Let the stream show the way: a tour of the historic centre of Memmingen. The history, stories and secrets of the former Imperial City in the heart of Bavarian Swabia. Attractions and secret tips for a city break. Text: Florian Kinast. Photos: Tobias Gerber
Nothing but trouble at home. The daughter has just in all seriousness turned down a third proposal of marriage. And yet she’s already 20 years old. That girl should have been long since wed. Given such unhappy thoughts, a bit of diversion is welcome.
Let’s swing past the place of execution. Apparently the man they hanged today was really fat. Perhaps the hangman will sell off a few ounces of felon’s blubber. It’s a well-known remedy for gout and toothache. Or how about a quick trip to the witches’ tower? I wonder if they’ve thrown another adulterer into the dungeon…?
This is just one way to learn about the town and its history. Sabine Streck and Heidi Stölzle dress in historical costumes and take visitors on a wonderfully entertaining walk through 17th century Memmingen. They call themselves the “Desperate Housewives of the 17th century”. An excursion into a really unpleasant past.
Memminger Ach: follow the stream
There are other ways to learn about the secrets of modern Memmingen and get a sense of its great charm. Perhaps the best way is to follow the Memminger Ach, deviating left and right along the way. The stream is a thread that runs through the town. It’s an easy route for visitors to follow.
An ideal starting point is Steinbogenstraße, 100 metres south of the station, where the young stream emerges from the neighbouring Benninger Ried and crosses the border to Memmingen’s old town. On the left is the Weberviertel, a district named after the weavers who once lived and worked there. Their woven goods were exported with great success around the world. A kind of World Wide Web of warp and weft.
Frauenkirche: Late Gothic with Happy Hour
Next comes the Frauenkirche, a church in classic Swabian Late Gothic style. One of the oldest churches in Upper Swabia, it offers a strikingly modern programme: alongside traditional services, it frequently runs a Happy Hour as a way of attracting people who know very little about church and religious beliefs.
The stream, a source of calm and energy
Further along, the route follows the delightful murmur of the stream, as it carves its way ever further into the historic heart of this town. Christoph Baur stands at the end of the Hirschgasse, just before the stream disappears from view and passes unobserved below the Schrannenplatz. Even a stream needs some time to itself.
For Baur, who grew up in Memmingen, the stream is a source of calm and energy, a place to recharge his batteries. He often comes here in his lunch break or before work, and doesn’t have far to come.
Just nearby in Baumstraße, under the vaulted ceilings of a building dating from the 15th century, this graphic designer runs his successful agency Pfandfrei, a small business with four employees and a wide portfolio of different customers: from small craft breweries to a large luxury hotel in Munich. Baur himself lived in Munich for ten years before returning home in 2006 and setting up his own PR company.
The Fischertag attracts 40,000 spectators
Of course, life in Munich was fantastic and exciting, says Baur. “But here, this is home.” For him, home means strolling through the weekly market stalls on a Tuesday and a Saturday, talking to the stallholders.
Home for Baur is also the annual gunshot that is fired at eight o’clock in the morning one Saturday before the summer holidays: it marks the start of the centuries-old tradition of the Fischertag, or Fisherman’s Day, which involves more than 1,000 fishermen and up to 40,000 spectators. Home is also getting up early on a working day and breathing in the smell of freshly baked bread and pretzels that emanates from the many small bakeries in the town’s narrow streets.
Off to Theaterplatz
After taking a short breather under the Schrannenplatz, the stream makes a gentle right-hand curve into the Obere Bachgasse. To the right is the start of the pedestrian zone with the Theaterplatz, which was given a completely new look in 2010 through a refurbishment project known as the “Neue Schranne”.
It has both shops and cafes, creating the perfect ambience for an onward stroll through the old town. That is also typical of Memmingen: whether it’s a small bistro with three tables beside the entrance or a spacious inn, it’s hard to avoid the many catering establishments that line the route of a walk through Memmingen. Whenever you turn from one narrow street to the next, you find yet another inviting café.
The fountain on Weinmarkt: A hint of freedom
A slim tower rises up on Weinmarkt - nine metres high and made from twelve bronze panels stacked one on top of the other: the Freedom Fountain by artist Andy Brauneis commemorates the Twelve Articles of 1525. After the Magna Carta of 1215, they count as the first written demands for basic and human rights. They form part of the peasants’ demands of the Imperial State of the Swabian League.
The Twelve Articles can be read as you walk round the engraved stone plinth, while the water does not spray forth from a funnel as a traditional fountain but instead emerges from invisible nozzles and forms a soft mist in the Memmingen air. A hint of freedom.
Back along the stream through the Untere Bachgasse and to the famous church of St. Martin, one of Memmingen’s most well-known landmarks - and for artisan Rita Fink a place full of memories.
Chokers, bracelets and the Mother of God
As a child, Rita Fink used to come to Memmingen with her parents from her village in Illerwinkel. Once or maybe twice a year. “The trip was always a highlight,” she recalls. Her favourite place was St. Martin, partly because the steps were so good for climbing. She actually wanted to be a goldsmith, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, she trained at a long-established family butcher’s.
"My favourite place was St. Martin, partly because the steps were so good for climbing"
15 years ago, Fink finally found her way into the world of arts and crafts and began to make decorative elements of traditional costume: hairpins, bracelets, chokers and brooches. She also got involved with religious art, creating Madonna figures and holy images, from the Mother of God in a glass case to baby Jesus in a wooden box.
As she twists a tiny piece of wire to form a colourful rose for a necklace, it feels to her like a form of meditation. She also feels thoroughly relaxed as she cycles the six kilometres to Memmingen from her home in Ungerhausen and wanders through the town.
To the steps of St. Martin, to the Zollergarten, a green refuge in the north of the old town, directly behind the Town Hall, or to the Roßmarkt and Schweizerberg, where she takes a stand every year at the spring market, Memmingen in bloom. For artisan Fink, Memmingen is a true pearl.
The jet-set parties of the Great Guild
On the way to the Marktplatz, the heart of the city, Streck tells more anecdotes. Of the Siebendächerhaus, where the tanners dried their skins. Of the Blauen Saul, where according to legend a councillor was so intoxicated at the end of a pub crawl that when he leant against a pillar, he turned the whole thing blue. Of the magnificence of the Großzunft (Great Guild) at one end of the Marktplatz, in which the elite jet-setting society Zum Goldenen Löwen would let rip with their wild carousing.
On to Ulmer Tor
The way keeps heading north along the Ulmer Straße, with a working class residential district on the right: bordering the canal, which in those days was a dirty, toxic rivulet running through the town.
Not like today, where on its last few metres of its journey through the old town, this wonderful stream swings round towards the Ulmer Tor before vanishing behind the city wall. Naturally, you can still follow the Memminger Ach another 20 kilometres to the point at which it joins the Iller. Or you can turn round. All in all, there is still plenty to discover in Memmingen, on both sides of the stream.