Germany’s ‘fisher king’ contest should be open to women, court rules

An Allgäu woman has won a significant court battle in her fight to partake in the town's annual Fisher's Day festival alongside men. Will it affect other clubs around Germany?

Germany's 'fisher king' contest should be open to women, court rules
Men compete in the Fisher's Day festivities on July 20th 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

For years, Christine Renz was one of thousands of spectators standing on the sidelines as men hopped into the local stream of Memmingen, Bavaria, and battled to catch the biggest trout.

According to her own club – the Fisher’s Day Association – women aren’t allowed to compete for the coveted title of Fisher King in the annual festival because they would be putting local traditions in jeopardy. 

READ ALSO: Man takes east German town to court for not crowning him Apple Queen

But Renz’s longstanding battle against the association has now been supported by the Memmingen district court, which has overruled an appeal by the association to protect their right to ‘men only’ fishing.

Now, the case could have far-reaching ramifications for other ‘male-only’ traditions across Germany.

In his ruling on Wednesday, judge Konrad Beß said that the “special rights” outlined for male members in the association’s statutes are “no longer justified” by the argument of protection tradition. 

In principle, clubs are free to set their own rules for taking part in events – but, according to the court, if they treat members differently, this has to be justified by the purpose of the organisation. The custom of fishing in Memmingen is, however, “not an absolutely faithful replica” of a historical event. 

READ ALSO: Three women win Hamburg scholarship awarded to those who plan to ‘do nothing’

That means women can participate without endangering regional customs and values, Beß said. 

Fisher’s Day ‘five hundred years old’

Every summer on Fisher’s Day, participants jump into the Memminger Stadtbach (the local stream) and fetch trout out of the water with giant nets.

Whoever catches the biggest fish is crowned the Fishing King. According to the association, this tradition can be traced back to the 16th century, when the stream was fished once year to clean the waters. Women have been excluded from this by statute since 1931.

Jürgen Ziegler, the 2018 Fisher King, sits on his throne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

What does this mean for equality?

The judgment of the Memmingen district court could set a precedent for women’s participation in other male-only traditions in Germany. 

The ruling went “beyond the individual case” to be “of particular importance for the general public,” he said.

READ ALSO: Lyniv becomes first woman conductor at Germany’s Bayreuth Festival

The first chairman of the Fisher’s Day Association, Michael Ruppert, was dismayed at the ruling. “This is a day that could affect many, many clubs all over Germany,” he said, adding that it was “a shame that club autonomy was not put in the foreground”.

Following the judgement, the Bavarian State Association for the Fostering of Regional Traditions called for a calmer debate on the issue. The assumption that customs would or should not change is a historical misunderstanding, said a spokesperson for the Department for Customs, Costume, Language, Michael Ritter. 

“We just have to recognise that there is no loss in change, but rather a gain,” he said.

‘Memmingen Fisher’s Day will change’

However, the ruling on Wednesday is not yet a final decision as to whether women are allowed to participate equally at the Fisherman’s Day in Memmingen.

Due to the significance of the case, the regional court has allowed the possibility of an appeal at the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe. Having already lost its first appeal at the district court, the Fisher’s Day Association will decide whether to take this step at a delegates’ meeting on Thursday.

Christiane Renz, the complainant against the Fisher’s Day rules, says she’s ready for next year’s event. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

But Memmingen’s Mayor Manfred Schilder (CSU) emphasised on Wednesday that the judgment of the regional court was clear.

“It is now a matter of organising Fisher’s Day accordingly,” he said. “Our home festival, the Memmingen Fisher’s Day, will change”

Renz, meanwhile, is already anticipating submerging her feet in the water of the stream at the next Fisher’s Day. 

“The shoes are ready,” she said. “I’ll be at the stream on time to jump in.” 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Where to celebrate Diwali 2022 in Germany

The holiday of Diwali kicks off on Monday. Here's where you can celebrate all around Germany.

Where to celebrate Diwali 2022 in Germany

With over 100,000 Indians in Germany, and over 175,000 people of Indian descent, it’s little wonder that Diwali – the famous five day Hindi festival of lights starting this year on Monday October 24th – is being celebrated all around the Bundesrepublik

READ ALSO: Indians in Germany: Who are they and where do they live?

Even the House of Parliament in Frankfurt is honouring the holiday for the first time with a special reception on October 30th.

Diwali takes its name from the clay lamps or deepa (the event is sometimes called Deepawali) that many Indians light outside their home. With the days shortening in Germany, there’s all the more reason to celebrate light — especially over lively music, traditional dance and authentically spicy Indian cuisine.

We have rounded up some of the top events to celebrate around Germany, both the week of Diwali and afterwards, stretching into mid-November. If you have an additional event to suggest, email us at [email protected]

October 24th in Heidelberg

Happen to be in Heidelberg? Then it’s not too late to head to the Sweet Home Project, which will be cooking up a storm starting at 6:30pm. The menu includes an assortment of Indian sweets and savoury dishes. The collective only asks that participants bring along a candle (and a hearty appetite).

If you miss this event, and are still craving some (really) spicy traditional cuisine, the Firebowl Heidelberg is hosting a Diwali party on October 29th, replete with lots of food and drink and Bollywood beats the whole night. 

October 29th near Frankfurt

For those who fancy a Feier with a full-buffet, this celebration in Dreieich delivers through an all-you-can-eat dinner with traditional fare. Starting at 5pm and stretching into the early hours of the morning, the festive feast includes traditional Bollywood music by Derrick Linco. There’s also a dance party for kids, who receive free admission up to seven years old and €25 up to 14 years. Normal tickets go for €40 per person.

A previous Diwali celebration of traditional dance and music in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Sebastian Kahnert

November 4th near Düsseldorf

On November 4th at 6pm, the Deutsch-Indische Gesellschaft Düsseldorf will be hosting a family-friendly party in nearby Ratingen with classical Indian music and dance, a huge dinner and Bollywood music led by DJ SA-ONE. Tickets cost about €40 each, but children under six receive free entry. 

November 5th in Bonn 

The Indian Students Association of Bonn-Cologne will be hosting its biggest event of the year: for €10, event goers can try an array of Indian food, play classic games and tune into cultural performances. 

READ ALSO: Moving from India to Munich changed my life

November 12th in Essen 

Whether you like traditional bhajans or meditative ragas, this concert will capture many of the classic sounds of Indian music with artists such as Anubhab Tabla Ensemble, Debasish Bhattacharjee and Somnath Karmorak taking center stage. The performance starts at 5pm and costs €10. 

November 12th and 13th in Berlin

Indian food fans will get to enjoy 12 stands devoted to Indian cuisine and products, all coming from the local Indian community. The weekend-long festival will also include stand-up comedy from the Desi Vibes Comedy Group. Karaoke fans will also enjoy singing along with the Sounds of India group, followed by an after party on Saturday. All this only costs €2 at the door.