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Traditional Memmingen Festivals and Events

Every year on the penultimate Thursday before the (Bavarian) summer holidays, the Children's Festival takes place in Memmingen, and then the following Saturday is the Fisher Day. Every 4 years (next time in 2020), Wallenstein summer takes place.

The “Memmingen in Bloom” festival in May (the Saturday before Mothering Sunday) and the “Town Festival” in June have also now become traditions.

Stalls, stands and rides are set up at the Memminger Fair in October.

The Christmas market is opened by torchlight by the mayor and the “Christ child” in time for the first Sunday of Advent.

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Children’s Festival

Memmingen school children at the Children’s Festival
Die Kinder versammeln sich auf dem Marktplatz

The Children’s Festival is based on a 440-year-old tradition in which it was the custom for school children to go for a walk in spring. During this walk, the three best girl and boy pupils were chosen to be queens and kings.

Nowadays, all participating children from Memmingen’s infant and junior schools are given presents. At the end of the successful academic year, there is a church service for everyone, followed by singing and dancing in the market square.

Memmingen Children’s Festival on the market square
Festzug der Memminger Kinder

In the afternoon, the children form a fanciful procession and walk to the playing field in the stadium grounds.

The decorated pole that the children carry with them originates from decorated rods and royal regalia of sceptre and crown. This is actually the symbol of the Children’s Festival.

History of the Children’s Festival

First mention of the Children’s Festival
Historische Schrift

The history of the Children’s Festival is closely associated with the town of Memmingen’s academic history. As in the case of similar festivals in other towns, its mediaeval origins are largely in the dark but probably lie in the school classes going for a springtime walk during which the best pupils were commended.

The first mention of the festival was in the year 1571; more detailed information on the course of the festival is given in the “Order of the queens in the girls’ schools” dated 2 June 1587. The course of events described or specified in this document contains elements, some of which have been either maintained or slightly modified, that characterise today’s Children’s Festival. After the spring examinations “in religion and all other subjects, order and discipline, obedience and writing, all the girls went to church in the morning and at noon, after which they had lunch at the schoolmaster’s home. The girls were allowed to bring “two sausages, two slices of white bread, two eggs and a small coin. After that, the round dance was held during which particular attention was paid to the correct procedure and suitable attire.”

The best girl pupils were given a reward, crowned queens and were dressed in festive clothes. After the round dance had finished, the parents of the queens used to invite their schoolmasters, their wives and the queens for a meal. A walk finally took place a few days later. Due to the fact that the tradition was abused many times, the best boy and girl pupils were crowned for the last time in 1789.

Children’s Festival round dance (Küchlin water colour)
Kinderfest-Reigen (Küchlin-Aquarell)

After media presence started in the imperial town in 1802, the program of events of the Children’s Festival remained almost unchanged. The children sung songs together in the market square – before and after the celebratory church services – followed in the afternoon by the school children’s procession accompanied by music from the school years, later from Hallhof to the Reichshain. Here, different games were played under the teachers’ supervision. During the Second World War, the Children’s Festival was cancelled due to the scarcity of staffing, but also because of the shortage of food, sweets and clothing.

The Children’s Festival took place again for the first time in 1946; due to the economic situation, it was only possible for it to take place every year as of 1949. The incentive for the resurrection of the Children’s Festival came from the town councillor of the time Ernst-Wilhelm Hermann in collaboration with some teachers. In 1950 he wrote the text for the first Children’s Festival song which was then repeated every year (melody by Fridolin Schropp). A subsequent Children’s Festival song “Round dance on the green lawn” (lyrics by Sepp Skalitzky, melody by Adalbert Meier) was performed for the first time in 1969. The collection of songs was supplemented by the “Wake-up call” (lyrics and melody by Adalbert Meier) in 1975.

The Children’s Festival and Fisher Day have taken place in the week before the start of the summer holidays since 1955. An important factor for the Children’s Festival being continued was extensive reform in 1974 lead by the then chairman of the Children’s Festival committee, Herbert Müller. The basic idea of the Children’s Festival was to “praise” the pupils and this has been maintained for four centuries and is the central point of the festival which delights tens of thousands every year.

Reference:
Werner Habereder / Christoph Engelhard: Das Memminger Kinderfest.

Geschichte und Tradition, Memmingen 1998 (available in Memmingen Municipal Archive)

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Two days later, the traditional Fisher Day takes place ...

