The Jahrmarkt: Merchant’s Wares and Dancing Bears

Medical treatment as entertainment at a French fair (17th century)

Medical treatment as entertainment at a French fair (17th century)

In my last post, I mentioned the annual fair in Marburg and Frankenberg, the Jahrmarkt, where Jean Pierre Chastain was eventually allowed to sell his hats. Here is what the German Wikipedia page for the Jahrmarkt has to say. I think this description adds some nice context to my previous post.

In the Middle Ages, fairs were important events in the life of a city. The permission to hold a fair came from the Emperor, King, Count or sovereign to a place. One of the oldest such festivals in Germany is the Magdeburg Autumn Fair, which has been held since 1010 AD.

Economically, the Jarhmarkt was significant because it enriched local farmers and merchants. It also brought in remote merchants and sellers, providing the market with diverse goods not otherwise available in that locale (cloth, pottery, wrought goods, etc.). These fairs increased the available money supply and the distribution of valid currencies. Additionally, those travelling from a distance stayed for extended periods of time in the market town and spent their money in hostels, shops, etc.

The fair also fulfilled social functions: they were full of news and gossip exchanged from remote areas. They often held special religious events as well as public executions.

To the fairs, showmen often came: bear trainers, jugglers, fortune tellers, musicians, and, unfortunately, cut purses. An annual fair was thus also an opportunity for pleasure such as traveling menageries and dance halls.

In the midst of this endless merry-making and money-making was my five times great-grandfather, selling hats.

Dancing Bear

A dancing bear


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