For someone not from Munich (like me), the Münchener Kindl is a little bit confusing. When I first heard it, I presumed it referred to a native… someone BORN in Munich. And although, I’ve heard people referring to themselves that way, it’s much more. It’s the symbol of Munich, and you see it all over the city. A monk with outstretched arms, holding a book in one hand and extending fingers in blessing with the other. So how did this symbol, this figure become known as the Münchener Kindl? What is the Muenchener Kindl? Why is it sometimes a chubby guy in robes and other times a child, or even a young woman leading the Oktoberfest parade? The Münchener Kindl has a long and interesting history on the coat of arms, and today, it’s a figure of pride for the city. The expression “Münchener Kindl” only goes back a few hundred years, but the symbol stretches back to the very origins of the city.
What is the Muenchener Kindl?
The city of Munich (München in German), started out as a stop on the Salzstraße (Salt Road) at the Benedictine Monastery by the toll bridge over the Isar river. Monks or Mönch in German, gave the city its name, München, and its symbol. On the city’s coat of arms a monk stands with outstretched arms… in one hand is a law or code book, the other holds out fingers, as if to give a blessing.
Over time, that symbol changed.
Around the 15th century, artists began re-imagining the monk’s image. Unofficial depictions of the Monk started showing up. Then in the 16th century, a sort of “Munich Mania” swept through the city, and suddenly, a version of the symbol was EVERYWHERE. What began as a stern monk in 1239 on the Coat of Arms changed radically. You would see a chubby monk holding a beer or a radish. Maybe a monk looking childish while sitting on a beer keg. Then finally the image changed to a boy in monk’s robes, then a gender neutral child with curly hair. (Similar to the Christkind or Christ Child).
A great example can be seen on the tower of the Neues Rathaus in the Marienplatz. Sculpton Anton Schmidt topped the tower with the Münchener Kindl to look down over the city. The model… his 9 year old son Ludwig Schmid-Wildy aka Wiggerl (I really love that nickname… you know the kid just couldn’t sit still).
“Wiggerl” the Muenchener Kindl on the New Rathaus Tower
Munich Coat of Arms
Still, the Coat of Arms remained a serious monk, until 1808 when King Max Joseph I ascended the throne. He changed the symbol to a Lion holding a shield with an M on it claiming it was time to end “Monk Barbarism”. This did NOT go over well with the citizens of Munich, and there were protests. By 1818 he backed down a bit, and put the silhouette of a monk’s head on the Lion’s Shield.
Ludwig I (the Oktoberfest King) loved the history of his city and his people. He brought the Monk back to the Coat of Arms wearing a black robe and holding his book. Right around this time, the citizens began referring to the monk as the Münchener Kindl. Then in 1865, Ludwig II (the Fairy Tale King), gave the monk red shoes and a red book. And so it stayed, until WWII. From 1936-1945, the coat of arms was adjusted to add the Nazi Swastika. By 1949, they went back to Ludwig’s Monk.
Finally, in 1957, graphic artist Eduard Ege designed the modern Coat of Arms that is seen all over town, from manholes to postcards.
Still, that doesn’t explain how the Münchener Kindl ended up a girl on a Horse leading the Oktoberfest Parade.
The Münchener Kindl and Oktoberfest
In 1930, the Münchener Kindl came to life when Ellis Kaut, author of the Pumuckl series, became the first Münchener Kindl. (Despite being from Stuttgart!).
Today, the Einzug der Festwurte (Grand Entry of Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries) is led by the Münchener Kindl. THIS version of the Kindl is a young woman in her 20s. She sits on a horse wearing black monk robes with yellow trim, and holds a Steinkrug (presumably, the job is thirsty work!). Her other Oktoberfest duty is leading the Trachten and Schützenumzug. This special parade of Tracht and Gun clubs highlights the cultural history of Munich and the Oktoberfest.
But it’s more than just sitting on a horse, since 1972, the job of Münchener Kindl is an ambassadorship of sorts for the city, and she even appears at State functions. The girl chosen MUST have been born in Munich, and her parents and grandparents also. This isn’t just a beauty contest! She should have good manners, a detailed knowledge of Munich and Bavaria, and good language skills. Generally the girl chosen is one of the daughters of an Oktoberfest Tent Landlord or Brewer, and she stays in the job for a few years.
What is a Münchener Kindl? It depends on who you ask!
Some say a monk, some say a child, others say a beautiful woman… but whatever image you choose, the Münchener Kindl is the symbol of the city of Munich!
And it’s EVERYWHERE!
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