Baffling Badener: An Idiot’s Guide to South-West Germany

We’re on the run! Valentin and I have upped sticks from Munich and are travelling west across Germany. Our destination: Konstanz, home of the Badener!

The third largest state in Germany, Baden-Württemberg is a 1950s collaboration between Württemberg-Baden, South Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollen. You can understand why they picked a new name — imagine trying to cheer the regional team, you’d get lockjaw. Not exactly the Bee Gees of triple acts, its cuddlier nickname “Ländle” (Little country) seems like a better compromise.

Baden-Württemberg, Google Maps, 11/08/2020.

Much like in South West England, the people of Baden-Württemberg appear to have established a reputation as country bumpkins or “Landeier” — (country eggs.) However, this is to ignore the highly industrial parts of the state, home to the headquarters of Porsche, Bosch and Mercedes-Benz.  

Traditionally, the 11 million inhabitants have been split into two cultural rivals: the Badener and the Schwaben. (To call a Badener a Schwabe seems to be the equivalent of calling a Scotsman a Northerner…)

The Schwaben

Swabian Regional Flag – Politicalflags, Deviant Art, Pub: July 16. 2017.

Let’s start with the Schwaben. These guys occupy the vast majority of Baden-Württemberg, from the Bavarian border westwards, including pre-merge territories, Württemberg-Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollen. The traditional Schwäbisch is a variant of Standard German, stemming from a group of Roman-era tribal dialects — pretty Viking-level stuff, but in truth, it challenges German’s harsh-sounding reputation. The emphasis seems to be on softer vowel sounds and fewer sharp consonants, “Guten Morgen” (Good Morning), becoming “Guada Morga.”

Another endearing feature of Schwäbisch is the diminutive “LE”, which is used to make words cuter, as far as I can see. This seems to occur more frequently than you’d expect, raising the question, is everything somehow smaller in Baden-Württemberg?

Somehow it seems, in the glorious evolution of the German language, grown adults have begun to speak to other grown adults, as they would to toddlers and excitable dogs…

EnglishStandard GermanSwabian German
Small CatKätzchen Kätzle
Small HouseHäuschenHäusle

Despite their cuddly language system, the Schwaben have not escaped prejudice, being subject not only to “Schwabenhass” (Hate towards Swabians) for their perceived role in the gentrification of Berlin, but also caricatured as country simpletons.

This morning, I stumbled across the Grimm Brothers’ “Die Sieben Schwaben,” (The Seven Swabians), a folktale, in which a group of co-dependent and bumbling men drown in a river after confusing a frog’s ribbit for a voice telling them to wade in. This seemed a tad unflattering…

The Badener

Flag of the Grand Duchy of Baden 1891-1918, WikiWand, List of Baden Locomotives and Railbuses. Acc: 11/08/2020.

Perhaps understandably, Badener haven’t traditionally liked being called Schwaben. They’re in the minority anyway, occupying the Franco-German border from Lörrach to Mannheim, and the southern Swiss-German border, from Lörrach to Linzgau.

With so many influences, Baden boasts a wealth of dialects, “Badisch” being used to refer to any dialect within the “Allemanic group”, from which Swabian German also stems. The two rivals share some of the same features in the vowel system, yet it’s the Schwaben who seem to fall foul of negative stereotyping. Much like the Scots of the UK, they are frequently mimicked, presented as stingy, stupid or overly-serious.

Where Valentin and I are headed, they have their own “Bodenseeallemanisch,” specific to Lake Konstanz. Although not surprising, being situated in the melting pot between France, Germany and Switzerland, I do wonder how the hell anyone understands anyone else here.

Cultural complexity, it would seem, is at the heart of what it means to be a Badener. I don’t know about you, but I heard it all began with a castle and a boy named Herman, in the town of Baden far far away…

The Legend of Baden, Retold

It is 1112, and a strapping young fellow, Herman Junior, has just finished building his castle. You see, Daddy, Herman Senior, has pulled the heiress of Baden (modern day Baden-Baden) and granted Junior the title of Margrave of Baden.  (Junior’s LinkedIn page defines the role of Margrave as defender of a border territory under the Holy Roman Empire.) Junior’s castle stands on a hill in Baden. He names it Hohenbaden (High Baden) Castle, after participating in a Zoom webinar in digital marketing.

Over the years, Junior’s territory expands — a couple of districts here and there, for Christmas or when his Tamagotchi dies. Baden becomes the capital of this expanding territory, creatively named, Margraviate of Baden.

By 1200, little Herman has popped his clogs. The second Margrave of Baden sees the Margraviate of Baden divide into Baden-Baden (the capital of Baden) and Baden-Hachberg, the latter divides 100 years later to form an additional territory. At first, they weren’t sure what to call it, daringly plumping for Baden-Sausberg amid widespread scepticism. (Side Note: Baden-Baden required two Badens to avoid Badeners confusing Baden-Baden with a Baden in Austria and a Baden in Switzerland, Baden commonly indicating the location of a bath or spring.)

In the 14th century, the third Margrave of Baden (Bernard-of-the-bubble-bad) reunites the Margraviate of Baden and amasses new territories, Baden Pforzheim and Baden-Hochberg, forming one of the most powerful forces in the Holy Roman Empire, due to reportedly shouting “Baden” at enemies.

In 1535, the Margraviate of Baden divides into two lines: Baden-Baden and Baden-Durlach (which was of course Baden-Pforzheim pre 1565). In 1771, Baden-Baden and Baden-Durlach are reunited to form the Grand Duchy of Baden (up until 1918 where it becomes Republic of Baden as part of the Weimar Republic.) After the second world war, the French create the state of Baden out of the southern section of the former Baden, whilst the northern half of the former Baden is combined with Württemberg, becoming Württemberg-Baden…

Sadly, at this point, the scribe of the legend expired. The end of the tale was never told.

On the bus, I ask Valentin what he’d like to do in Konstanz tomorrow.

“Hm,” he replied. “Ich würde gerne baden.” (I’d like to swim.)

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