This past summer I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Germany for the third time. In my previous visits I stayed in a small town near Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia. This time I stayed in a very different region of Germany; I was in Bavaria. Southern Germany, like the Southern US States, is completely different from the rest of the country. I was not expecting the culture in Bavaria to be so drastically different from the German culture that I had been previously exposed to. But oh, was I wrong.
I was in Bavaria on the KIIS (Kentucky Institute for International Studies) Munich Program. There were 16 other college students who also participated in this program. Each student lives with a host family and then we attended class Monday through Friday. We were not living in the actual city of Munich, but rather in a small farming village called Esting. Esting is about 30 minutes by S-Bahn from Marienplatz, the heart of downtown Munich. When we first arrived at the Grundschule, the elementary school where our classes were held, in Esting it was raining and I just wanted to sleep. Our host families were coming to pick us up at the school and I couldn’t have been more excited to meet my host family…and then take a nap.
Upon meeting my host father and both of my host sisters I realized that I was not at all prepared for the culture shock that Bavaria had just placed in front of me. I’d studied German for more than five years and actually found myself speechless when I tried to speak to my host family. “Why?” you might ask? It was at that moment when I realized how intensely altered the German language in Bavaria is. Actually the language spoken by native Bavarians actually has its own name, bayerisch. I do not speak a lick of bayerisch and found myself not being able to understand the majority of what my host family was saying to me.
“Well, this will be fun.” I thought to myself. The language barrier existed throughout my entire 6 week stay with the Schilling family in Esting, Bavaria. I did my best to listen and try and pick up some of the simple bayerisch words but fully comprehending them turned into be an impossible mission. This dialect of German taught me one very important lesson: patience. My host family was patient with me when I didn’t understand them and I was patient with them when they tried to speak more clearly. I have more patience than I ever have had before with the KET German students because now I understand from personal experience the frustration that a language barrier can bring. I was essentially learning a new language in Esting and that’s what our students are also doing.
The language barrier was something that was only an issue in the small outlying towns and villages of Munich. In the metropolitan city of Munich, the language barrier did not exist. Munich is by far the greatest large city of Germany that I’ve visited. The people are so friendly, the city and all of its old charm is enchanting and there is never a dull moment in a city like Munich. Munich has so much to offer to everyone that is there, whether that be foreigners or natives. There are museums, restaurants and shops galore.
The cultural difference that most distinguishes Munich (and Bavaria) from other parts of Germany is the Biergarten. There are so many Biergartens in Munich and the atmosphere at the Biergartens is so relaxing. People are enjoying beer after work, singing and spending time with friends and family. My favorite Biergarten was Augustiner Keller, a more traditional, non-touristy spot. We were the only Americans there but were treated just like everyone else. Before I came to Munich I had never been to a Biergarten anywhere else in Germany. Some of my favorite memories of my summer in Munich were at Biergartens. The Biergarten is what most defines Bavaria.
Besides bayerisch and the Biergarten, there is one final aspect of Bavarian culture that is
unique. And that would be the traditional Bavarian dress: Lederhosen for the men and Dirndl for the women. No where else is Germany is it common to wear such attire. Bavarians don their traditional dress anywhere they can – Biergartens, street festivals, town festivals, or any other major celebration. Authentic Dirndls and Lederhosen can be quite costly but this is a cost that families push aside because the traditional dress is so important to their culture. My favorite purchase of my trip is definitely my Dirndl. It symbolizes the time I spend in Bavarian, the memories I made there and the amazing people I met.
I wouldn’t trade my trip to Munich for anything. I learned so much about myself and advanced my German skills. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. After all, the city’s motto is
“München mag Dich!”