The Legend of the Ulmer Spatz (Ulm's Sparrow)
The sparrow is Ulm’s symbol, and lots and lots of things from Ulm have the name “Spatz” (plural: Spatzen), or the word “Spatz” or “Spatzen” incorporated in the name.
So for a start, people of Ulm are Spatzen. Ulmer Spatzen.
The major football team (SSV Ulm 1846) are called “die Spatzen”.
The famous boys’ choir is called “Spatzenchor”.
A hotel is named “Ulmer Spatz”.
And everything started with a “Spatzenhirn” (sparrow’s brain) which is the German/Swabian expression for people with no brains at all.
So it is a very brave move of the people of Ulm to stand by a nickname which points out that Ulmers are idiots. Or at least: were idiots. But as most people think of the harmless bird and not of its brain only when they hear that Ulmers are “Spatzen”, their first thought is that Ulmers must be a bunch of lovable chaps. Somehow cute. People in Germany use the word “Spatz” instead of “Schatz” which means: treasure and darling. In Schwäbisch we add the diminuative ending –le, so: “Spätzle”, which makes it even cuter. Little darling.
That is why we have chocolate Spatzen, and wooden Spatzen, Spatzen statues all over the place. And I love them all, although I have to say that I prefer some chocolate Spatzen – those of Café Tröglen – to others. They have been selling them since about 1860! Being no real Ulmer (I only lived there for nearly 24 years), I do not even have the problem of having to explain how my forefathers could be so stupid :-)
The legend goes as follows:
When Ulmers built their cathedral, the Ulmer Münster, they transported long timber logs into the city. They had loaded the logs across the wagon, so they could not get through the narrow city gate. They had lenghty discussions about how to solve the problem and were already willing to demolish the gate to get the timber to the cathedral, when suddenly a sparrow arrived with a long straw in its beak. The sparrow flew to an eave where he built his nest, and turned the straw lengthwise to push it into the narrow space. Instantly the coin dropped. After this enlightenment the craftsmen piled the wood lengthwise onto the wagon and passed the gate without a problem. In their gratitude they placed a memorial for the sparrow at the top of the Münster roof.
Spatzologists and Parrots
And well, as there really is this bird on the roof, whatever it originally was... It is a copper sparrow with a straw in its beak. In 1889, this copper sparrow BTW replaced a sandstone sparrow that had been on site from 1858 but was badly damaged by pollution. That one had replaced the original sparrow which has been demounted four years earlier and in fact was no sparrow, just a bird which looked more like a parrot… Sparrow investigators – so called “Spatzologists” – say it could have been an eagle or a pigeon, and was only there to mark the centre of the city. Others say the story is not even unique to Ulm, instead wide-travelled chatterboxes told it after trips to the north, and only in the early 1800’s. Read more about this hugely interesting issue – in German only – on this website:
The legend in a poem, found on a gift box with a wooden sparrow inside:
„Die Ulmer standen einst ratlos davor,
sie kamen mit dem queren Balken nicht durchs Tor.
Da stellten sie bei einem Spatzen fest,
er zieht den Halm einfach längs ins Nest.
Ein Spatz nicht dumm,
dreht den Stohhalm einfach um.“
So purist-Spatzologists say that the cathedral (foundation stone laid on 30 June 1377) was built long before the legend came up. But who cares? Only in 1890 Ulm had the highest church spire in the world, and at some point in between they might have had the transportation problem…
My end of the story:
As the Ulmers call themselves Spatzen you could even think the name does not symbolise their early stupidity but their intelligence to learn from, well… a small sparrow ;-)
On photo 2 you see (with eagle's eyes...) the sparrow sculpture on the roof of the Cathedral, the sparrow with a straw in its beak. I took the photo when climbing up the spire.
More than the Donau: Ulm is a Three River City
Everybody, well, nearly everybody… knows that Ulm is on the Danube (Donau). Less people know that the Danube is the border between the states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. And a lot less people know that Ulm is not only on the Danube but also on the rivers Iller and Blau. This mass of water creates the infamous fogs that often hang over the region. Many people have respiratory problems due to this weather phenonemon. If you approach Ulm from the west (Stuttgart) the fog mostly starts somewhere around Merklingen, so take care, there are fog warning signs along the Autobahn. From the east you certainly dive into the fog near Günzburg.
Both other rivers, Iller and Blau, flow into the Danube in or near Ulm. The Danube is a small river up to the confluence with the Iller south-west of Ulm. In fact the Iller carries most of the water that makes up the Danube you see in Ulm.
The Iller has its spring near Oberstdorf in the Allgäu region and is fed by the alpine streams of Breitach, Trettach and Stillach. The main towns on the Iller are Kempten im Allgäu and Memmingen. After 147 kilometres it flows into the Danube. There is a bicycle track along the whole length of the river. Kayaking is very nice on the first stretch, as it has moderate white water, but north of Kempten it is difficult due to many weirs and power stations. South of Ulm it is quite nice again and so smooth that it is suitable for beginners. The area of the Illerbrücke (bridge) near the suburb of Wiblingen is a popular swimming spot.
On the Iller Canal near Ulm they have created a white water paddle course.
The Blau is just a little stream with its spring at the Blautopf – an amazingly blue and green shimmering pond in the town of Blaubeuren – only 14.5 kilometres west of Ulm.
