Reinventing the Bavarian Myth | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 04.12.2004
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Reinventing the Bavarian Myth

Once a rural kingdom, Bavaria has turned into one of Germany's high-tech centers. But Germany's largest state is still trying to find the right balance between laptops and lederhosen.

Bavarians love their beer and laptops

Bavarians love their beer and laptops

It is the land of King Ludwig II, the reclusive and mysterious monarch who gave Bavaria its legacy of fairy tale castles, which are among the region's most popular tourist attractions. It is also a land of ”Lederhosen and Laptops” – the slogan coined by the state government to encapsulate Bavaria’s characteristic traditions and its high tech industries.

But it’s sometimes difficult to separate the myth of Bavaria -- what people believe Bavaria to be -- from the many clichés associated with it.

Kühe mit Kirche in Bayern

Cows rest in front of a typical Bavarian church

By far the largest German state in terms of area and the second most populous with 10.7 million people, Bavaria also has the longest political tradition that dates back to the sixth century. The so-called "free state" is home to some of Germany's most captivating landscapes, including the foothills of the Alps and Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, which rises nearly 3,000 meters (9,849 feet) above sea level.

A large part of the myth of Bavaria stems from its scenery with picturesque lakes, the Bavarian Forest -- the first German national park -- and the valleys of the Danube and the Main and their tributaries. Bavaria is dotted with onion-domed churches and red-tiled houses which are often painted colorfully, sometimes illustrating religious themes. The setting was perfect for the Bavarian film industry from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The so-called Heimatfilm, or homeland film, genre reached its zenith in the 1950s and spread not only the myth of Bavaria, but also many of the clichés associated with the region.

Barbara Rütting in Die Geierwally

Actress Barbara Rütting talks to a vulture during filming for the 1956 picture "Die Geierwally"

The films dealt with predictable situations: The dairy maids spend their lonely summers in the mountains milking the cows and making cheese. The rebellious men are poachers, refusing to bow to the restrictions of an increasingly urban society.

Germany's media center

Heimat films are now a thing of the past, but the film industry remains and has become a part of a new Bavarian myth: Bavaria as the world’s top media center.

To keep the myth alive, Bavarian politicians provide at least €25 million ($33.3 million) annually to promote the state as the country’s film factory. Although it lacks some of the glamour of Hollywood, Bavaria and its capital Munich produce feature films and TV programs.

The media myth has replaced the idyll of an agricultural state with Munich as the capital of Germany's largest farming area. Following World War II, Munich billed itself as "Germany's secret capital" and became the focal point of a rapidly growing industrial region.


BMW headquarters in Munich

Now it is better known for automobiles, aircraft, electrical engineering and electronics and insurance than for farm products which formed the backbone of Bavaria’s economy in the last century. But a sense of rural romanticism still exists.

Beer's still a given

And what would Bavaria be without beer? The Oktoberfest attracts around six million people, who come from all over the world to experience the particularly Bavarian mixture of beer and bonhomie. But neither the brew nor the noise is limited to Oktoberfest. Every beer hall offers its special variant, the most famous being the Hofbräuhaus.

Kellnerin mit einem Arm voller Maß im Hofbräuhaus

Stemming those steins at the Hofbräuhaus

Along with the beer myth is the myth of the smiling Bavarian waitress who runs back and forth among wooden tables carrying up to 12 liter-sized mugs of beer. In the Hofbräuhaus, waitresses naturally wear the traditional dress that is also a part of the Bavarian rural myth. For women it is the dirndl – a tight-bodiced dress with a full skirt and an apron. For men—that icon of Bavarian chic – the lederhosen.

But the costume which so symbolizes Bavaria only came into being in the 19th century when Bavarian King Maximilian II decided the country needed some sort of corporate identity to unify it – so the lederhosen and dirndls were promoted to provide Bavaria with its most popular symbols.

Castles and composers

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein remains one of Germany's top tourist destinations

Another king, Ludwig II, provided Bavaria with a symbol that attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. His Neuschwanstein castle became a model for Walt Disney’s fairy tale castles and has been attracting visitors ever since the king’s tragic death in 1886.

Long before King Ludwig himself became a myth he was instrumental in providing Bavaria with one of its strongest symbols -- and another myth: Bavaria, the land of Wagner. Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig and died in Venice but his music is identified with Bavaria.

It was thanks to Ludwig the second’s sponsorship that the controversial maestro was able to create his famous Ring of the Nibelungen and eventually build his Festspielhaus in Bayreuth.

Nike Wagner Kunstfest Weimar

Nike Wagner

Nike Wagner (photo), a direct descendant of the composer says Bavaria identifies with her great, great, great grandfather’s music and is proud of its cultural but fundamentally conservative in its musical tastes.

"Bavaria is proud of its culture," she said. "It invests a lot of money but it is not innovative culture, it is very conservative, going back to baroque traditions."

Still, Bavaria’s cultural institutions lead all others in Germany. Its opera celebrated its 350th anniversary last year and is the oldest opera north of the Alps. Its state orchestra is even older. Not only Wagner, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Strauss premiered their operas in Munich.

Hops vs. High-tech

Bavaria’s newest myth is that it is the land of lederhosen and laptops -- a state combining traditional values with hi tech industries. Bavaria remains the most important agrarian state in Germany, and a major farming region in Europe. Despite the advance of media firms and high tech industries one out of eight jobs in the state depends on agriculture

or forestry.

Ernte Trockenheit

Bavarian wheat farmers

Bavarian farmers produce one fourth of all milk and a fifth of all the grain in Germany. It is the world’s biggest hops producer and Europe’s most important gherkin grower. But agriculture accounts for only 1 percent of the state’s gross national product (GNP). About 32 percent of the GNP comes from the industrial sector which includes global firms like the electronics giant Siemens and automakers BMW and Audi. Bavaria also provides European headquarters to many of the world’s computer companies.

Perhaps it is this last myth that will remain Bavaria’s most lasting one. A state of farmers providing a home to high-tech industries – lederhosen and laptops. But the other myth’s continue along side it.

Ein Gleitschirmflieger fliegt vor der Kulisse der Alpen

A paraglider is flying in front of the Bavarian Alps

For music lovers Bavaria remains the land of Wagner, for tourists it is the land of Ludwig the second and his fairy tale castles. Others prefer the fields and forests. Bavarian politicians who aspire to fame beyond the borders of their state – have the luxury of choosing the myth that’s bound to bring them the most votes.

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