What distinguishes Bavaria from the rest of Germany
Bavaria's colorful traditions have often been used as symbols of Germany's culture. Yet as the current political disputes show, the southern German state has its own distinct identity.
Believed to be 'typically German'
Many people who've never set foot in Germany have this image of Germans drinking beer and eating sausage, while wearing traditional costumes — Lederhosen for men and Dirndl for women — and performing the Schuhplatter stomp dance (picture). Though these clichés often serve to depict Germany as a whole, the traditions actually come from Bavaria, a German state with a very distinct culture.
A state with its own political culture
The current disputes between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer have exposed to the world that Bavaria has its own party within the German government. While Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) operates in 15 states of Germany, Bavaria is the only state with its own counterpart, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), led by Seehofer.
A free state
Bavaria's official name, Free State of Bavaria, was adopted after monarchy was abolished in several German states in the aftermath of World War I. While most Bavarians do not want to separate from Germany, many of them identify as "Bavarians" first. Actually, the state also includes the Franconians in the north, the Swabians in the south west, while Altbayern (Old Bavaria) makes up the south east.
An influential Catholic tradition
One of the main historical differences giving Bavaria its distinct identity was that while many German territories that joined the German Empire in 1871 were Protestant, Bavaria was one of the few major German powers to remain Catholic. Incidentally, Pope Benedict XVI was born in Bavaria.
Crosses 'are culture'
The number of Catholics in Bavaria is on the decline, but the state's politicians still see it as a predominant aspect of its culture. The recent law requiring a Christian cross to be displayed in the lobby of every public building in Bavaria made international headlines. "This is about culture, not religion," explained one Bavarian mayor, Christian Moser.
Foreigners who've spent years learning German might not understand a simple breakfast conversation in Bavaria, as many Bavarians speak with a strong dialect. This is also related to religion. High German started spreading through Luther's Bible in Protestant regions, while Bavarians took pride in their dialects, which includes Bairisch (Bavarian Austrian), East Franconian and Swabian German.
A famous beer culture
One of Germany's most famous events, Oktoberfest, is also Bavarian. Over 6 million visitors head to the Munich-based event every year, and it inspires similar festivals around the world. Germany's influential Beer Purity Law, which prescribes that only hop, malt, yeast and water be used in the brewing process, was also issued there, by the Duke of Bavaria in 1516.
An open beer garden tradition
Along with the beer purity law, Bavaria has its own beer garden decree from 1812 that allows guests to bring their own picnic — pretzels, sausages and other appetizers — to the beer garden. The tradition has remained part of Bavaria's convivial charm to this day.
An amazing cuisine
If you are lucky enough to have a Bavarian friend who likes to cook, you will discover that Bavaria is not only the home of the popular Weisswurst sausage and Brezen (Pretzel), but also of a number of delicious regional specialties, including Flädlesuppe (pancake soup), Maultaschen (which look like large raviolis) and Spätzle (a kind of soft egg noodle, pictured).
A successful football team
Bavaria's football team, FC Bayern München, is the most successful club in German football history and one of the best in Europe. It has won a record of 28 national titles and 18 national cups. The club has nearly 300,000 members worldwide. At the center of this picture is vice-captain Thomas Müller, who also plays for the German national team.
A legendary car producer
One of the world's most legendary auto brands is also Bavarian. BMW stands for "Bayerische Motoren Werke," or Bavarian Motor Works. The headquarters of the company founded in 1916 are in Munich.
Inspiring natural landscapes
Connected with the Bohemian Forest on the Czech side of the border, the Bavarian Forest makes up the largest continuous woodland area in Europe. The protected national park is home to many endangered species of animals, including the European wildcat (picture), which has been named animal of the year 2018 in Germany.
Bavaria's medieval buildings are a must-see attraction for many people visiting Germany. Its most photographed castle is Neuschwanstein, which is visited by over 1.3 million people every year. The fairy tale look of this castle inspired Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom castle.
An image exported to and through the US
Bavarian culture also became synonymous with Germany through the fact that after World War II, many American army bases were in the south of Germany, where Bavaria is located. The strong traditions of the region left a lasting impression on the US occupiers, and American pop culture contributed to spreading this image throughout the world.