If you have ever heard of Bavarian cuisine, the Bavarian language, or even Bavarian cream, you may well have wondered where in the world Bavaria is. Looking at a map of the world or of Europe is not likely to be enlightening. This is because it is not a country, but rather the largest of the 16 states in Germany.
Located in southeast Germany, Bavaria borders Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. The southern border, adjacent to Austria, is delineated by the Bavarian Alps. The capital city is Munich, where Oktoberfest takes place every year. Other important cities in the state include Augsberg, Nuremberg, and Regensburg. The Danube and Main rivers flow through the region, as well as many other minor rivers.
Bavaria is considered one of the three "Free States" in Germany, although this term is merely historical. In the Middle Ages, it was a duchy, and it became a kingdom in 1808. Bavaria remained an independent entity until 1871, when it became part of the united Germany following its defeat in the Austro-Prussian war.
Unlike much of the rest of Germany, Bavaria is traditionally Roman Catholic. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI is a native of the state. It also has its own political party, the Christian Social Union, which has been the majority party in the state since 1957. In addition to the Pope, many famous people have hailed from the state, including artist Albrecht Durer, composers Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, author Thomas Mann and film director Werner Herzog.
Bavaria has a rich culture, in part because of its long period of independence. Many of its traditions date from the Middle Ages, when the area was a duchy. Natives take great pride in their cultural history, and medieval songs and poems in Bavarian dialect are taught to children in local schools. Outside of Germany, Bavarian culture is often more visible than other German cultural traditions, and many are often mistakenly considered representative of the country as a whole. For example, Oktoberfest, beer gardens, and traditional Bavarian costumes are typically presented as "German" in many contexts.