The Münchner Kindl
The Münchner Kindl or “Munich Child” is the figure on the official crest of the Bavarian State capital, the official coat of arms of Munich. In the silver coat of arms is a heraldic monk looking to the right with a gold-rimmed black cowl and red shoes, holding a red oath book in the left hand, the right hand vowed. Possibly the oath book was originally the city law book or a gospel book and the oath hand was a blessing hand. The symbol dates back to Munich’s first inhabitants and pays homage to an order of monks who lived around St Peter’s Church in the centre of Munich. The German word for monk is München, so the city’s name and the monk is pretty self-explanatory.
The Münchner Kindl sure has evolved since it first appeared on Munich’s coat-of-arms over 800 years ago. First a monk, then a boy, then a gender-neutral child, a girl, and finally a young woman on a horse leading the way to Oktoberfest.
The first written proof of Munich as a small settlement of monks dates from 1158 A.D. With the increase of the population, the town administration developed a constitution of the council. Soon a seal was used to prove the authenticity of town-council documents. The oldest seal of Munich, of which only fragments are left, with the presumable inscription “Sigillum Civitatis Monacensis” and the picture of a monk wearing an open hood, appears on a document of May 28, 1239.
In the course of the following centuries a number of slightly varying representations of the seal were used. But all of them show the monk with the book (of city laws) in his left hand, while his right hand with three outstretched fingers is held up. Next to most of these seals is shown a town gate and an eagle, which, in the fourteenth century, is replaced by a lion (of the coat-of-arms of the reigning dynasty of the Wittelsbachs). For some time the monk was represented in profile, later full-face and bare-headed.
Some representations of the fifteenth century already show the child figure instead of the monk. The metamorphosis was not brought about by some order of the sovereign, but instead by artists, by the seal and copper engravers, by the sculptors and painters who transformed the old bearded town-monk into a curly haired child resembling the Christ child who appears with blessing hands on the altars at Christmas. A medallion which the town gave in 1577 to the Brotherhood of crossbow marksmen, as well as painted “cartoons” of 1579, show the Munich Child.
The most charming impression is given by a miniature, dating to 1686, in the town law book showing the Munich Child with a red halo. These old representations of a child instead of a monk are among the possessions of the Historical Museum of the City of Munich and the City Archives.
The present form of the official coat-of-arms with a monk in black cowl, (law) book and blessing in right hand, was given to Munich by the reigning king, Louis I, on September 16, 1834. At the request of the Magistrate of the city, King Louis II (he was the king who, in 1886 was drowned in the lake of Starnberg) granted minor changes in the coat-of-arms on June 11, 1865, from his castle at Berg (the book and shoes of the monk were given a red color). Since that time no further significant changes have been made.
The good humor and inexhaustible fancy of Munich artists of the second half of the nineteenth century added various supplements to the image of the child: a laurel wreath, a foaming beer stein, radishes and pretzels. These humorous additions made the Münchner Kindl the well-known symbol and guardian spirit of the city and its festive events.
For a long time the Munich Child was a boy who did not deny his artistic descent from the town monk. Around 1890, Munich artists, in the fashion of the fin de siecle , began to represent the child as a girl.
References: Prosit, Journal of Stein Collectors Intl. Sep 1968, and Festring