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Bernd Mayr: How did the "first Chinese town in Europe" get involved with China?
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Bernd Mayr: How did the "first Chinese town in Europe" get involved with China?

Dietfurt in Bavaria is known as the "first Chinese town in Europe." It is a small town with Chinese schools and Chinese museums. The people of Dietfurt do not speak Chinese but are often referred to as "Bavarian Chinese."

Every February, Dietfurt hosts a Chinese carnival. The streets and lanes are decorated with red lanterns, the character "fu" (which means "fortune" in English) is affixed to windows and the residents dress up as Chinese and perform traditional Chinese shows.

How did Dietfurt get involved with China which is a million miles away? What are the local exchanges with China? What experiences does Dietfurt have to share in order to promote Sino-German friendship? Bernd Mayr, the first mayor of Dietfurt, was recently interviewed by East Meets West to discuss these topics.

Bernd Mayr was born in Dietfurt on 19 February 1968. He has been the First Mayor of Dietfurt since May 2020.


Dietfurt, Germany, is known as the "first Chinese town in Europe." Can you tell us about its Chinese roots?

This goes back to medieval times. Between roughly 1400 and 1450, when Dietfurt was part of the diocese of Eichstätt, the bishopric sent tax collectors to the town to collect taxes. At that time, Dietfurt was a walled city with two large gates. When the tax collector arrived, the inhabitants closed the gates tightly and said from the city tower: "No, we don't pay tax because the bishop doesn't even care about us." The tax collector would have to leave and record the incident in a book. In this book, which has survived to this day, the tax collectors state that the inhabitants of Dietfurt were like the Chinese who built the walls for their defense. This is how the local inhabitants came to be nicknamed "the Chinese."

 After the First World War, the Carnival gradually formed in Dietfurt, with performances by wind bands dressed as Chinese. After the Second World War, the carnival celebrations grew in scale, and the inhabitants of Dietfurt became known internationally as the "Chinese" of Bavaria. Some children have been dressing up as "Chinese" since they were toddlers to participate in the Carnival. The locals have maintained this tradition for decades: on a Thursday, people dress up as "Chinese" to celebrate the festival. During the Carnival, people see themselves as the Bavarian "Chinese."

A scene from the 2019 Chinese Carnival Parade in Dietfurt. Credit: Jinyong Yuan


Can you tell us about the features and highlights of this year's Carnival?

For the first time this year, we will have an "Emperor and Empress" in the Carnival, where previously there was only the "Emperor." A huge entourage will accompany the Emperor and Empress. The roles are played by two residents of Dietfurt, who are indeed married. Also, there were 'Chinese warriors' and the 'Chinese cook.'

This year's Carnival started at 2 PM on Thursday, 16 February, with a parade, followed by a performance where people could watch and pay tribute to the "emperor" and "empress."

Residents of Dietfurt dressed as the Emperor (second from left) and other Chinese-inspired characters at the 2019 Chinese Carnival in Dietfurt. Credit: Jinyong Yuan.


How did the residents of Dietfurt visit China and what were their impressions of China?

In fact, not many Dietfurt residents have visited China. In 2016 we visited Nanjing when we were a delegation of thirty people. In 1999 the Dietfurt band also visited Beijing with a group of thirty people. In addition, business people travel between China and Dietfurt. But overall, most people have still never been to China.

Based on our "carnival," the residents of Dietfurt are more open-minded than those of other German cities. Of course, the locals are happy to have Chinese people visit Dietfurt annually—for example, a delegation from the Chinese Consulate General in Munich or the Confucius Institute in Munich. For Dietfurt, seeing Chinese people walking on the streets is not unusual.

Last year's "Bavarian Summer in China," for example, saw the visit of the Chinese Consul General in Munich, Defa Tong, to Dietfurt, where we had a long and friendly exchange with the delegation and watched Chinese dance and music performances. Although Dietfurt is small, it is well known that we have contributed to the friendship between Bavaria in Germany and China. I would like to emphasise once again that as long as we interact with each other, we have the opportunity to understand completely different cultures.


What is the current state of cultural exchange between Dietfurt and China?

Our interactions with China take place regularly. For example, I was invited to attend the Chinese New Year reception at the Chinese Consulate General in Munich on 15 January. For this year's "Carnival," the Consulate General provided us with some help to decorate the city in Chinese style during the festivities, which is quite a nice story.

We have been trying to make a connection between the two completely different worlds of Bavarian culture and Chinese culture. Every year we try to develop new activities, whether language and writing or painting and cooking courses, and we always get great support. The local Kulturhaus holds cultural days especially around Chinese themes, where people can learn Chinese characters and learn to cook Chinese food, and the Chinese restaurant in Dietfurt gets involved too, which is really great.

In 2019, the "Fogordi," the protagonist of the "Chinese Carnival" in Dietford, awarded the "Imperial Chef's Certificate" to Mr. and Mrs. Yuan, a Chinese couple who run a catering business in the region. Yuan is the president of the German Chinese Culinary Federation and owner of the "Seven Immortals Restaurant" in Dietfurt. Credit: Jinyong Yuan.

Dietfurt has two companies in the automotive industry that maintain very close business relations with China, with significant sales and production in China. From this point of view, our partnership is perfect and very positive, and since 2014 we have had a friendship city relationship with the city of Nanjing. I am planning to bring a delegation of the economic community to Nanjing in 2024, which I am looking forward to.


What experience can Dietfurt share in order to promote Sino-German friendship?

As for myself, I have been to China ten times, visiting Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Nanjing, where I have been welcomed.

As I have discussed before, visiting each other is essential. We have to try to understand the culture and structure of each other's countries and not judge that China, as an economic powerhouse, might do things to hurt us. In contrast, German Bavaria might not be so affluent without China.

If similar partnerships exist between other cities, they should be managed with care. To maintain such alliances, it is essential to visit each other; otherwise, the relationship may 'languish' or cease. On-site exchanges are the most important, as they help to deepen an understanding of each other's cities. 

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