The German state of Bavaria (or Bayern) has long seen itself as exceptional. Not only was it an independent kingdom until 1871, when it became part of the newly unified German Reich; this southern state is also home to the Alps, Oktoberfest, and certain cultural peculiarities—like Bavarians’ local dialect, or their penchant for traditional clothing, including lederhosen—that have long set it apart (and formed the butt of jokes in other parts of the country). The daily Der Spiegel goes so far as to call Bavaria “a German version of Texas.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Bavaria has been home to a separatist movement for decades. The Bavaria Party, which advocates for independence, once enjoyed a certain popularity: in 1949, the BP got one-fifth of Bavarian votes in the first West German federal election after the Second World War, says Achim Hurrelmann, an assistant professor of political science at Carleton University. Yet in the recent European parliamentary election, which represented an opportunity of sorts (“since European elections have no direct effect on national politics, voters are [more] likely to experiment,” he says), the separatists won not a single seat.
What happened? Bavarian separatism may have had its day in the sun, but today, “hardly anyone seriously wants Bavaria to separate,” says Hurrelmann, who calls the modern BP a “tiny, fringe party.” Germany’s largest and richest state, Bavaria has been an economic success story, and is home to Munich, one of the country’s wealthiest cities. As for the cultural differences, “they tend to be alluded to in a rather playful way,” he says.
At least the BP got attention with its ad campaign, which ran across Germany: posters featured a man and a woman in traditional garb, waving goodbye as they walk away. “Don’t you want to get rid of the Bavarians?” the tagline read. Apparently not.