The image most Nigerians of Germany is from it’s Marquee automobiles (Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche); it’s Football teams (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund etc) and the popular, ubiquitous construction giant Julius Berger.
But there is much more to Germany than that.
Back in 1987 as young foreign service officer at the Nigerian Embassy in the then West Germany with capital in the Rhineland city of Bonn, I arranged to honour an invitation from family friends of my dad to spend the Christmas of that year in their town of Weilhem-Teck just outside the city of Stuttgart in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. I had planned to visit the famous city of Munich (Munchen) to link up with my friend whom I met the previous year in Turkey while on a programme. I wanted to use the opportunity of my visit to Munich to see the Burgerbrau Keller and the Hofbrau Haus both places made famous by Adolf Hitler during his formative political days in the city.
When I told my neighbour by name Ulrike about it she made a face. “C’mon Ilyasu don’t tell me you are going to those places for your Christmas holidays. I have been to Munich only once and I don’t like the folks there. They are too old fashioned and conservative. They don’t like us Rhinelanders and the feeling is mutual”
Sure enough I found Munich remarkably different in many respects from Bonn and the nearby city of Cologne. Munich was all culture and too formal a city in contrast to the laid back Cologne and Bonn that I was used too.
In Weilheim I used the opportunity to tell my hosts about the remarks of Ulrike and the Man just opened up a tirade of complaints about those Rhinelanders and their unseriousness. “We the south Germans are the bed rock of German industry. Stuttgart is the land of Mercedes. Bosch is here. Ferdinand Piech the designer of Volkswagen and founder of Porsche is from here. BMW is in Munich just a couple of hours from here. So also Siemens. Our hard work goes to finance those states in northern Germany”.
These two remarks summed up the deep regional differences that exists in Germany till today.
Although Germany was unified in 1871 by Otto von Bismarck the first German Chancellor, there still remain serious differences in dialect, diet, and pretty much everything else.
The south German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg tend to be more conservative than say Berliners and Rhinelanders.
Munich is the capital of the state of Bavaria or Bayern in German. Although there is in existence a standard German language spoken by most Germans, there are dialects native to the regions. The Bavarian dialect is heavy, deeper and more guttural. In diet the Bavarian or Bayerishen are known to favour Wurst and Sauerkraut with generous helpings of varieties of Beer. The common cultural dress here is the lederhosen and hat with feathers stuck to it’s side.
Bavarians are so proud and distinct from northern Germans; they call themselves Freistat Bayern or Free state of Bavaria. They have as their state flag the blue and white. Munich they proudly boast is the cultural capital of Germany. And here they are mostly Catholic as opposed to the Protestants denomination in most other German states. Bavaria was a distinct Kingdom from the Prussian empire with capital in Berlin.
Actually the state of Bavaria does not belong to the Bavarians alone. They share it with the Franconians who are located in the cities of Nuremberg, Bayreuth, Wurzburg, Augsburg etc.
In Germany regional identities are very strong. Germans for the most part like to identify with the area they come from. People from Baden-Wurttemberg identify themselves first as Swabians (Schwaben in German), Baden (Badener). Those in the Frankfurt area right up to the city of Wiesbaden which is the headquarters of Julius Berger call themselves Hessians (Hessiche). Saarlanders refer to the state which borders on France and it’s main city is Saarbrucken
Those in the Rhineland areas in the cities of Cologne, Dusseldorf, Essen, Bonn, Moechengladbach, Wuppertal, Duisburg etc are known as Rhinelanders from the areas on the banks of the river Rhine. And their immediate neighbours with whom they share the same state of North Rhine Westphalia in cities of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen are called Westphalians.
There are also the Saxons (Sachsener) in Niedersachsen where the cities of Hannover, and Wofsburg (city of Volkswagen) are.
Up North are the Hanseatic city states of Hamburg and Bremen. They are so called because along with a number of North German city states they had formed a league of trading states from the Elbe river to the Baltic sea trading in furs, wood etc. Hamburg and Bremen were the two most successful of the Hanseatic states of the middle ages. Hamburg today ranks among the richest cities of Europe and is the second largest German city after Berlin.
Then there is the northern most German state of Schleswig-Holstein which shares some cultural links with Denmark with which it borders.
Broadly speaking Germany is divided into the former states making up the North German Federation under the dominance of Prussia ( Preusen in German) to the North and the former Kingdoms of Bavaria and Wurttemberg to the south. Southern Germans like to refer to northern Germans as Prussians with a touch of ambivalence while northern Germans don’t regard their southern counterparts with much love. The northern Germans see the south Germans as lederhosen wearing, wurst eating and beer guzzling louts. The image the southern Germans have of northern Germans is one who wears an iron helmet with a pickle at the top in typical Prussian tradition like Paul von Hindenburg.
With the unification such differences have even exacerbated. The whole of former East Germany was the heartland of former Prussia. Mecklenburg vor Pommern, Thuringia, Brandenburg, Sachsen-Anhalt were all components of the defunct Prussian state which had the land owning aristocrats called the Junkers dominating right up to the Baltics at one time in history.
In all Germany is a very interesting country with a rich albeit controversial history. All the differences notwithstanding it is country which has achieved quite a lot in many areas of endeavour. During my stay there I learnt a lot about this very interesting country that is literally and figuratively at the heart of Europe.