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The Ulm Sparrow

The Ulm Sparrow

The sparrow is Ulm’s unofficial heraldic animal. They identify themselves with this bird, they call themselves, their children’s and youth choir as well as their soccer players of SSV 1846 „Sparrows“. They have mounted a copper sparrow, which even used to be gold-plated on their Münster’s roof, they pack chocolate-sparrows when travelling to visit friends. Their national holiday, Oath Monday, is incomplete without the ear-shattering cheer: „ Ulmer Spatza, Wasserratza hoi, hoi, hoi“ (swabian: Sparrows, water-rats) to accompany the afternoon „Nabada“ (= bathing downriver), a festival on, around and in the Danube. And every four years at the traditional „Fischerstechen“ (a joust on the Danube in traditional boats and costumes) they have the Ulm sparrow contending against the Ulm Tailor. This behaviour may seem just a bit bird-brained considering the legend of the Ulm Sparrow, which does speak for the bird but leaves the Ulm citizens looking quite stupid. The legend tells us that the Ulm citizens were transporting wooden beams for the Münster construction into the city. The beams were loaded crosswise on the carriages which led to a problem upon entering the narrow city gate.

The citizens had already deduced that the gate had to be demolished to enable the wood’s passage. As a blessing to the gate they then noticed a sparrow winging by, carrying a long straw in its beak. When they observed the sparrow inserting this straw lengthwise into a niche of the gate-tower where it was building its nest the good citizens of Ulm experienced a revelation and they repositioned their beams lengthwise on the carriage. Overcome with gratitude they then placed a memorial to the sparrow on the Münster’s roof.

In fact such a copper likeness of the sparrow armed with its straw really does exist. It was commissioned, in copper and gold-plated, in 1889 by the citizens‘ club „Hundskomödie“ to replace a sandstone sparrow on the Münster`s roof that was sadly threatened by decay. This copper sparrow may be hollow but it is not empty. Originally it contained a document naming the manufacturer and the noble sponsors. During the latest restoration efforts the sparrow received an implant of several coins, a ballpoint pen and a plastic replica of the Münster. The Münster Master builder at the time, Gerhard Lorenz, justified the selection of this curious collection: later generations were meant to grasp the spirit of our contemporary synthetic culture.