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From first dukedoms, Bavarians have done it their way

IN a nation full of cultural differences, Bavaria enjoys the reputation of being the most distinct of Germany's 16 states.

Foreign tourists may view Bavaria through the prism of lederhosen and oom-pah bands, but Germans associate Bavaria with the distinct southern drawl of its citizens and its unique cuisine.

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Religion has had a major influence in shaping Bavaria. Along with the Rhineland, Bavaria resisted the Reformation begun by Martin Luther, and thus remains a bastion of Roman Catholicism.

Also influencing the regional identity is a political tradition that dates back to the 6th century, when the first Bavarian dukedom is mentioned in historical records.

Because of this streak of independence, Bavaria has always tried to keep central authority - in Berlin or Bonn - at arm's length. The state never ratified the Federal Republic of Germany's Basic Law, or constitution, although it voluntarily adheres to its provisions.

Bavaria also has its own regional party - the Christian Social Union - which is affiliated with, but not part of, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union. The CSU has helped Bavaria wield more influence over federal decisions than perhaps any other state has.

``Bavaria is more than 1,000 years old and has a very homogeneous society,'' says Johann Boehm, the state's minister for federal and European affairs. ``Other [German] states have to arrive at a consensus, which for us is almost automatic.''

Harald Ruhlinger, a social historian at the University of Cologne, describes the Bavarian consensus as ``Catholic and anarchic at the same time.'' He explains that historical influences have shaped a population that's strongly conservative and fiercely libertarian.

An example of what Mr. Ruhlinger is talking about is found in Munich, the Bavarian capital. Despite Bavaria's reputation of being the most law-and-order state in Germany, a section of downtown Munich's English Gardens is a sanctuary for nude sunbathers.

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