Deep in Bavaria

Local traditional dance group that performs at the IYM (2004).

Dachau hosts a Volksfest each August for two weeks, essentially a smaller and friendlier Oktoberfest. Locals come from miles around to play games, ride the Ferris wheel, dance, socialize and of course, drink beer. Unlike Oktoberfest, it’s not really a place for international tourists. But as part of the international youth meeting, we always spent one evening there to experience a true Bavarian summer festival.

The Dachauers often sport their Tracht, or traditional dress, even in daily life. Lederhosen and wool hats topped with feathers for the men; brightly colored and immaculately pressed Dirndls for the women. I found that Dachauers often refer to themselves as Bavarians first and Germans second. Many speak the Bavarian dialect instead of standard Hochdeutsch. It is not uncommon to find people in Dachau who speak only dialect. Those who can easily switch to Hochdeutsch tend to have formal educations. The differences between the two languages can be dramatic; for example, Auf Wiedersehen means good-bye in Hochdeutsch, but the Bavarians say Pfirti (pronounced “fear-tee”). Bavarian dialect is similar to some dialects spoken in Austria. Interesting to note that Hitler spoke dialect and while all Bavarians did not welcome him with open arms, from the point of view of language, the Bavarians could understand him easier than in other regions of Germany.

Many visitors to the memorial take the train from Munich, ride one of the public busses to the memorial (another 20 minutes), spend a few hours and return to Munich. Hardly any venture up into the Altstadt, a pleasant half-hour walk from the memorial site itself. In 2003, the city of Dachau, wanting to improve its image, offered a free shuttle bus service from the memorial site to the Altstadt, hoping they would show tourists the “other side” of Dachau, but very few visitors took advantage of this offer. For most, visiting the memorial site is sobering enough and after three or four hours, visitors are more than ready to return to their vacation activities or business responsibilities. The city generates very little revenue from tourism.

The cynical side of me wondered how the city had prepared to welcome these potential visitors to their lovely, old town. The locals know immediately, either by way of appearance or speech, who is from Dachau and who is not and they respond accordingly, typically in a cold, abrupt way. For months, I assumed that locals were gruff with me because I was an American, clearly an outsider, even though I speak Hochdeutsch. But when German friends and colleagues came to visit me, I noticed they were also treated in the same standoffish way in shops and restaurants! My friends assured me that it was not because I was an American; I simply was not Bavarian.

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