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Bavaria: Where Tradition Rules.

When heading for Europe for the first time, it's common for most travelers to try to see and do as much as possible. They want to visit as many of the most familiar and famous cities--London, Paris and Rome, among others as they can in the time they have. That's to be expected even though it does involve racing from country to country without much time to experience the essence of each.

What's suggested by travel veterans when returning to Europe a second or even third time is to select just one country or even one region where you can leisurely and enjoyably learn about its history, its culture and its distinctive cuisine. One area that would like Americans to do just that is Bavaria. If you're heard of it at all it may involve little more than oom pah pah bands. But Bavarian tourism officials are anxious for Americans to know that there's much more to their region.

For starters, Bavaria is one of Germany's 16 states and the largest. It's bigger than Switzerland, in fact, with a population of 12.8 million. Within its boundaries are some major cities--Munich, that's the state's capital, along with Nuremberg, Augsburg, Ingolstadt, and Regensburg. And while all are quite modern, a majority of Bavarians still live in its many picturesque small towns. Around the state, too, are some 111,200 acres of protected national parks.

Of importance for visitors is the considerable emphasis on tradition and the region's rich culture and historic past. A visitor will experience these at every turn in castles and fortresses, stately mansions, countless museums and at cultural events. But tradition is also part of everyday life in Bavaria, too, in sometimes whimsical ways.

Take the Purity Law, promulgated 500 years ago by Duke William IV of Bavaria. He decreed that locally-brewed beer had to confirm to precise standards. It's considered the oldest law in the world related to food and drink. And, if you can believe it, those rules are still in place and enforced today. It's something the same with Nurenberg Sausage. To be so identified, these sausages must be produced within the city limits. Butchers who make it must conform to very exact size and weight limits and follow a specific recipe for its ingredients.

Tradition is reflected, too, in dress. It's not unusual for men to wear Lederhosen and woman the Dirndl dresses for family gatherings, civic affairs, even for weddings. Says Jens Huwald who heads up Bavaria Tourism in Munich, "People don't wear these traditional clothes just for visitors; they want to wear them and like to do so. People in Bavaria live through their traditions and hand them on to the next generation."

Travel around Bavaria by private car or tour bus is made easy thanks to a network of highways known as autobahns. As American drivers love to discover, there's no speed limit on some, but not all, of these broad thoroughfares. Drive along at maybe 70 or 75 mph in your rental car and expect to be passed by Germans whizzing by considerably faster. And no police cars are around to give out speeding tickets.

But in addition to these real roads, Bavaria is laced with several fictional roads. These are designed to tie together areas or attractions with a common theme. The two major examples are the so-called Romantic Road and the Castle Road. The first doesn't refer to boy-girl romance but the romance of beauty, culture and tradition. The second obviously takes the visitor to some of Europe's more spectacular royal residences and fortresses.

Veteran travelers call the Romantic Road "the real Germany." It's loosely based on an old trade route and the Roman Via Claudia Augusta. It winds for 255 miles, south from the historic Wurzburg, through Alpine glades and to the Schloss Neuschwanstein, known as the "fairy castle." Built on orders from King Ludwig II in the late 19th century, it's Bavaria's top tourist attraction. From villages with cobblestone streets to Gothic cathedrals, Baroque palaces and castles, the Romantic Road has them all. Pageants and festivals are held there throughout the summer and into the late autumn. It's said that "this is about as traditional as Bavaria gets."

The Castle Road stretches for some 600 miles, at some points it passes through the Czech Republic that borders Bavaria on the east. Along the way visitors can see 70 or more fortresses, castles and even palaces, many of which are open to guests. In addition, there are museums and medieval towns to explore. Along the route you'll find important cities, too, places like Bayreuth, Nuremberg or Bamberg, designated a UNESCO medieval city for its many half-timbered houses, some going back to the 11th century.

Throughout the summer months, various historical festivals and reenactments take place throughout Bavaria to the delight of visitors. For example, if you think that knights in armor engaging in make-believe tournaments is something limited to England, you're in for a surprise.

In mid-July, the Kaltenberg Knights' Tournament is staged with knights in armor taking part in such events as jousting and sword fighting while jesters, craftsmen and musicians provide entertainment. Other outstanding events include the Bayreuth Festival, Maypole Raising, Whitsun and The Master's Draught.

The oldest folk play in Germany with a 500-year tradition is performed in the Upper Palatinate, specifically in Furth im Wald. During the elaborate staging of "Spearing the Dragon", the audience witnesses a spectacular battle between good and evil. At the center of the performance is the largest four-legged walking figure in the world. It's more than 200 feet long. The open-air pageant includes historical parades, medieval music groups, jesters and fencing demonstrations.

This year, too, will see the 42nd presentation of the Oberammergau Passion Play in the tiny town of that name. It was first staged in 1634 and is presented only once every 10 years. The next performance will be in 2020. However, there are other plays and backstage tours offered throughout the year.

Norman Sklarewitz brings to travel a solid background in hard-news reporting. This includes staff positions as a Far East Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal based in Tokyo and L.A. Bureau Chief with U.S. News & World Report. As a foreign correspondent, he reported on major international events throughout Asia, including the Vietnam War.
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Title Annotation:LIFE; Bavaria, Germany
Author:Sklarewitz, Norman
Publication:World and I
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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