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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY THIRTY Schlager and Bavarians

A long cycle south past the Gnome Museum (closed) to Sonneberg, the former toy capital of the world. This part of Germany went to the Soviets and the DDR government made all toy manufacturers join collectives. By the time they had finished, toys were being made by one huge collective with 27,000 employees, 10,000 of whom were in Sonneberg. After the Wall fell, the collective was broken up and Sonneberg did not return to its former glory. There are now a number of companies making toys and employing about 1,000 people. But there are glories elsewhere from this town. This was home to Freddy Breck, one of the great German schlager (roughly, schmaltz) singers - who won five platinum records and thirty-five gold. There is a link below to his first hit - All Around the World, sung to a tune you may recognise. German schlager dates back to the pre-war period with songs by Heinz Rühmann and other movie stars of that era. Popular success, though, has been in the post-war period, particularly the 1970s - even in England: our very own schlager singer, Engelbert Humperdinck, had his schlager hit Please Release Me and Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest with Save Your Kisses for Me. Towards the end of the decade, the style began to ease toward disco music - exemplified by the band Dschinghis Khan. Incidentally, their 1979 video of Moscau has been watched 85,462,017 times.

Schlager was big then - and now it has spawned a nostalgia industry. Each year, in Hamburg, schlagerfans gather in their thousands for the SchlagerMove festival, held in early September. If this will be your first visit, you might want to read the guidance on dress code:

Your outfit - just not normal. Talk to your parents about their clothes from the 70s. Hang tough if they hesitate at first. Then recover the treasure. If your parents have already destroyed their clothes from the 70s (which would be a gross loss), try a second-hand shop of your choice and proximity. You will definitely find it there. Schlager is essentially country music for Germans. The recipe is the same: lyrics of love, feelings, broken relationships flowing over sweet, sentimental tunes - unless you're from darker, more northerly countries, like Finland, where schlager verges on melancholy - Scandifado.

Leaving Sonneburg, we take the plunge and cross what feels like a border into Bavaria. Must remember to ditch Guten Tag and say Gruss Gott. This essentially Catholic country feels very different from the rest of Germany – language, culture, food. I say different 'country' and that is how it feels.

Bavaria borders Austria and the Czech Republic and is not much smaller than either and certainly richer that the latter. It is the biggest and second richest state in Germany. It has economic battalions like Munich and a bit of Frankfurt, plus substantial cities like Nuremburg, Augsberg and Tilman Riemenschneider's home town, Wurzburg. Munich, of course, has major global companies headquartered there – BMW, Siemens, Adidas – helping Bavaria in 2019 achieve a GDP of $690,337 million. Only twenty countries in the world have a higher GDP: the UK is fifth in that list with a GDP of $2,824,850 million. Bavaria can also be very beautiful. In the southern part are the Black Forest, the source of the Danube, Lake Constance, Neuschwanstein and the Bavarian Alps. The Zugspitze is Germany's highest mountain at 2,920 metres; Germany's highest church is on the Zugspitze. From there you can see three of Germany's glaciers, none of which are doing too well as the world warms.

the view over the Kehlsteinhaus(c)

At the bottom right of Bavaria, above the town of Berchtesgaden, is the Eagle's Nest, the Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler's hideaway in the mountains designed by Martin Bormann, his private secretary. Apparently, Hitler didn't like to go there – he suffered from vertigo. It is true that in all those film clips of him at the Kehlsteinhaus, he's clutching a railing. These days, the Kehlsteinhaus is a charitable enterprise - a restaurant that you ride up to in Hitler's polished brass lift, ascending through a 400 foot shaft bored through solid rock. And, with a view like that, one can but order Hüttenwurst mit Sauerkraut und Brot. There is a problem being in Bavaria, outside the major cities, which is the tendency of Bavarians to speak in their own particular dialect – and there are three of them: Austro-Bavarian, Swabian German, and East Franconian German. But even if we can't communicate in the time we spend here, at least the beer will be good.

Bavaria only allows three ingredients - water, barley, and hops - which makes the beer very special. Not surprisingly, Bavarians drink rather a lot - 170 litres per person per year. And not all of it at the Oktoberfest in Munich. Some of it is drunk at breakfast to ease down the Weisswurst, Brezel and sweet mustard. They also make wine, Franconian wine, in the north, along the River Main that flows into Thuringia. There is a slight concern about all this alcohol because Bavaria has a very tough law called the Gefährdergesetz – the endangering or hazard law – which permits imprisonment for three months, renewable indefinitely. A crime does not even have to have been committed; the assumption that a crime will be committed in the near future is sufficient.

Thinking about endangerment, I must tell the Race Marshal to drive a little more carefully on her Harley. She does like mountain roads. Some early German schlager - Heinz Rühmann singing Ich brech die Herzen der stolzesten Frauen - Freddy singing his big hit All Around the World - Our 1976 Eurovision Song Contest triumph: Brotherhood of Man with Save Your Kisses for Me - Here is Dschinghis Khan singing Moskau in 1979 - And our favourite schlager tunesman, Whistling Jack Smith -

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