Karina, our German insider, takes on the challenge of explaining why #minga doesn’t necessarily come naturally, even if you’re Deutsch yourself. Originally from Hannover, she moved to Munich 11 years ago (!) and she’s still not used to it.
You might wonder what is the point of explaining how to #minga to a German since we’re supposed to be “home”, right? Well, yes and no. Germans also ask themselves what #minga means since, it means Munich, only locally. As almost everywhere else in this great big world, Germany is a multifaceted, diverse country and moving to Munich from other German regions could, and in most cases certainly will, result in culture shock.
A little bit of context
Germany is officially called the Federal Republic of Germany. The word “federal” reflects an important aspect of the country’s history. For centuries, what we consider today as Germany was not really a nation, but rather several independent states. Covering a bigger area than today, it was a loose conglomeration of small kingdoms, principalities & fiefdoms with only a common emperor and language as unifying factors. Bear in mind that the emperor had only limited influence and the language… well, dialects are still going strong. In fact, Germany didn’t become a nation-state until 1871. By then, the UK, Spain and France had been nation-states for centuries. This informative tidbit helps explain why decentralization in Germany is still going strong today. Unlike London or Paris, true outstanding cultural and political centers of their respective countries, Germany boasts several important cities. Which brings us to…
The north/south divide
Most countries have an imaginary dividing line somewhere and every local can tell you a lot about it. This line can be natural or man-made, cultural or religious, but it is always there. In Germany that line runs from the south of Cologne to the south of Frankfurt, through northern Bavaria and somewhere around the north of Dresden. Some call it the Weißwurstäquator (the “White sausage” equator). There is some debate over where exactly the divide is but, do not doubt it, it is there.
Please do note that I am not talking about the former East and West Germany divide. These were, in fact, two separate countries until the fall of the Berlin´s Wall, when the Cold War era came to an end. You might have also heard that “the wall still exists in some people’s heads”. You could be right, but today we´re talking not about a political divide, but about a cultural one… and it goes back way longer.
Back to history. Amongst the numerous little entities “Germany” was made of in the 18th century, there were two rivals with considerable influence: Austria, which Bavaria was a part of; and Prussia, which occupied the area around Berlin. No surprise then if, still today, Bavarians refer to non-Bavarians as “Prussians” and, most of the times, they don’t mean it in a nice way. Prussians and Bavarians are different. Believe me, to the other Germans, #minga does not come naturally.
Let’s see how these two Germanies differ…
- The dialect. Though German has numerous dialects, they can be roughly grouped in the northern and the southern dialects. Northern dialects tend to be similar to Dutch, Scandinavian languages and, to some extent, English. Southern dialects are very similar to Austrian and, a little bit, to Swiss German. Being a northerner myself, I could hardly distinguish between Bavarian and Swabian (spoken around Stuttgart in the southwest). When I moved to Munich, it all sounded “southern” to me. Fun fact: before I moved here, I genuinely thought “Grüß Gott” was a greeting from the olden times which nobody would actually use seriously.
- Food and drink. I have to admit that, for me, this was the biggest culture shock when arriving in Munich. I moved to this city, grabbed a local menu at a restaurant… and couldn´t understand a single word. Pressack (a type of head cheese), Gröstl (fried potatoes, egg and bacon), Fleischplanzerl (meatballs), saures Lüngerl (pickled lung), Kronfleisch (diaphragm), Obatzda (cream cheese, camenbert and paprika), Haxn (pork knuckles)… Words that didn’t ring any bell until I found out they were food. Finally, I understood where all the movie clichés from other countries came from! People actually eat THAT here. Go figure! And it doesn’t stop there, locals will drink beer from those grotesquely huge beer mugs which, where I come from, are no more than decorations. Seeing them actually in use felt like Germany was playing a joke on me.
- The culture. I like to say Bavaria is the Scotland of Germany. It is a region of strong local identity and many visible, well-known, peculiarities. Kilts, clans, bag pipes, haggis, rolling hills and lochs translate into Tracht, Oompah bands, sausage and pork roast, beer and the Alps. But while these elements have remained Scottish and not English, for some reason, the essence of Germany in the eyes of non-Germans has been boiled down to the Bavarian phenomenon. How the Bavarians accomplished this, is beyond me. But I can also attest to the fact that it brings in a lot of money from tourism and it makes sense to keep it going. In reality, the rest of the country´s traditions are less colourful.
- The people. I once had a handyman at my flat who picked up immediately on the fact that I am a northerner (believe me, they can hear it right away). He was, of couse, Bavarian. He said I was typical: cold and reserved and, hence, a little unfriendly. I thought it was funny since our stereotype of Bavarians is that they’re grumpy and rude, hence, also unfriendly. Seems we are all unfriendly in different ways. It is very difficult for me to categorize the Northerners since I am one of them. They may be quieter, matter-of-fact, more sarcastic but more relaxed while Bavarians are considered grumpy, full of themselves and jolly. That said, there is still a lot we do have in common, as much as it pains me to admit it.
Bottom line is, you are not alone. Bavaria & Munich are weird even for Germans. #Minga doesn’t always come naturally and there is much to discover, even for us! I will never get used to the food here and it has taken me a while to react properly when I feel others are being rude. I still marvel at the fact that Bavaria is a caricature of a stereotypical Germany and I am relieved that Munich is, to some extent, cosmopolitan enough to make it exciting. I like the fact that it is jolly and easy going, a welcoming place both for Prussians and Expats alike. However, I will never ever cheer for Bayern Munich. No need to go that far.
Karina worked as TV producer before being cursed with two kids. In her previous life she was used to writing. She’s been in Munich for ten years now but still doesn’t undertstand the menu and probably never will. As a German herself, with close ties to the expat community, she provides LMBB with a different angle on life in Munich.