The ”Wiese” of Eisleben through the ages
The history of Eisleben’s Wiesenmarkt is colourful and eventful. It is as exciting as the annually held fair itself. The origin and circumstances of its existence are no longer known. Nevertheless, Eisleben’s thriving town life has always been revolving around its fairs and markets.
In the archives the earliest documentation is from 944 AD. The annals confirm Eisleben’s market rights and excise privileges. In the chronicles there is reference to enlarged markets and reference to the postponement of two fairs. The first postponement was that of the “jarmarkt Cantate”, which was adjourned to the “Sunday after the Feast of St Vitus” (celebrated on 15th of June). The second fair was called “jarmarkt Lamperti”, which was
rescheduled from 17th September to the “Sunday after the Feast of St Gall” (celebrated on 16th of October). On 20th September 1515, Emperor Maximilian who was residing in Innsbruck at the time, granted the Counts of Mansfeld the postponement of the two above mentioned fairs. During the Diet of Worms 1521, Emperor Charles V granted the citizens of the district of Mansfeld the right to hold an oxen-market which was to be held in Eisleben annually on the Feast of St Giles, celebrated on 1st of September. The so-called “Gallenmarkt”, as the oldest of all Eisleben’s markets, has long since fallen prey to the times. This oxen-market, however, can most likely be regarded as the origin of today’s Wiesenmarkt.
Cyriakus Spangenberg relates in the “Mansfeldische Chronica” (the ‘Mansfeld Chronicles’): “In the year 1522, on the Friday of St Valentine, all counts officially proclaimed the oxen- and cattle-market, adding the concession that all those who came and brought livestock to the market and sold or bought animals there would be free regarding their livestock, their property and their goods and would not be obliged to pay any duties or any fees charged on the road, in towns or on markets.”
However, neither an official proclamation nor the right to hold this annual fair, granted by the Emperor himself, sufficed. The opening of new fairs and markets did not suit the plans of the citizens of Leipzig. They lodged a complaint with their Elector, his brother and cousins, insisting on their own privileges: “ ... and that within a radius of 15 Saxon miles (ca. 69.16 miles) surrounding their city, new fairs were not permitted. Since these would cause disadvantage and destruction to their own markets.” In the end, George Duke of Saxony actually forbade his subjects, under threat of severe punishment, to go to the oxen-market in Eisleben. In spite of the electoral ban or perhaps because of it, the oxen-market grew to such an extent that it quickly developed into the leading fair and folk festival of those days.
In chapter 20 of the chronicles written by Eusebius Francke, we learn the following fact about the history of this event steeped in tradition:
“ ... In 1521, a “Vogelstange” (a long pole with a wooden bird, the so-called Popinjay, attached to its tip) was erected on the meadow for the amusement of the citizens. And on the Sunday of St Bartholomew, 24th August, the bird was shot down for the first time.”
Francke’s annals further reveal that since then the shooting of the bird took place regularly every year. In 1528 and in the years that followed, marksmen from 12 neighbouring towns came to Eisleben. Later, target shooting was introduced alongside the bird shooting. In 1801, it was decided to split these two competitions up and to reschedule the bird shooting on the Thursday of the Wiesenmarkt’s week.
During GDR times the Wiesenmarkt’s development stagnated due to the absence of new and attractive fairground rides and other activities. Solely the GDR State Circus was in the privileged position to occassionally purchase a roundabout, such as the “Twister” or the “Moon-Taxi”, from France in order to make local fairs attractive. Naturally, the showmen meticulously maintained their treasures, which grew older and older. They invested a lot of time, effort and skill. Nonetheless, the demand for participating in Eisleben’s Wiesenmarkt during GDR times was so high that not all candidates could be taken into consideration. This healthy competition, which was missing in most GDR sectors, contributed to the fact that Eisleben’s Wiesenmarkt has not once lost its appeal.
Naturally, the reunification of Germany introduced an explosion of new attractions. By now, as to funfair rides, the Wiesenmarkt leaves literally nothing to be desired. Therefore, it is sometimes also called the “Oktoberfest of East Germany”.
After such a long and eventful history, the 1990s saw another change which will most certainly also leave its trace in the historical narrative. The whole fairground was reconstructed due to the fact that Eisleben’s Wiesenmarkt had once again developed into the biggest fair in Central Germany, in terms of quality as well as quantity. In order to meet the increased requirements, new roads were constructed, water and sewerage pipes were installed, and the electricity network was extended. Since then, Eisleben has one of the most modern technically advanced fairgrounds.