Court rules: Women must be allowed to compete for Fisher King title

Court rules: Women must be allowed to compete for Fisher King title

Court judges in Germany have ruled that women must be allowed to participate in a 500-year-old competition, in which contestants battle to catch the largest trout.

The crowning of the Bavarian Fisher King

Court judges have ruled that women must be allowed to participate in Fisherman’s Day, a 500-year-old competition that sees hundreds of men jump into the Memminger Stadbach (the local river which runs through the town of Memmingen in Bavaria) to try and catch the largest trout. Whoever catches the largest fish is declared the Fisher King. After the competition, the river is drained and the canal is cleaned.

According to the Fischertagsverein (Fisher's Day Club), which hosts the event every year, the tradition dates back to the 16th century. However, since 1931, a club statute has excluded women from taking part in the event, stating that only men who have lived in the town for at least five years can participate. Women are only permitted to stand on the banks of the river, holding buckets to collect any fish caught.

Fishing is not just for men

Christiane Renz recently sued the club after being prohibited from taking part in the contest, despite having been a member of the club for 25 years. A district court ruled in her favour. This was challenged by the club and the case was taken to the state court, which also sided with Renz. The state court has allowed for the Fischertagsverein to appeal to the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe. The club will decide its next course of action after a delegates’ meeting this week.

The court ruled that, while clubs are free to set their own rules, they must justify the decision to treat members differently, should they decide to do so. The presiding judge, Konrad Beß, said that the sole participation of male members during Fisherman’s Day is “no longer justified” by the club's argument that it is protecting local history and culture. The court decided that the event in Memmingen is not a faithful reproduction of the historical tradition and thus women could take part without breaking any traditions.

Setting a precedent

The ruling could set a precedent in Germany, paving the way for women’s participation in other male-only traditions. It has thus has been met with some criticism, with the first chairman of the club, Michael Ruppert, stating that it was “a pity that the association autonomy was not in the foreground."

On the other hand, the Bavarian State Association for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage called for a calmer debate on the topic, with spokesperson Michael Ritter suggesting that it is a historical misunderstanding that traditions and customs should not change. “We just have to recognise that there is no loss in change, but rather a gain,” he said.

Memmingen Mayor Manfred Schilder agreed to honour the courts' decision. “It is now a matter of organising Fisher’s Day accordingly,” he said. “Our home festival, the Memmingen Fisher’s Day, will change.” Renz also expressed her delight at the decision: “My shoes are ready,” she said. “I’ll be at the stream on time to jump in.”

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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