Expatica’s German teacher, Renate Grasstat details her transition from grumpy Berlin to the home of “schickimicki” snobs and throws in a few useful words as well.
As a German teacher in Berlin, I often came across some very disconcerting remarks from students, such as: “Munich is a really wonderful place!” or even, “Munich is the most interesting city in Germany!” Sometimes, it was, “I am going to Munich for the weekend!” as if that was the most exciting destination on the planet.
What does Munich have that Berlin does not?
My usual response was a puzzled, “eh?” “Why are you going to do that?” Not only does getting to Munich require spending one-third of your weekend travelling but I was also perplexed that anyone would want to leave Berlin for another German city. “Hey, you are in Berlin,” I would think, “the only big city in Germany that is worthwhile (except perhaps for Hamburg), so why on earth are you going to Munich?” This is what Berliners think – and sometimes even say. And is there not a grain of truth in it? What can Munich provide that Berlin can not?
Ok, they have the Oktoberfest. But is that really so appealing? A big boozing session with beer that is three times more expensive than usual; lots of people in “Dirndl” (traditional Bavarian and Austrian dress) and “Lederhose” (leather shorts), a kind of dress code that everybody in Germany, except Bavarians, make fun of; and people singing songs about which any sober inhabitant of the Federal Republic of Germany would be ashamed.
Dear reader, please forgive my personal outrage. I am just trying to explain, as you may have realized, that I am not very familiar with Bavarian culture. But as this article is about Munich, the Bavarian capital, let me tell you about some stereotypes especially connected to this city.
One is that people from Munich are showy. In one of the popular German language textbooks, an interviewee describes Munich thus: “People in Munich have more money than in other parts of Germany, and they like to show that. Driving around with their big cars, frequenting hip and exclusive clubs, wearing fur coats….” Yes, this is exactly one of the most common clichés about Munich: expensive places, celebrities everywhere, a certain way of behaviour, clothing that we call “schickimicki” and people we refer to as the “Schickeria” (the swells, toffs) – along with a politically very conservative attitude.
Now seems to be the perfect moment for slipping in some vocabulary for describing people from Munich:
eigensinnig obstinate, wayward
eingebildet conceited, priggish
hochnäsig snobbish, stuck-up
träge inert (for people usually: slow, even sometimes lazy)
überheblich, herablassend patronizing, presumptuous
verschlossen uncommunicative, not talking about yourself
verwöhnt spoiled, fastidious
wählerisch, pingelig picky, finicky
The reputation of Berliners
Yet, while Berliners may have negative stereotypes about people from Munich, Berliners themselves are also saddled with an unfavourable reputation. They are said to be arrogant, patronizing and snobbish. For example, when I was confronted with the idea of going to live in Munich for a while my first reaction was laughter. “Impossible!” I said. At second thought, however, my partner and I were less certain.
After all, we were not being asked to change continents – just move to Munich! This was a far smaller step into an unknown world than most of you reading this article made when deciding to come to Germany…
A proud culture
But the shifts can be compared. Munich does have a different culture than Berlin. Bavarians are proud of their exceptional status in Germany. They are not just a “Bundesland” but a “Freistaat,” – an expression originally used in opposition to the term “monarchy” but, since the 1950s, is primarily an indication of obstinacy. And Bavarians live up to it. On the radio, you can hear about “the weather in the free state today” and other funny stuff.
There are some typical Bavarian dishes, especially Weisswurst and “sweet” mustard that are a real challenge for non-Bavarians to enjoy. And there is deeply rooted enmity between Bavarians and Prussians that stems from historical events. Though few, I hope, hold onto this historical antagonism, the divide does point to different characteristics in people. As people from the north are said to be a bit “stiff” and reserved, people from the west (the Rhine area) stand for cheerfulness and Karnival, not to speak of the over-emphasized differences between East and West.
Berliners represent the easy-going, somewhat rude, straightforward people of the country, who nevertheless tolerate almost everything and everybody, while Bavarians seem to be less talkative, exclude foreigners and are focussed on preserving their local traditions.
My experience in Munich
So this was what I expected when I came to Munich. I had only been there twice in my life previously – first when I was a child and then again at age 17. And while I had not expected to ever return, surprisingly, I quite like it now! Firstly, it can be quite relieving when streets are, more or less, clean and you do not have to look out for dog droppings every step you take. Berlin’s attraction, especially for young people from all over the world, is its creative chaos, immortalized for the world by Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin, who coined the well-known motto: “arm, aber sexy” (poor but sexy). But though I appreciate Berlin’s sexiness, its relative lack of funds means that its streets are not as clean, or dog poo-free, as they could be.
Secondly, people in Munich are unusually friendly! Perhaps this is because of the city’s size: Munich is a city with 1.4 million people, whereas Berlin has 3.4 million. But there is also a difference in speed between the two cities. In Munich, people describe their pace as “Gemütlichkeit” – a certain sense of staying at cosy places and being social and relaxed. Berliners, meanwhile, would say such people are “langsam” or “träge” (slow). Having gotten used to being constantly ambushed on the Berlin streets – for change, to sign up for a newspaper or otherwise – it has taken me a while to adjust my behaviour to Munich standards, where people are more often just asking for directions. More than once, I’ve felt I had to apologize for my defensive – and obviously snubbing – behaviour, acquired during endless years in Berlin.
And how about the political differences? Bavaria stands for a strict immigration policy and for a strong and stubborn government that is considered ultra conservative.
Yet the city has always been an attractive place for immigrants, particularly for artists and intellectuals during World War II. The city is currently comprised of about 23% immigrants.
In the end, moving to Munich meant reconsidering my biases about others but also gaining perspective on my own culture. I haven’t come across the arrogance I anticipated so far, nor have I seen many Dirndls.
I haven’t experienced Bavarians as uncommunicative but rather as helpful and polite. However, there are these “schickimicki” types of people in the streets, at least more than in Berlin.
Like in every “different culture experience,” some things are true and others are not. Some are even completely different or the opposite of what you heard before, and some cannot be analyzed at all because reality is far more complex than imagined.
When one of our friends in Munich told us that he would, of course, never think of moving to Berlin, we said, a bit amused: “But do you know that there are people in Berlin who say the same thing about Munich?” Poor guy. He looked completely shocked, unable to utter more than just a puzzled “Eh?”