Waiting for the canon to sound
Die Fischer warten am Stadtbach

As early as centuries ago, a small stream from nearby Benninger Ried was channelled through the existing settlement of “Mammingin” for irrigation and drainage purposes. Once a year this calmly flowing stretch of water had to be drained off and cleaned. Before the cleaning process, it was at that time necessary to catch the trout. This task was carried out once a year in turn by workers from the different guilds of craftsmen. Nowadays, Memmingen’s stream (Stadtbach) fishers jump into the stream on Fisher Day and … if they are lucky might even become Fisher King!

Fishers in the town stream (Stadtbach)
Der Kampf um die Königsforelle im stadtbach

On the Friday evening, the bailiff, accompanied by the more fearless men of the Town Guard, announces the council decision to hold Fisher Day the next day. And when the guards and bailiff finish their day’s work by visiting one of the cosy wine bars in anticipation of the morning to come, the night watchmen patrol parade through the old part of the town singing the hour.

After the procession of all the old and young fishers on Saturday morning at 7.15 am, followed by a traditional fisher maxim read out by the head fisher on Schrannenplatz, a canon sounding at precisely 8 am marks the start of fervent fishing; the lucky man who manages to catch the heaviest and consequently the so-called “King Trout” in his net is crowned king the same morning and is celebrated by cheering crowds. His predecessor is given a hearty snack by way of consolation and is booted from the throne by an equally hearty kick.

History of Memmingen Fisher Day

Waiting for the canon to sound (1891)
Foto von 1891 der wartenden Fischer

The Memminger Ach comes from Benniger Ried and flows through the former imperial town of Memmingen. The water which is channelled was used for hundreds of years to drive mill wheels, the trades of dyers, bakers, brewers of beer, bathers and launderers (whose water consumption was often high) as well as smiths and common citizens (means of cooling). Since the water from the town stream carried all sorts of floating refuse and also carried away waste water from the town, cleaning the bed of the stream regularly was absolutely necessary. For this purpose, the water was drained out, which meant that it was also possible to repair damaged spots on bridges and mill equipment. 

Fishers in the town stream (1891)
Historische Aufnahme der Fischer im Stadtbach

There is written evidence dating from the 16th century about the customs and about why it was necessary to catch all the fish in the town stream and directly before it is cleaned. Since the late 19th century, they form the core of the Fisher Festival / Fisher Day. Joyful processions and convivial balls delighted the people of Memmingen who, as a community, owned the right to fish in the stream. Following the strong aim to create “something permanent”, Fisher Day in 1900 was organised by a municipal committee in a special way. Historical leitmotifs accompany the procession and are the focal point of a festival. Since those days, Fisher Day organised by a specially founded society – is the major annual traditional festival in Memmingen.

Essential elements of Fisher Day

Fisher Day 1825 (target disc)
Juhu, heut ist Bartholomae! (Schützenscheibe von 1825, bemalt mit einer Szene vom Ausfischen)

Throughout the centuries, the essential elements of Fisher Day have remained more or less unchanged; more elements have been added since 1950:

  • Performances are given by the Fisher Day’s drama group during the week before Fisher Day
  • Events are held the evening before including the proclamation of Fisher Day in the market square and cosy gatherings on the old squares and in old alleys on the Friday evening
  • Morning procession of fishers to the fisher maxim ceremony on Schrannenplatz on Fisher Day
  • Fish are caught in the town stream starting at 8 am
  • The Fisher King is crowned in the indoor arena
  • The remaining fish are caught in the town stream and there is bivouac on the Grimmelschanze in the afternoon
  • Evening Fisher King procession through the old streets
  • Festive evening events either in front of or in the civic hall
  • Folkloric event of the Fisher Day Society on Sunday morning
  • In 1980, the Wallenstein festival emerged from the "major Fisher Days" with specially created processions and theatrical performances about local history.

Reference: 
"Schmotz, Schmotz, Dreck auf Dreck, Schella König, wüaschta Sau".
100 Jahre Fischertagsverein in Memmingen, Memmingen 2000 (available from the Memmingen Fisher Day Society)

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Wallenstein summer in Memmingen

Reitergruppe (Plakat Wallensteinsommer)

Memories of Wallenstein’s stay in Memmingen in 1630 originate from retrospective looks at particular events in town history in the Fisher Day processions: During the major Fisher Days in 1925 and 1930, “Wallenstein’s entry into the imperial town” along with other historical themes was organised and staged by F.W. Göppel. During the preparation for the major Fisher Day in 1980, a new concept development of the procession was introduced. While the aim was to offer the people of Memmingen the opportunity to become involved on a voluntary basis in diverse ways which would consequently strengthen a sense of community, cheerfulness, awareness of history and personal initiative, the content and course of the major Fisher Day was switched to the theme of Wallenstein.

