in a long parade in funny outfits at 5°C (the only time, when the Bremer come out of their shell and actually move to music). But besides that, Bremen is beautiful and packed with the old houses, tiny streets, good restaurants and the Roland (the Bremer is more proud of, because he freed the City, than of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten). It’s worth a look.

        1. Yes, all the little sub cultures are different to one another as well – it’s fascinating. You have totally sold me on Bremen, perhaps a little drive by en route to Kiel for Christmas is in order!

          1. Please, stop by and visit Bremen’s Christmas market. Since a couple of years we have a sub market at the “Schlachte” which is a medieval Christmas market. You can find there different foods, gifts and games than on regular markets.

  4. How funny to read a blog about living in germany. :O) Your´re right…..the north and the south is completey different. Even for us northern germans it´s some kind of cultureshock to go to the south. Love your blog and stay :). XOXO, Nadine

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! I am secretly a Northern German at heart, although I see the beauty in the south. There is nothing quite like being by the sea. xxx

    1. Lovely to visit, that is for sure, but to live? Get me to the coast. Give me those pickled fish (okay, don’t give me the fish).

  5. Wow, I’m directly across the spectrum from you. I vastly prefer Bayern. The North is fun to visit, and it’s nice to understand everything that’s said to me the first time, but it’s a little…sterile. I feel so much more at home in the South. And I’ve found the Bavarians completely lovely and welcoming. Actually, I’ve never really had much a of a problem with Germans from any region. My expat experience might be atypically positive.

    And I hate fish/seafood. That might have something to do with it.

    1. I do think the Bavarians are truly lovely people, very hospitable and friendly. But, really, my biggest issue is feeling a bit hemmed in and disconnected. I need the sea nearby and preferably a coastline. Plus I find the northerners just a wonderful bunch of people – very funny good-natured. I don’t have the deep, deep problems with Bayern like SG, but I do prefer the far north.

      I’m with you – my experience with Germans has been so positive – I struggled a little with the Münsteranians, they’re quite removed and a touch snobby (and seemingly renowned for it) but apart from that, it has all been good.

  6. As a girl from Baltimore who got dumped in the middle of Bavaria, the first thing I realized was that I’d have to make my OWN crab cakes… from scratch. I don’t even like pork!! I would like to say that even up in tiny England, there is some odd, huge difference between the North and South. I’m purely on the sea side of the debate as well:)

    1. Totally re: the English divide, and they’re such a TINY country! I guess even in Australia, we have a north and south thing. In a few hundred more years, the differences and rivarly might be more pronounced. Right now it’s a rugby thing and a ‘northerners are a little weird because of all the sunshine’ thing.

  7. I must say, this is great! You got good observation skills there. Me, I am born and raised in the very north (Nordfriesland), lived for more than five years in New Zealand and now study in the south at the Bavarian – Baden-Württemberg border. So I firstly reaaly enjoyed your observations about Germany in general and agree with pretty much everything. Then, it is clear there is a big difference between the north and south, and in my oppinion you pointed that out quite well. Glad to here too you confirm my “prejudice” that the people in the north are indeed very friendly and welcoming – if maybe not quite as outgoing as people from other parts of the country. So, cheers for giving me a bit of joy, laughing and smiling about my own kind. 😉

  8. I’ve been in Braunschweig (BS) now for a couple months. And let me tell, you the difference with Münster is very noticeable. I have to revise my “Germans think/say/do…” statements to “Well Münsteraner, at least, think/say/do…”. BS isn’t so far north, Niedersachsen generally perhaps straddles the north/middle line, but I think people here do firmly identify with North. Hannover is just around the corner, Hamburg only 1.5 hours… Anyway, I had also heard of the famous Northerner cliché of cold, aloof and so on, and can’t say I’ve seen any evidence of it. BS isn’t as pretty and quaintly ideal-looking as Münster (makes me long for smooth bike paths that aren’t full of broken beer bottles and potholes, where people actually follow bicycle traffic/safety rules). It’s fairly working class city (can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many neck tattoos), but people are certainly friendly.

    We’ve only been here two months but I’ve already had so many stunned moments of friendliness and chattiness where I thought “Wow, this would never happen in Münster!”. Strangers talking to you in a line-up, cashiers or waiters making jokes, smiling, people *actually* approaching us to ask if we’re lost or need any help. One woman insisted on leading us via bicycle for 10 minutes to our destination, chatting along the way. There still aren’t as many please and thank you and excuse me and such as Canada, but after 4 years in Germany I’m used to that by now…

    I have to say though in defence of the south, I love Brezeln, and it’s damn near impossible to find decent Brezel here. My gf is from Freiburg, from where you cannot get much more south(-west), and it’s really a nice little sunny corner of Germany. France and Switzerland are a quick jaunt away, and the Black Forest is on your doorstep. They’re more about biking to some carbon-neutral bio-café for some local wine and flammkuchen in your Birkenstocks and fair-trade hemp-shirt, rather than revving the BMW for some weisswurst in a hunting lodge. Just DON’T confuse them with those perfidious Schwaben, or even Karlsruher or Mannheimer, much less Bavarians (the ‘other’ South).

    Every country has divisions of course… It gets pretty ugly in Canada too (East vs. West vs. Central, French vs. English).

  9. Bad weather (much worse than the south, always around 10 °, so no snow in the winter and no summer weather in july/august) overall boring landscape (plenty enough water in bavaria and ba-wü to compensate the rather boring beaches you can use for one month in the summer) and arrogant, self-centered, intolerant people (which is evident in the prejudice against all that is south in your bf (and sadly, you)). Maybe its some sort of inferiority complex because the south is so much more prosperous and successful and has to finance almost every other region in germany, not just eastern germany.

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