Bairisch: Language Progression

Since I came to Germany already at a high level of German, my classes have been most useful for the details – I’ve been increasing and internalizing my vocabulary, learning new ways to use grammar, and I’ve had to work a lot on my pronunciation! One teacher in particular often corrects me on my pronunciation of Z’s and S’s. Even though German has mostly the same alphabet as English, that’s no indicator of similar pronunciations.

It can be tough to practice German out in the city when I speak with an American accent. Even if I speak in German to a cashier and in what I think is flawless German, they will often respond in English if I sound too foreign. They are just trying to be helpful, and yet it can feel condescending when I’m trying to practice my German. So one thing I’ve been focusing a lot on is putting on a German accent when I order. If I can get the intonation correct, I have a much better chance of improving and practicing my German. Sometimes I even pretend to have a more German-sounding name when I visit a place like Starbucks. 

Another challenge in Munich has been the regional differences in speech that I never knew about before. It can be quite hard to understand the regional dialect, Bairisch, but here are three things I’ve noticed:

  • Servus! Is a common greeting here in Munich. From what I gather, it’s a greeting between friends which means something along the lines of “At your service!”
“Servus!” Image on the side of a building near the Rathaus
  • Grüß Gott! Is another common greeting here that you would never hear in northern Germany. I’m not exactly sure how to translate it – God’s Greetings, perhaps, or God Bless You. As I’ve noted in a previous post, Bavaria has a strong Catholic identity, and perhaps is one of the most religious areas in Germany at this time, where it still would be normal to hear and use this greeting.
Grüß Gott! Theatinerkirche in Munich
  • I mog di! Is Bairisch for I love you. This seems to me a large transformation from Ich liebe dich. You’ll see I mog di (pronounced ee moge dee)  written in icing on cookies all over Munich. But the transformation of dich to di has touched some of my interactions with my host family. For example, when my host brother says “Ich werde di vermissen,” at first I wasn’t sure if he said “die” (pronounced dee), meaning “her.”
Cookies sold like this often have “i mog di” written on them

It’s been fun to pick up these tidbits of Bairisch as I improve my overall German!

Intercultural Perspectives on Germany, The United States

Even though I’ve been living with a host family for my stay here in Munich, I haven’t been living with Germans. I’ve been living with a family from Turkey. Even though my host mother was born in Germany, as her parents moved to Germany as part of the Gastarbeiter (Guestworker) initiative, she retains her Turkish citizenship, as does her son. Through my many conversations with her, I’ve gathered new and unique perspectives on Germany and what it is to be German from the perspective of a minority in Deutschland.

The Gastarbeiter initiative in Germany lasted from the 1950s through the 70s. More jobs were available in Germany than there were workers to fill them, so in order to keep the economy growing, Germany sent out an invitation for workers from countries such as Italy, Greece, and most importantly, Turkey. Even though these workers were invited as “guests,” the term “guest” doesn’t exactly fit the situation. Many guest workers, such as my host mother’s parents, started families here in Germany, and for many descendants of guest workers, such as my host brother, German would be their first language even though they often retain Turkish citizenship.

My host mother told me about some of the prejudice and/or racism she has experienced here in Germany because of her skin color. She’s had to deal with comments of surprise at how good her German is, and being told to go back to where she came from, even though she was born here.

Gate that prisoners went through when entering Dachau. “Arbeit macht frei” or “Work sets you free”

After I visited the concentration camp in Dachau, my host brother and host mother especially were eager to talk about it with me, and it was interesting to listen to them grapple with it. Even though they are Turkish, they have roots in Germany now, and the challenge of coming to terms with Germany history awaits everyone with German roots. Even though of course the events are horrifying, I’m not sure I had met anyone who was still actively angry about it until my host mother. For most people I’ve talked about it with, the Holocaust is deeply saddening, but as it is unchangeable history, anger isn’t an emotion that I’ve really encountered. My host mother is especially angry about the “justice” afterwards, and about how many Nazis escaped without any punishment. To many this would be a saddening historical artifact, but it’s still current in her mind, and it affects the way that she looks at elderly German people. She tells my host brother that had he been alive during that time, he would have been killed for being Muslim.

Memorial at Dachau Concentration Camp. Chains with the symbols given to persecuted groups.

Interestingly, my host mom lived in the United States for six years, and during that time, she says she never experienced any kind of racism, which I found quite surprising. Compared to Germany, her 6 years in Washington, D.C. went by without any racist interactions. For as happy as I am to hear this, I know that there still is plenty of racism in the U.S., and I believe she knows this too, especially with the travel ban laws currently in place and being debated in the United States. On of the first nights I was here, she asked me if they could ban Muslims from entering the United States. She is afraid that they might, and she was hoping to bring her son on a vacation to San Francisco. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I said that I hope that wouldn’t happen and that it ought not to based on my understanding of our constitution.

Cookies of Trump’s face on display at a cookie store in Munich

In my German classes here in Munich, I am the only American in the class. This means I’ve gotten to hear perspectives from China, Tunisia, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Turkey, Columbia, Russia, and Ukraine. It’s not uncommon in class for jokes to be made about Donald Trump. With Trump as the current face of the United States, I feel extra pressure to represent my home country well.

The Bavarian Style

I’ve heard Bavaria described as the Texas of Germany, and having been here three weeks, I believe it. The atmosphere here is incredibly different from that of a city like Berlin, where traditional German garb would be seen as out of touch kitschy. Here there’s a shop to buy a dirndl, traditional feminine German attire, and lederhosen, traditional masculine German attire, around every corner.

Advertisement for Dirndl and Lederhosen
Advertisement for two Dirdnls
Two Mannequins Wearing Dirndls outside a German Store

Not only are there more stores for this attire than one would know what to do with, but the people here actually wear these clothes. You can ride the subway alongside women wearing dirndls and groups of men wearing lederhosen any time of day.

