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Fishermen's and Tanners' Quarter

View of the Fishermen's Quarter

© Stadt Ulm

No guest is allowed to leave Ulm without visiting Fishermen’s Quarter. The experience is absolute idyll: a concentrated sequel of small lanes, tiny bridges and plazas, an abundance of half timbering and an endless selection of quaint guesthouses and cafes. Since the end of the 70ies the former craftsmen’s quarter has turned into a fashionable society spot. Entering the Fishermen’s Quarter in correct historical order, we go down the “Katherinenberg”. The name applies to an ancient, hardly noticed slope on the southwest corner of the “Schwörhaus” (Oath House); during the times of the palatinate donkeys carried sacks of flour and other food stuffs from the mills and depots at the Blau river up to the palace on the Weinhof (= wine court). On the way down we pass the square stones of the Staufen wall, defending the palace and part of the city in the 13th century.

View of the Leaning House

© Stadt Ulm

Right in front of this wall the “Schiefes Haus” (Leaning House, Schwörhausgasse 6)  hovers above the Blau river. The history of this most popular Ulm residence and its inhabitants reflects the history of fishermen’s quarter. Originally fishermen did indeed live here, proven by a basin found in the cellar, its purpose clearly to store the catch alive. Later the house went to other craftsmen. In the 19th century a process of sophistication began along with the industrialization, illustrated by the professions of the residents: swine herds, factory workers and for some time the completely impoverished widow of the unfortunate Ulm Tailor have lived here. Today, following an expensive and lovingly executed restoration, the Leaning House is an exclusive and definitely unique hotel, its slanting floors awarding the guests the rare opportunity to feel thoroughly inebriated without drinking a drop.

The house finds itself in this legendary leaning position because the southern side actually sits in the Blau river. The river bottom gave way to the weight of the building, which kept on leaning, the residents trying to counteract with dumping raises inside. This did nothing but increase the weight on the south side – thus increasing the lean even more until the restoration in 1995 stopped the ruinous process and the framework literally breathed in relief. When the Leaning House was enlarged in 1443 from its former small size into today’s dimensions, it was still located outside the protective city walls. Even though the former Staufer city was massively expanded starting in 1316, the eastern part of Fishermen’s Quarter – the area around today’s Fishermen’s Plaza – was left outside of the fortifications. The wall led from Fisher Tower in the area of today’s “Wilhelmshöhe” height on the Danube across the pig market and the Häusles Bridge at the Guesthouse Forelle up to the Staufen wall at almost a right angle.

View of the Fishermen's Quarter

© Copyright: Monika Gunst

Who lived in this area, which obviously didn’t seem worth protecting? The oldest report on the social ranking of Fishermen’s Quarter goes back to the Dominican monk Felix Fabri. In 1488 he wrote: ”On the southern side, in the outer part of the city to the west, where the Danube flows in, there is the high and massive Fisher Tower, called by that name, because next to it are the residences of the fishermen and their women, a dull sort of people.” There isn’t much room for interpretation in this statement, giving reason to belief that the reputation of Fishermen’s Quarter at the time was similar to that of the dockside quarter of some other cities today.

A short time prior to Fabri denouncing the Ulm fisher women in this way, the new Danube city wall – one of today’s city symbols – was built “into the strongest current of the Danube” in 1480. Finally this part of Fishermen’s Quarter was protected from enemy missiles as well. Below was a small breach in the wall, the entry gate, enabling late guests to enter the city after the evening closing of the other city gates – however, only coming from the opposite bank of the Danube, from where the fishermen had to ferry them across. They rode in through the narrow gate, still visible in the city wall today, landing at the “Gumpen”, a small harbor like spot within the walls.

Today’s access gates to the Danube have been broken into the wall more recently. This applies to the hole at the end of “Vaterunsergasse” (= Lord’s prayer lane). The horror stories about the name are definitely just that, stories. According to legend, during the time of plague  the cadavers of the victims were thrown into the river from here after murmuring one last prayer while transporting them through the lane. Actually the lane is called by the Lord’s prayer, because going by traditional time measuring, it takes exactly one Lord’s prayer to walk it’s length.

The net- and rope boilers were also members of the Fishermen’s and Boat Guild. Since the 30-Year War they worked inside the city for safety reasons. The remains of a rope boiling shop were unearthed in 1999 during the restoration of Schwörhausgasse 3. Being quite a rare find, it  was preserved and turned into a small museum.

