Perhaps you’ve heard of the Weisswurstäquator (white sausage equator – these sausages are particular to Bavaria). If you haven’t, it’s the line that divides the north of Germany from the south, and it runs just south of Frankfurt. (Writer’s Note: this border is open to interpretation.)
Since my college days, I’ve had a number of very close friendships with Germans. They started with my husband, who comes from Mönchengladbach, and another friend of ours who comes from Meerbusch, also in the Rheinland. While studying in London, I lived next to a woman, now my first born’s godmother, who is from a village north of Hamburg. She introduced me to our good friend who comes from a village outside of Bremen. And I studied with and later became flatmates with a half American/half German guy from a village near Kiel. We’ve known each other for years and have attended each other’s weddings. Funny enough, all of these German friends were decidedly from the north.
After about ten years or so of knowing each other, I shared the happy news with these friends that I was finally marrying my German sweetheart, and he got a job with a lens making firm. When I told them where the lens making firm was, in a town called Aalen somewhere one hour east of Stuttgart, they were shocked. Any joy that I was moving to their home country was greatly overshadowed by the horror they were trying hard to contain; I was moving to the south, and I was moving to Schwabenland. To them, southern Germany might as well have been another country, an inferior one at that, and Schwabenland was where their countrymen spoke one of the most disliked dialects in the Bundesrepublik.
In the beginning they were pretty polite and did their best to be supportive of my move to the south, although all warnings about the difficult dialect thinly veiled their opinion of the people. (I soon learned that the Swabians have a reputation of being the “country bumpkins” who also happen to be cheap.) My friend from Kiel was firmly not amused when I jokingly substituted “ein bissele” for “ein bisschen.” I like to think that my friends aren’t so prejudiced, but I realize more now how deep the disdain for southerners is. Another northerner friend of ours recently visited us from Berlin and told me of a dream she once had during her first semester as a student at the university in Bayreuth. She had dreamt that the German army marched into Bayreuth and all of the students from the north had to flee – so deep was (and is) this cultural divide in her head.
A friend of mine here who is from Aalen, but who has a mother from Frankfurt and in-laws from Lübeck, told me that Northerners have a better understanding of the United Kingdom or Scandinavia than they do of the south. Southerners on the other hand have almost a stronger affinity to Italy than to their northern countrymen.
I could go on with more prejudices that northerners have of southerners, as that’s what I’ve heard vocalized more: they’re not as friendly here and are more formal; they don’t travel or move as much; they’re super clean; they’re humorless. But I think I’ll play it safe and end this post here. I’m going to go and enjoy my Weisswurst with a Butterbrezel.