Dirndl for a Baby Girl
Lederhosen for a Baby Boy

It seems that many jobs, such as waitressing at a traditional German restaurants, would require wearing a dirndl as a uniform. And yet more often than not, it seems that dirndls and lederhosen are worn for the fun of it. They aren’t looked down upon, in fact, quite the contrary: Thomas Müller, one of the star players on FC Bayern (Bayern’s soccer team, and perhaps Germany’s best team), wore a lederhosen to the Meisterfeier at Marienplatz (where the team presented the trophy to the fans).

In fact, a visit to the museum at Allianz Arena, where FC Bayern plays, revealed that the soccer team has a rich history of fashion. When the Bavarian players were made fun of for their lederhosen and traditional garb, they did not shy away from the clothing but embraced it as a part of their Bavarian identity, saying “Mia san mia” or “We are who we are.”

Display at FC Bayern Erlebnis World

Traditional clothing isn’t something to look down on in Bavaria, but rather it’s something to be celebrated. Let the rest of Germany say what it will, but Bavaria is proud of their cultural identity and this piece of their history – they do not run from the past, like so much of Germany might appear to do. Dirndls would be embarrassing in the North if worn in earnest. But here in the south, traditional clothing so far from being a joke that you can wear them to church and not appear to be wearing a costume!

Bavaria has a very strong Catholic identity. Most all shops are closed on Sundays. On the Monday after Pentecost, school and work was closed, and on Corpus Christi, the whole city shut down. There was a large mass going on outside of the city Rathaus on Corpus Christi morning, and such a large group of people came that the crowd was gathered even where there was zero visibility, and you could only hear the mass. It appeared that many groups had made pilgrimages to come to this mass, and of these groups, many wore traditional German clothing. Even on an ordinary Sunday, large groups of people wear dirndls or lederhosen to church, at Asam Kirche, for example, where I saw a procession of people dressed traditionally exiting the church.

Asam Kirche

I find this contrast between Berlin and Bavaria to be intriguing. Even within the German culture there is great variation and an abundance of perspectives. While this can be observed through religious roots (Historically Catholic of Protestant) or regional dialect (Bairisch in Bavaria), the most readily noticeable difference in Bavaria is the attitude taken to traditional German clothing.

Typical Bavarian Cookies

Willkommen in Deutschland! First Impressions

View from Peterskirche

Having been in Munich, Germany, for almost two weeks now, it’s safe to say that it is a very “happening” place. I’m living on Baaderstraße: a great location because I am not only relatively close to school (The Carl Duisberg Center), I am also very close to the oldtown of Munich. In only a few minutes, I can stand in front of the Rathaus, enjoy delicious treats at the quaint Viktualienmarkt, and explore the inside of skyscraping churches.

View of Baaderstraße
Map of Altstadt, München

Though Germany is “happening” in various different ways, and one of the most readily viewable ways is in the realm of politics. On my daily journeys throughout the city, it’s fascinating to observe how the political landscape is continually changing.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, there are six parties currently in parliament. For an American accustomed to the 2-party system, this is quite the leap. The sudden rise of a new party, Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD), in the last election came as a shock to many in Germany and abroad, as the rhetoric of the AfD contains a vehement anti-immigrant sentiment. In Munich, the AfD received about 10% of the vote, making it the third largest party. The CDU, or Christian Democratic Union, is the strongest party in Munich and Germany as a whole. It is conservative, though not as far right as the AfD, and the face of this party is Angela Merkel.

As I go about the city, it’s clear to see that political turmoil has not ended with the 2017 election. There are posters in many places which appear to come from the left, asking how much intolerance the tolerant need. Another poster that I see on my way from school says, “Alexa, wen soll ich wählen?” which means, “Alexa, who should I vote for?” These signs come as visible reminders for Germans to remain engaged citizens in their political debate, and not to be numbed into a state of passivity and inaction by the never-ending slog of politics.

Poster seen in Munich

Other visible reminders can be readily found in my neighborhood – down the street from me is the office of political party: the FDP. In a single day I witnessed two demonstrations – they’re impossible to avoid! One was a parade, and it appeared to be protesting a law that would expand the powers of the police. Later in the day I saw a protest outside of the Rathaus, which quoted from the title of a best-selling book in Germany, “Deutschland schafft sich ab” or, Germany destroys itself (subtext: through too much immigration). It really struck me how in Germany I could see not only two protests in one day, but two protests for almost opposite causes. 

A protest by a liberal group in Munich, Germany
FDP office in Munich, Germany
Protest by a right-wing group outside of the Rathaus in Munich, Germany

Perhaps the most entertaining encounter I’ve had with German politics has been on the escalator at my U-Bahn station. There are political stickers everywhere in Munich: on skateboards, notebooks, any walled surface, and usually these stickers are against Neo-nazis or conservative parties. Thus, I was intrigued then by a sticker that seemed to be propagated by the AfD. It read: “Grundgesetz vor Merkel schützen,” or “Protect the constitution from Angela Merkel.” The next day I found myself there again, and I planned to take a picture of this sticker; however, the sticker had been shredded to pieces, destroyed and unreadable. The very next day a brand new, bright and shiny “Grundgesetz vor Merkel schützen” sticker appeared on the same escalator. The following day, it too had been torn up.

The German political field, so far as I can tell, is extremely volatile, and the citizens of Munich are on the front lines of this debate. The realm of politics in Germany changes day by day, like the sticker which I alternatively see or don’t see at my subway station. Munich and Germany as a whole is a very “happening” place, and there’s no telling what might happen in the next election when it comes to who will be leading, whether liberal or conservative. You only need to keep your eyes open in Munich in order to witness a plenitude of German opinions being expressed.