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ECONOMY

Don’t mess with Bavaria

Loud, proud and fiercely independent, Bavaria is Germany’s Texas. But are laptops starting to beat out lederhosen? Lois Jones takes the former kingdom’s temperature.

Don't mess with Bavaria
Photo: DPA

Bavaria, the deeply Catholic land of mountains, fairytale castles, beer and oompah bands has arguably shaped Germany’s image abroad like no other of the country’s 16 Länder, or states.

From Munich’s massive Oktoberfest to local village festivals decked out in lederhosen and dirndl dresses, Bavarians are set apart from other Germans by their unique heritage, dialect and identity. Some proudly distinct residents of the “Free State of Bavaria” even question whether the formerly independent kingdom is even part of Germany.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Bavaria has been home to a separatist movement for decades. The Bavaria Party advocates independence from Germany within the European Union. Under the BP’s proposal, Bavaria would become a fully-fledged member of the bloc, mirroring the aims of similar separatist movements in Spain’s Catalonia and Britain’s Scotland.

The party argues that independence would free Bavaria from shouldering an inflated tax burden – more than a quarter of Germany’s budget is derived from the state’s tax revenues and Bavarians pay more than €16 billion annually to poorer German states.

“Germany is financially dependent on Bavaria, not the other way around. We don’t need Germany financially or politically,” Bavaria Party spokesman Richard Schöps told The Local. “It makes sense for Bavaria to become independent.”

An economic powerhouse

Certainly it would have the means to stand alone. Its GDP in 2007 totalled €434 billion, making Bavaria one of the biggest economies in Europe and the 18th largest in the world.

Though the Bavaria Party has enjoyed some popularity since it was founded in 1946, the separatists failed to win a single seat in the European parliamentary election last summer.

And in a recent survey carried out by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the GMS institute, 56 percent of the 1,853 people surveyed said they didn’t want Bavaria to become independent. Another 37 percent even said they didn’t want more autonomy for the state.

Still staunchly conservative culturally and politically, there seems to be a slight breeze of change blowing in Germany’s deep south.

In October 2008, the Christian Social Union (CSU) – the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats – lost its absolute majority in the state legislature for the first time in 46 years. Forced to govern with a coalition partner, this was tantamount to a revolution to Bavarian voters.

“My impression is that outside of Bavaria it is not the Bavarians per se but rather the CSU and their personnel who are perceived as potential separatists always bringing forward this idea of ‘mir san mir’,” said Bernd Goers from Berlin, referring to the Bavarian expression meaning roughly: “Take us or leave us as we are.”

The younger generation also appears to be a little less engrossed with Bavarian tradition and, in turn, is becoming more open to the wider world. Dirndls, beer, and Gemütlichkeit, or “cosiness”, are becoming less important, according to the the Hanns Seidel Foundation survey. Only 23 percent associate “culture and tradition” with the concept of “life in Bavaria,” less than half the number than in the last survey in 2003.

“The modern Bavarian is much more cosmopolitan than before. The classical Bavarian attitude towards life is over,” said the 41-year-old sales manager Manfred Bauer from Munich.

Taking off the leather trousers

And though other Germans like to mock Bavaria as a nest of country bumpkins, the region is actually a prosperous industrial powerhouse and Germany’s high-tech hub.

Bavaria was first transformed from a pastoral backwater after World War II when Berlin-based titans such as Siemens and Allianz left the rubble and insecurity of the capital for a safe base in American-occupied Bavaria. Nowadays, the self-sustaining Bavarian locomotive powers on, fuelled by global players such as carmakers BMW and Audi, strong media and publishing interests, and healthy fashion and finance sectors.

Indeed, Bavaria boasts Germany’s lowest rate of unemployment, the highest salaries and its lowest debt per capita. With 12.5 million people and almost 20 percent of Germany’s total land area, the state looms as large here as Texas does in the United States. But instead of Stetson-wearing cowboys, in Bavaria it’s men in spiffy leather trousers.

“Laptops and Lederhosen,” the state’s slogan for the successful combination of tradition and economic progress, still applies. Increasingly though, Bavarians are more focused on their computers.

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FOOD&DRINK

Five German drinks to try this summer

There’s nothing quite like a cold drink on a hot summer’s day and the Germans know it well. That’s why they’ve got a variety of tasty alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to cool them down in the hottest months. Here are five you should try.

Five German drinks to try this summer

Summertime in Germany can get pretty hot, but thankfully there are plenty of popular drinks which can help you cool down, as well as tickle the tastebuds.

In Germany, fizzy water is wildly popular, so it’s not surprising that Sprudel is a key ingredient in most of the drinks on this list.

Hugo

A Hugo cocktail. Photo: Greta Farnedi/Unsplash

The Hugo is a cocktail made of Prosecco, elderflower syrup, mint leaves, a shot of mineral water and a slice of lime.

This refreshing alcoholic drink was invented by Roland Gruber, a bartender in South Tyrol, the mainly German-speaking region of northern Italy in 2005.

Though the drink wasn’t invented in Germany, it quickly spread across the borders of northern Italy and gained popularity here. Nowadays, you’ll be able to order a Hugo in pretty much any bar in the country.

Radler

A woman holds a pint of Radler. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

One of the best-known and most popular mixed beer drinks is the Radler: a concoction of beer and lemonade, a bit like a British shandy. In some areas of Germany – particularly in the south – the mixture is called Alster.

Usually, the ratio is 60 percent beer and 40 percent lemonade, but there are also some interesting variants. In some regions of Germany, a distinction is made between sweet (with lemonade) and sour (with water) Radler. Some foolhardy drinkers even mix their beer with cola (called a diesel).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions producing the most important beer ingredient

Apfelschorle

A woman pours apple spritz into plastic cups. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Soeren Stache

Apfelschorle is an absolute German classic.

The traditional mix of apple juice and fizzy water is a 1:1 ratio, but if you’re making the drink at home you can adjust the measurements to your liking. 

The concept of Saftschorle (fruit spritzer) has moved way beyond the plain old apple in Germany though. On Supermarket shelves, you’ll find major drinks chains offering a wide variety of fizzy fruit beverages, including  Rhabarbe-Schorle (Rhubarb spritz), Schwarze Johannisbeer-Schorle (Black currant spritz) and Holunderschorle (elderberry spritz).

Berliner Weiße mit Schuss

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin.

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

The Berliner Weiße (or Weisse) is an old, German beer, brewed with barley and wheat malt.

As the name suggests, it originates from the German capital, where it was extremely popular in the 19th century and was celebrated as the “Champagne of the North”.

But by the end of the 19th century, sour beer styles, including this one, became increasingly unpopular and they almost died out completely. 

READ ALSO: Five German foods that aren’t what you think they are

So people started mixing the drink with sweet syrup. This gave rise to the trend of drinking Berliner Weissbier with a shot (Schuss) of raspberry or woodruff syrup, which is still widely enjoyed today. Some breweries even ferment fruits such as raspberries or strawberries.

The drink is so well-known in Germany, that there was even a TV series named after it which ran for 10 years 1984 to 1995.

Weinschorle

Water and wine in equal parts and both well chilled – a light summer drink. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | DWI

Another fizzy-water-based German classic is the white wine spritz. 

A wine spritzer is a refreshing drink on warm summer days which has the advantage of not going to your head as quickly as a regular glass of wine. With equal parts fizzy water and wine, the drink has only about 5-6 percent alcohol, compared to glass of pure white wine, which has about 9-14 percent. 

For optimum German-ness when making this drink at home, choose a German white wine such as Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner or Riesling.

Enjoy and drink responsibly!

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