There is also a nice cycling track along the Blau between Blaubeuren and Ulm.
If you want to paddle on the Blau, you need a permit of the Conservation Department (Naturschutzbehörde Ulm) for the period from 1 March to 30 June.
Of course, the Danube is not just just water but also a source of entertainment. The rowing club URCD (Ulmer Ruderclub Donau) do all their training there, and also paddling is very popular. There are even two clubs, Ulmer Kanufahrer (UKF) and Ulmer Paddler. All clubs have their club rooms (and the rowing club quite a nice public restaurant) on the Neu-Ulm side of the Danube.
There are cruise boats operating on the river, and once a year the major part of Ulm’s city festival (Schwörmontag/extra tip soon), the so called Nabada (extra tip soon), takes place on the river.
The Christmas market takes place in Münster square. It is not one of the big tourist markets, rather an 'off the beaten path' tipp. I found the atmosphere very enjoyable and the assortment of the stalls quite nice. The little wooden huts gather in groups round the huge Münster steeple. The square is wide enough to allow enough space between them, you can move and don't find this squeezing and pushing through overcrowded narrow lanes other markets have.
Apologies, unfortunately I didn't take a single photo, I don't know what was wrong with me...
Climate in Ulm
Rainy season: There is no special rainy season
Avg. Temp. in Spring: max.: 8 – 18°C ( 47 - 64°F ); min: -1 - 7°C ( 30 - 44°F )
Avg. Temp. in Summer: max.: 21 – 22°C ( 70 - 72°F ); min: 10 - 12°C ( 50 - 52°F )
Avg. Temp. in Autumn: max.: 6 – 18°C ( 43 - 64°F); min: 0 - 8°C ( 32 – 47°F )
Avg. Temp. in Winter: max.: 1 – 3°C ( 34 - 48°F); min: -4 - -2°C ( 25 - 28°F )
Der Schneider von Ulm (The Tailor of Ulm)
We have quite some places in Ulm that remind of this genius who perhaps lived 150 years too early to become a global sensation. Instead, he was ridiculed and died as poor as a church mouse.
The tailor’s name was Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger. He was born on 24 June 1770 and died on 28 January 1829.
Go to Town Hall (Rathaus). If you walk up the stairs on the right side if you stand in front of it in Neue Straße, you get into the building. If you want to marry turn to the left ;-))) If you just want to see a replica of the tailor’s gliding apparatus, turn to the right, towards the central stairwell that sits in an atrium, with daylight pouring in through the roof. There they have hung up a red and white striped hang glider that looks like the one Mr Berblinger constructed to fly over the Danube. You will see that it would have been attached to the shoulders/upper arms with simple leather straps. To decide on the shape of the wings the tailor studied owls.
He invested all his money in the construction which took him several years.
Unlucky him he tried to fly over the Danube in 1811 from a kind of scaffolding at Adlerbastei and subsequently fell into the river. Tests with reconstructions of Berlinger’s glider on hills have proven that the machine was airworthy. The guy would have become a star and would forever have been registered as the inventor of paragliding.
This attempt of flying deserves some more words. On 30 May 1811, under the eyes of Württemberg’s King Friedrich, Berlinger did not fly – either because he was too nervous or because the wind was really not right. The next day he stood on his wooden tower again. There was no wind that would have carried him, and the uncomprehending crowd were laughing and joking, so Berblinger stood on his starting ramp forever until – it is said – a policeman pushed him, and Berblinger fell into the Danube.
He did not recover from this misadventure and lost reputation and income, and fell to the lowest level of Ulm’s society. He died from malnutrition.
175 years after the failed attempt Ulm had a competition where they wanted to find out if it was possible at all to fly over the Danube at the site where Berlinger had tried it. Only a modern paraglider succeeded, but only just. In this year it was proven that Berblinger’s apparatus could stay in the air if it is used on a hill.
The official inventor of such flying machines and paragliding is American Francis Melvin Rogallo who got the patent in 1951 – so 140 years after Albrecht Berblinger! Rogallo died on 1 September 2009, aged 92.
Famous German authors have written about Albrecht Berlinger. Max Eyth wrote a novel named “Der Schneider von Ulm. Geschichte eines zweihundert Jahre zu früh Geborenen“ (History of someone born two hundred years too early) in 1906. Bertold Brecht moved him in his 1934 ballad „Ulm 1592“ quite a bit from reality. He made the flight attempt happen more than 200 years earlier, replaced the King by a bishop, and made the tailor fly from the Cathedral’s spire… So, please, do not believe everything you read ;-)))
Poor Berlinger’s life was somehow marred from the beginning. He was born into a poor family. When his father died Albrecht Berlinger was only 13, and spent the rest of his teens in an orphanage. Although he wanted to become a watchmaker, they forced him to become a tailor. Despite being a master tailor at the age of 21, his interest in mechanics never ceased, and he invented several interesting things, for example orthopaedic aids. He invented the first artificial leg with articulated joint.
You will see miniatures of Berblinger’s gliding apparatus in most souvenir shops.
The Tailor of Ulm is also a popular figure you will see on Schwörmontag (Oath Monday) and during the Fishermen’s Joust.
In Town Hall you can also see a good model of the city.
Photo 2 shows a detail of the shoulder straps and the central wooden construction of the glider.