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?)
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.
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.