This theme is particularly suited to a festival that takes place on the squares and in the entrenchments of Memmingen’s old town. Material for creating, the festival, procession and theatrical productions is obtained from chronicles, above all those of Sebastian Dochtermann. The performance is based on a short period during the 30-year war, which many contemporaries considered to be a reprieve: “because while the duke was in town, everything was pleasant and safe” (Dochtermann Chronicles). Right from the beginning, great importance has been attached to original historical details and to outfitting everyone concerned (costumes, tools, weapons) as perfectly and with as much attention to detail as possible. Largely due to the fact the Fisher Day Society, the town, local business and a large number of citizens have cooperated in a very fruitful way, it has been possible to produce approx. 1500 weapons and 4000 costumes based on historical examples. Roughly 3000 citizens of Memmingen take part in the festival in very diverse groups. 

The citizens of Memminger re-enact the history of their town
Teilnehmer in historischen Kostümen

The Wallenstein summer has been organised several times since 1980: 1983, 1987 and 1992 and since then at regular 4-year intervals. The theatrical performances last for a week, beginning on the Sunday after Fisher Day. The course of events and focal points take inspiration from the concept development by the main organiser of many years and head fisher, Hermann Pfeif

     

  • Festive evening to mark the opening of Wallenstein summer (a few days before Fisher Day),
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  • Inspection of weavers’ ware (on the 1st and 2nd Sunday): Wallenstein inspects the products of various craftsmen on the market,
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  • Wallenstein enters the town, accompanied by envoys and lords, together with 2500 soldiers, 300 horses, magnificent carriages and wagons into the town as well as several harnessed horse teams (on the 1st and 2nd Sunday),
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  • Depiction of old trades with tools that are either historically genuine dating from the 17th century or which have been reproduced (on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday),
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  • Historical market on the market square,
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  • Historical theatrical performance (open-air performances on the market square, daily),
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  • Camp games on the Grimmelschanze and equestrian games on the Reichshain (daily),
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  • Historical church service in St. Martin’s church in historical style and with a historical order of service. The citizens attend in historical costumes and Prince Ulrich of Denmark enters (on the 2nd Sunday).

Reference: 
Wallenstein-Sommer 1630 in Memmingen. 
Die Bürger einer Stadt spielen ihre Geschichte, Memmingen 1997 (available from Memmingen Fisher Day Society)

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Fair

Memmingen fair at Westertorplatz
Blick auf den Memminger Jahrmarkt

Markets are an important ingredient of municipal life; the right to hold markets therefore frequently appears at the beginning of urban development and wealth and riches are based on this. The Guelphic-Stauffer settlement of Memmingen, situated on a commercial crossroads received confirmation from King Rudolf of Habsburg in 1286 that it had the right to hold a market every week on Tuesday. Saturday was added as a market day in the 16th century. More markets for wood, wine, fish, cabbage, wool, horses, cattle, poultry and cereal shaped the image of the town over the centuries and even today these markets are reflected in some of the place names.

The three-day market was first mentioned in 1541 has started on the first Tuesday after

St. Gallus’ Day (October) since the middle of the 18th century in Weinmarkt and was later extended to Rossmarkt, Schweizerberg, Westertorplatz and into Maximilianstrasse. A fairground was added around 1900 at the latest and its rides and stalls on St. Josefskirchplatz, Königsgraben and Kaisergraben as well as at Westertorplatz still delight visitors.

Reference:
Heinz Beyer: Memminger Jahrmarkt. ... das Auf und Ab in der Zeit von 1910 bis 1995, Memmingen, 1996 (can be viewed in the reading room of the  muncicipal archites in Grimmelhaus)

 

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Christmas market

Memmingen Christmas market
Blick über den Christkindlesmarkt bei Nacht

A Christmas market has taken place in Memmingen for 50 years. It was originally brought into being in order to give Memmingen’s travelling entertainers the opportunity to earn money in the cold season too. The Christmas market used to be held in Hallhof, but since the market square was turned into a traffic-free zone, the market has found its home there.

The Christmas market is opened by torchlight by the mayor and the “Christ child” in time for the first Sunday of Advent. Christmassy goods are sold on about 30 stalls set against the backdrop of the town hall, guild house, tax house and beautiful town houses until a few days before Christmas. There is also plenty to eat and drink on the many stalls which are adorned with Christmas decorations. Visitors are also entertained by choirs and brass bands and for young visitors there is a clown , St. Nicolas distributes presents at the weekends and the “Christ child” tells fairy tales on Saturday afternoon. Another special feature is the Memmingen heavenly grotto - a heated tent in which the Advent season is reflected on sometimes in a humorous way and which also offers a place of retreat for contemplation.