Munich Tales 2018: The Bavarian revolution of 1918-19, and whether independence retains any appeal today.


Bavaria is a province (Land) in the modern federal parliamentary republic of Germany. From 1805 to 1918, Bavaria was a kingdom, which remained somewhat intact, if subordinated, in 1871 when Bavaria was absorbed into the newly unified German Empire.

The kingdom came to a close in 1918, and it was messy. I’d begin by saying that Americans have long forgotten the short-lived Bavarian Republics in 1918-19, except it’s unclear how many of us ever knew about this revolutionary period in the first place.

Dreamers by Volker Weidermann review – Munich 1919, a moment of anarchy, by Caroline Moorehead (The Guardian)

A superb account of an episode when the writers took over and it seemed all could be different. Then people were rounded up and shot

On 7 November 1918, a critic and journalist called Kurt Eisner, with long grey hair, a wild beard and pince-nez, led a victory parade through the streets of Munich, calling for revolution. Crowds flocked, among them the many disbanded soldiers returning from the war. Eisner dreamed of a free and independent Bavaria, run by councils of writers and workers in which artists would elevate and educate the masses and there would never again be war. He would be prime minister. It could not, indeed did not, last. But for three chaotic weeks, ungoverned Munich was in perpetual carnival mood, with women sitting outside on their porches in the sunshine and prophets, “hypnotists, and those who had been hypnotised” preaching anarchy and happiness. Thomas Mann’s son Klaus, 13 at the time, saw himself as “an animal feeling the approach of an earthquake”.

What followed Eisner’s failed People’s State of Bavaria was too red for comfort.

The Bavarian Soviet Republic (German: Bayerische Räterepublik) was the short-lived unrecognised socialist state in Bavaria during the German Revolution of 1918–19. It took the form of a workers’ council republic. Its name is variously rendered in English as the Bavarian Council Republic or the Munich Soviet Republic (German: Münchner Räterepublik; the German name Räterepublik means a republic of councils or committees; council or committee is also the meaning of the Russian word soviet) after its capital, Munich. It was established in April 1919 after the demise of Kurt Eisner’s People’s State of Bavaria and sought independence from the also newly proclaimed Weimar Republic. It was overthrown less than a month later by elements of the German Army and the paramilitary Freikorps.

The Weimar Republic, inheritor of the mess left behind by Kaiser Wilhelm, was too weak in its own right to suppress the Bavarian Soviet, and allowed the violent right-wing Freikorps to do the job. This decision had nasty implications down the road.

These days, some observers place Bavaria in the camp of the breakaways.

German court shuts down hopes for a breakaway Bavaria, by Adam Taylor (Washington Post)

Would Germany be Germany without Bavaria? The wealthy southern state comprises roughly one-fifth of Germany’s landmass. It is the country’s second-most populous state. Oktoberfest, lederhosen, sauerkraut? All Bavarian in origin.

Yet some Bavarians want nothing to do with Germany. The state is home to a pro-independence Bavaria Party, and one Bavarian man even filed a court case last year in an attempt to force a referendum on whether the state could vote to leave Germany.

But if 2016 was year of Brexit, 2017 is unlikely to be the year of “Bayxit” (in German, Bavaria is known as Bayern). On Monday, a German court released a decision saying that the country’s constitution does not allow Bavaria to break away. There will be no referendum, the court said, because states are not allowed to leave Germany.

“In the Federal Republic of Germany … states are not ‘masters of the constitution,’” the court wrote in the decision, according to a translation from the Local. “Therefore there is no room under the constitution for individual states to attempt to secede. This violates the constitutional order.”

However, this fellow who lives in Bavaria has a firm opinion about prospects for the Bavarian independence movement.

There is no serious independence movement in Bavaria. Putting Bavaria in the same league as Catalonia or Scotland, which had referendums on independence, or South Tyrol or the Basque Country with a history of separatist terrorism is just bullshit, as we would say in Bavaria.