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.
For members


Living in Germany: Shorter work weeks, €9 tours and hitzefrei

In our weekly roundup for Germany we look at the debates around shortening the work week, tours around the country and what happens when it gets too hot.

Living in Germany: Shorter work weeks, €9 tours and hitzefrei

Is it possible to have a good work-life balance in Germany?

It’s something that most of us struggle with – how do you balance your job with having a fulfilling private life? We don’t have the answer to that unfortunately, but our story on the German debate on weekly working hours really made us think. Some other countries, such as Belgium and Iceland have taken steps towards offering employees a shorter working week. Meanwhile, the UK is carrying out a massive trial on a four-day week, with 70 companies trying out shorter working hours for six months. In Germany, things haven’t progressed that far, but it is encouraging to see that some companies are thinking about changing how we work. For instance, the Hamburg-based software firm Knowhere will let employees switch to a four-day, 32-hour work week from August for the same salary, and Vereda, a marketing firm in Munster, has already put in place the same system. 

As the world of work changes and we all strive to achieve a better balance, do you think Germany should push for a shorter working week? It certainly would be nice to celebrate Feierabend that little bit earlier. Let us know your thoughts: [email protected]

Tweet of the week

We love the idea of this tour of Germany with the €9 ticket. We’re still trying to think up ideas to add to the list…

Where is this?

To mark the summer solstice on June 21st, visitors gathered at the ring shrine (Ringheiligtum) of Pömmelte in Saxony-Anhalt.

Photo: DPA/Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

To mark the summer solstice on June 21st, visitors gathered at the ring shrine (Ringheiligtum) of Pömmelte in Saxony-Anhalt. The historical site dates back to the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age. According to experts, our ancestors celebrated seasonal festivals here.

Did you know?

With summer in full swing, temperatures have been rising. But is it ever too hot to go to work (or school) in Germany? Actually, that can happen. As you’ll no doubt be aware, most homes and many public buildings in Germany don’t actually have air conditioning unlike other hot countries. Of course, Germany doesn’t really need air conditioning for most of the year, but in these summer months it wouldn’t go amiss. 

So if things do get unbearable, German schools and workplaces can declare hitzefrei (literally, heat free), and that means pupils or employees can take the rest of the day off due to excessive heat. However, as you’d expect there’s a few rules around this, which we’ve detailed in this article written in the heatwave of summer 2019. 

READ ALSO: 8 of the coolest places in Germany to visit on hot summer days

If you are having to go to a workplace, your employer should make sure that there are no health hazards. That could mean buying a fan for the office, blinds or giving a special clothing allowance if you’re having to work outside. The decision on getting a day off generally has to be a decision taken by your boss. On very hot days, you’ll sometimes find that cafes or shops close and leave a sign on the door that says: hitzefrei! And the rules on overheated classrooms and when to send kids home depends on the state legislation. Wherever you are during the summer we recommend you stay hydrated, get that sun cream on and wear a hat. 

Thanks for reading,

Rachel and Imogen @ The Local Germany 

This article is also sent out as a weekly newsletter just to members every Saturday. To sign up and get it straight into your inbox just go to your newsletter preferences.