Munich Celebrates its Birthday

Picture source: flickr (kevinpoh)

Last weekend, Munich’s city centre was once again transformed into a giant fairground for the celebration of the city’s founding, which took place 855 years ago. The annual spectacle hosted a crafts village where artisans could display their skills as well as a tour through the craft stalls and a huge traditional Bavarian costume market. In addition, the entire city came out to enjoy the day with singing and dancing together in good old Bavarian tradition. Because Munich and its people use these days to look back with pride at their 855 years of history and Bavarian tradition, we also want to take this anniversary as an opportunity to introduce you to the Munich city coat of arms as a part of the city’s history.

The Current Coat of Arms

Today, the city of Munich has two coats of arms, the small official coat of arms and the great seal. The small coat of arms shows a monk standing on a silver background. He wears a black hooded robe with a gold fringe and red shoes. In his left hand, he holds a red book while his right hand is raised. With the monk on the coat of arms, it can be called a “speaking coat of arms” because the monk directly references the city’s name. The Old High German term for monk is “Munich” and the city was first mentioned by name in 1158 as “Munichen”. However, even the city historians disagree about how to interpret the monk and his gestures. The city’s official interpretation is that the monk is holding the city’s code of law in his left hand, since this book has a red binding. His right hand with an outstretched thumb, forefinger and middle finger is the gesture used when taking an oath. Another, more Christian interpretation of the emblem says that the red book is the Gospels and the hand is raised in blessing. In addition to the small coat of arms, there is also traditionally the great seal of the city. On this seal, the same monk is seen in the middle of a city gate with two red tin towers. The spires of the towers are decorated in bands of black and gold and stand on each side of a golden lion rampant. While the small arms is used by politicians, such as Munich’s mayor and other members of the city council, the great seal is used for representative purposes only.

The History of the Coat of Arms and Seal

Whichever interpretation of the monk is the truth, it is clear that he was already on the first medieval seals of the city, dating back to 1239. Since then, the small coat of arms has been changed slightly over the years. For example, under King Max I. Joseph, a royal crown, the golden lion, a sword and a shield with the letter M emblazoned on it were all added to the seal. This was an attempt by the king to show his embrace of the Enlightenment and freedom from the monks’ control. The conservative population complained about this change and King Ludwig I restored the monk to the city’s seal. The great seal has also seen numerous changes, depending on whoever was the city’s current ruler. In the thirteenth century, for example, an eagle on the great seal of Munich indicated its fealty to the Bishop of Freising; by the fourteenth century, this was replaced by the lion of the dukes of Bavaria. However, the great seal has boasted the lion rampant of the Wittelsbach dynasty since 1323.

If you also want to look at the coat of arms by yourself or learn more about the history of Bavaria’s capital, visit the Munich City Museum at St.-Jakobs-Platz 1. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am–6pm and it is just a short 10 minutes’ walk from the Platzl Hotel München. Alternatively, you can also take advantage of the convenient public transportation and take bus no. 62 from Viktualienmarkt towards Landshuterallee to the City Museum, a journey that will also take no more than 10 minutes. The staff at the Platzl Hotel München are of course happy to assist you in planning your excursion.

Picture source: flickr (Bastian Stein)

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