Bamberg: the liberal enclave of Bavaria
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Gerda is a Modern Languages student, currently on her year abroad in Bamberg, a town in Northern Bavaria, Germany.
Photo: Gerda Krivaite
The largely Roman Catholic and wealthy Bavaria is viewed by Germans and foreigners alike as a conservative stronghold. Dubbed the ‘Texas of Germany’ by the New York Times, it’s clear to see the federal state has a reputation. With every Minister-President since 1957 having been a member of the Christian Social Union and the famously far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) having been voted the third most popular party by the state in the last Bundestag elections, it comes as no surprise that people harbour such preconceptions.
On my first day exploring Bamberg, my new home for the academic year, the town greeted me with rows of Fachwerk-style houses, traditional breweries, religious symbols on every corner, and the cherry on top, a relatively well-attended anti-mask demonstration in the town’s Grüner Markt. I can’t say I was startled – this was the Bavaria that fit the description.
Cunigunde of Luxembourg, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, buried at Bamberg Cathedral beside her husband Saint Henry II. Photo: Gerda Krivaite
As I slowed my pace and began paying attention to detail, however, the idea of Bavaria as a bastion of conservative politics began to collapse. Clues planted around town spoke to Bamberg’s liberal essence, which was only reinforced by discussions about German politics with newly made acquaintances, from next-door neighbours to university professors.
What first struck me were the phrases “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” inscribed on the wing walls of the Untere Brücke, right across from the statue of Catholic saint Cunigunde of Luxembourg. The two slogans, reminders of worldwide protest against police brutality and systemic racism in the United States, are likely left from the BLM marches that took place in the old town in June 2020. While the extent of racist police brutality in Germany is significantly smaller, protesters also expressed anger at racial profiling by police, discrimination in educational and professional settings, as well as the exoticisation and caricaturing of black people prevalent in the country.
Photo: Gerda Krivaite
The town’s expression of support for marginalised groups extends to the LGBTQ+ community. While the rainbow coloured umbrellas and decorations on Austraße may not have been intended as a political statement, posters publicising Bamberg’s LGBTQ+ society Uferlos (‘Boundless’) and Pride stickers appearing on building walls and street poles help build an image of a town that welcomes and celebrates diversity. The University of Bamberg’s Queer CommUNIty, while only founded in 2016, also offers a relaxed and safe space for queer students to interact, network and enjoy exciting events.
Finally, it’s hard to ignore the expressions of left-leaning politics found all over town, from narrow alleyways to the busiest streets. Whether that be ‘FCK AFD’ stickers, posters about climate strikes, calls to join feminist clubs or even the many spray-painted circle-As displaying support for anarchism, Bamberg defies expectations around every corner.
Photos: Gerda Krivaite
This by no means detracts from the state’s election patterns, nor does it give an exact representation of the scale of citizens entertaining liberal beliefs. The support for conservative ideologies remains strong in Bavaria, but where there is power, there is resistance – and the wave of resistance in Bamberg is far from invisible.