If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two months, it’s that Germany does small-town rivalry like nobody’s business. Sure, America does it too, but there it mostly takes place between entire states or geographical areas: the North says the South is full of Bible-and-gun-toting rednecks, the South thinks the North contains nothing but inhospitable, cold-blooded yankees. The Midwesterners live in the fly-over states, California is full of yuppies and ex-hippies, etc. In Germany, everything takes place at a super-micro level–the rivalries start between even the tiniest of neighboring Dorfs, between regions separated by only a few kilometers.
Take Mainz and Wiesbaden, for instance, the two small cities I’ve come to know rather well in the past couple months. The way most people describe the differences between them, one would think they are worlds apart geographically, and separated even further by the vastest of cultural, linguistic, and ideological differences. In reality, however, the cities sit directly across from each other on the Rhein–some ten minutes apart by train or bike, connected by a half-dozen bridges. To any outsider, they appear quite similar: two lovely mid-sized German towns in the heart of wine-country, both with a fascinating history and vibrant cultural scene.
Amongst the locals, however, pithy commentary abounds. Here’s just a sampling of remarks about Wiesbaden (good natured, I think?) from the past few weeks:
A friend’s host-father, from Mainz: “Die Sonne lacht über Mainz, die ganze Welt über Wiesbaden! The sun smiles upon Mainz, and the entire world laughs at Wiesbaden!”
Oberbürgermeister (the Mayor of Mainz), at a reception for international students: “We Mainzers inherited two things from the Romans: good wine and the fact that we keep the barbarians shut up on the other side of the river.”
Little old lady from Mainz at the bus stop: “Das Beste an Wiesbaden ist der Bus nach Mainz! The best part about Wiesbaden is the bus back to Mainz!”
The article Dos and Don’ts in Mainz from an apartment-search website: “Don’t: think Wiesbaden is cool.”
Host-father again, on the topic of local history: “Mainz was around first. Back in the days of the Romans, Wiesbaden was just a collection of dirty little huts in a field. But then the old Mainzers started getting interested in the hot springs in the area, and turned Wiesbaden into the city it is today.”
On posters, handbags, and doormats for sale in downtown Mainz: “Mainz is better than Wiesbaden.” Short and sweet.
Reaction from a group of local students, when I said that I was thinking about going over to Wiesbaden for the day because I had heard it was beautiful: “Why on earth do you want to go there??!”
Whatever, Mainzers. (MEENZER, sorry!) All I’m saying is, all those old Vermonters from my home town who stand around the Creemie machine making pithy remarks about flatlanders, cityslickers, and people from New Hampshire–they could pick up a few tips around here.
Although everything they say about New Hampshire is perfectly justified.