Munich’s “Coopers Dance” dates to 1517 and is related to the Plague. The plague raged through Munich several times, specifically in 1463, 1515 and 1517. The first of these epidemics lasted from Christmas 1462 to St. Michael’s Day in 1463. In this time some 15,000 people died.
In later outbreaks strong measures were taken to attempt to keep infection at bay. For example, Munich closed all but two gates to the city: Neuhauser and Isartor. Both gates were strictly guarded and no one was allowed to pass without a health certification and a detailed health check. Merchants washed letters and money with vinegar and streets were blocked off when infection sprang up.
Despite the precautions the plague of 1517 killed thousands. No one was seen on the streets and the country people did not dare come to town, so there was a great food shortage. Misery had reached a new level and, even after the plague disappeared, no one dared to leave home. Despite the urging of doctors and public officials, all traffic stopped.
A wise citizen belonging to the Cooper’s trade (Barrel maker) came up with a new idea. Instead of pleading with the citizenry to return things to normal, he proposed an idea to encourage people to come out by way of an amusing spectacle. The other coopers support him and even the butchers got into the act. Cheerful, happy music was played and the cooper’s danced to prove that the air was again pure. At the end of the dance, the butcher’s apprentices jumped into the fish fountain at Marienplatz and thus proved that the water was safe as well. Soon the streets were once again a lively place filled with people.
This tradition is reenacted every 7 years on Marienplatz, but you can also see the Cooper’s dance every 2 years on Brewer’s Day (June 19). Daily, however, the tradition is memorialized in the second half of the Glockenspiel. For more information, you can see their website at http://www.schaefflertanz.com/
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