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Cologne's coat of arms on an instrument
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Krick

How Germans replaced nationalism with regional pride

Dana Regev
July 21, 2021

Many foreigners have noticed that Germans are not the greatest patriots when it comes to their country. But when it comes to their city or region? Oh boy.


It was only a few years ago that it became semi-acceptable to publicly wave the national flag in Germany — and even that required a major football event.

Most Germans, as I have come to realize in my six years here, are not keen on openly expressing love for their country.

However, this is not at all the case when it comes to local patriotism, or "Lokalpatriotismus" in German, which — contrary to nationalism — describes the affection, or preference, to one's own city or region.

In Germany's case, it seems to be a much bigger source of pride than anything national. Here's what I've learned about it.

1. Local feuds go a long way back

Do not be fooled into thinking that local patriotism boils down to rivalry between football clubs. Indeed, this is a major part of the deal, but some regional disputes are as old as the earliest documented versions of football — which date back to the second and third centuries BC. 

Dusseldorf skyline
The rivalry between Cologne and Dusseldorf (pictured) is based on historical eventsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Kurek

For example, the renowned rivalry between the two large cities of the Rhineland region, Cologne and Dusseldorf, is perhaps celebrated folklorically on a sporting and cultural level, but it is, in fact, based on historical and economic events.

While Cologne, merely 40 kilometers away from Dusseldorf, has developed from a Roman colony to become the biggest city in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the modern residential city of Dusseldorf, which emerged from a small medieval settlement, is now the state's capital.

The event commonly cited as the root of the enmity between the two cities is the Battle of Worringen on June 5, 1288, but it remains unclear whether this battle is what officially started the rivalry.

All you need to know about German beer culture

Either way, we're talking about more than 700 years of dispute here, and don't you even dare ask for an Alt beer in Cologne or for a Kölsch in Dusseldorf if you don't want to get death stares from locals.

2. The worst enemy is the neighbor

Rivalries resulting from local patriotism often involve neighboring cities: Mainz vs. Wiesbaden, Frankfurt vs. Offenbach or Dortmund vs. Gelsenkirchen, just to name a few examples.

Just try to ask someone from Mannheim about the most beautiful site in the neighboring city, Ludwigshafen. The answer would be the bridge over the Rhine River to Mannheim, of course.

Still, local patriotism can be felt beyond traditional feuds between neighboring cities. Germany is full of invisible borders between unofficial areas. The dressing you choose for your potato salad is just one of them: You can either be team broth and vinegar or team mayonnaise.

German potato salad
You can either be team vinegar or team mayo, but not bothImage: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Schamberger

There's a long tradition of rivalry between the neighboring regions of Swabia and Baden, for instance — both part of the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg .


But an anti-Swabian sentiment, or "Schwabenhass," has grown in other parts of the country, a phenomenon that has even gained its own Wikipedia entry in English.

Swabians are often perceived by other Germans as greedy, stingy and uptight.

In Berlin, they have been portrayed as contributing to the gentrification of certain neighborhoods, but also for bringing in "narrow-mindedness" to the otherwise liberal city. In the past, Swabians were even blamed for changing the city's character with their attitudes.

Still the rivalry remains the strongest between the people from Baden and Swabia. Don't believe me? Just tell someone from Karlsruhe (Baden) that they live in a suburb of Stuttgart (Swabia). Good luck. 

3. Berlin against anywhere else

Some level of disdain from residents of a country towards the people who live in its capital is something you probably know from your own home in some way.

But as I have come to learn, despite Berlin's popularity among both foreigners and locals, there are many Germans who perceive the capital as a burden on Germany's economy, a city made of lazy bums and hippies who contribute nothing to Germany's financial success. 

Berliners, on the other hand, believe their city is one of the best in the world, or at least in Europe.

The flock of internationals moving there from every corner of the globe is for them yet more evidence of the city's spectacularism.

Read more: How Berlin has ruined living anywhere else 

Berlin#s museum island
Berliners could swear their city is the best in the worldImage: imago images/Panthermedia

4. Regional wins over national

There is still fierce debate among Germans about the legitimacy of being openly and vocally proud of their country, especially in light of World War II, the Holocaust or the Namibian genocide, to name but a few historical events.

But while expressions of national pride — especially in public — are seen by many as intertwined with the far-right, regional patriotism is perceived as a more valid way to express attachment to a certain place, and is mostly considered an endearing trait.

That is, until you ask for a Kölsch in Dusseldorf.

Dusseldorf and Cologne - Rhineland Rivals

You'll find more about Germans and everyday life in Germany on dw.com/MeettheGermans and on YouTube. Make sure to also check out our new Instagram account @dw_meetthegermans. 

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