View of the Fishermen's Quarter

© Copyright: Monika Gunst

However, the strongest characteristic of the Fishermens Quarter was contributed by the tanners. The correct name for the area along the Blau river arms south of Neue Straße should actually be Fishermen’s and Tanners’ Quarter. This strongly aromatic craft – separation of meat and fat from the hide of dead cattle utilizing an artificial process of decay – requires lots of water. Therefore the tanners, their guild still counting 22 masters in 1786, built their houses on the Blau river. They added platforms to wash the hides and put wooden panels on the outer façade to protect the walls from the acidic brew dripping from the skins hung to dry from the upper floors’ galleries.

These tanners’ houses are the main character features giving a picturesque face to the exemplary restored “Blaufront” along the bigger arm of the Blau river – contrasting sharply with the low slung former cavalry barracks, dated 1702, on the opposite bank. The row of tanners’ houses used to extend all the way to the Stone Bridge. However, this part of the tanners lane north of Neue Straße was destroyed in World War II.Next to fishing and just as old, the second economic factor within the quarter were the mills. It is even assumed that the alemannic duke’s and later king’s court was located on the Weinhof because of the good location for a mill underneath at the Blau river.  The oldest mill was Isaac’s mill (today Fischergasse 16), belonging to the “Stadelhof” , the palatinate’s working quarters. A total of seven mills were located on both arms of the Blau river in today’s Fishermen’s Quarter. The most northern one, Lochmühle, has been restored as one of the first objects in 1977.

“Ulm money rules the world” – a well-known phrase. However, it definitely did not apply to those bad coins minted during the 30 Year War in the building called “Ulmer Münz” (= Ulm Mint, Schwörhausgasse 4) today. The name is a bit of a problem since the house was actually used as an extension of the actual mint for no more than four years, 1620 to 1624. The real mint was located in the Burkhard mill, situated on the Blau as well, destroyed without a trace. The mass production of a low quality coin necessitated the expansion to another building at the time.

Next to the Ulm Mint and the Leaning House, the Beautiful House as well as the Guilds’ House are standard features of a tour of Fishermen’s Quarter. Today, a fishing boat and a painting of former long distance destination Belgrade in front of the Beautiful House (“Schönes Haus”, Fischergasse 40) remind us of the master sailors who used to live in this house, its core dating back to late medieval origins. The neighboring  Sailors’ Guild House (“Zunfthaus der Schiffsleute”) was restored in 1977, displaying again the reinstated hall with 4 meters height, used to store the boats in winter. The Ulm Sailors Club resides on the top floor. The club stores all props for the Fishermen’s Jousting celebrated every 4 years. The oldest guesthouse in the area is the “Forelle” (=Trout), also called “Häusle” (=little house) namesake for the Häusle bridge. Jakob Schwenk, innkeeper among the fishermen, received his permit to serve there by the city council as early as 1626. The name “Forelle” can be traced back and documented to 1695.

View of the statue at the sow market

© Stadt Ulm

The heart of Fishermen’s Quarter is the “Saumarkt” (sow market). Officially it is called Schweinmarkt (pigs market), however, this is usually rejected as an unnecessary affability to written German. Neither of the names can be that old since the pigs market, held here still in the 20th century, was not installed there until the 18th century.
The Saumarkt is considered the center of the “Räsen” as the natives of Fishermen’s Quarter, descendants of the fishermen and sailors, proudly call themselves. “Räs” may be translated with “rough” and it describes the species’ behavior. One of these individuals, Wilhelm Molfenter alias “Schelle”, gave his own special welcome to the troops returning from the French-German War in 1871. Using a rafting rope, he lowered an adorned portrait of Bismarck and a sign out of his window. The sign read:

“Even on this market of pigs,
lives true German loyalty.
And here upon this rope
hangs Germany’s biggest luck and hope”

The legend tells us that the police did move against this politically incorrect statement. The phrase itself, at least the first two lines, became immortal and may be admired today, etched in stone at the house Schweinmarkt 3. Schweinmarkt 1 used to triumph with a Latin version:

“Et in foro porcorum stat fides firma Germanorum”.

The most splendid days for the Saumarkt arrive every four years, when the parade is formed there to start the Fishermen’s Jousting. Spectators’ eyes and cameras feast upon a colorful scene: More than 300 costumed parade participants milling around trying to find their place in the parade. Through the midst of the melee the horses of the mounted city guard romp about, fertilizing the paving stones.
 In the shadows of the Lauseck Bastion drums tell the old tale of the cuckolded farmer and his wife, danced by the traditional figures of  peasant couple and jesters.
When the jousting is over in the afternoon, victors and losers celebrate themselves long into the night on the nearby Fishermen’s Plaza (“Fischerplätzle”). At that time Fishermen’s Quarter – even while teeming with foreign visitors – is somehow back in the firm grip of the “Räsen”.