Bullhead fish festival at Lake Constance

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Irish Bayrish 013In Ermatingen, at lake Contance (in Switzerland) can man eat the best fish dishes ever. No wonder why because this village has a long history to prepare fishes. It was said to have taken in the fugitive Pope Johannes XXIII (1414–1418) during the Council of Constance and served him fried bullhead, a fish that is almost extinct today. He thus granted the locality the right to celebrate Groppen fasnacht (“Groppe” means Bullhead) every three years. And the people of Ermatingen have not forgotten how to prepare fish since then (they have the best fish restaurants ever).

The Bullhead festival in Ermatingen is unique because it is the latest masquerade in the world (takes place on the East-Switzerland’s side of the Lake Constance) since it is always held 3 weeks before Easter.

The village has a long-established fishing tradition comparable to almost nowhere else in Switzerland. Of the legends in circulation as to the origins of the event, the most likely appears to be a connection to a spring festival held by fishermen and fisherwomen in Ermatingen. White fish fishing in particular used to be very important here. However, this traditional practice has now disappeared from Ermatingen.

The highlight of the folkfest is the fish procession, which takes place once every three years (this year the village celebrates its 600s anniversary) and sees around 1,200 participants delighting 15,000 spectators. Led by an oversized bullhead fish, the procession includes traditional fishing groups, symbols of spring, fairytale characters, carnival groups and carnival musicians. During the parade, crowds can sample of locally caught fish and a glass or two of white wine. The procession is an integral part of the folk festival that lasts several days and includes the indoor village carnival night (called Beizenfasnacht), in the restaurants and a “Lumpenball” (a costumed ball where the costumes are made from old clothes) in the streets.

Replenishment for the gourmet’s table

Some 160 fishermen and a few fisherwomen as well venture out on the lake in the early morning to put out their nets. They have trout mainly in mind, and perch, also known Egli or Kretzer but they also catch eels, pikes, lake trout, zander and whitefish in baskets and on the hook- about 35 species of fish in all. 30-34 years ago things didnt look at all good for fish and fishing folk in lake constance overfertilization on the banks was washing too much phosphate into the water, promoting the grouth of algae, plankton and weeds, perches and whitefish multiplied and the felchen almost disappeared. But the great efforts made to keep the purity of the water succeeded the phosphate content is now two-third lower that it was 10 years ago. The ecology of the lake took another beating, the water becoming poor in nutritiens so that today perches grow more slowly and the number of whitefish is on the decline- to the great indignation of the fishermen, who would prefer to use nets with finer meshes. The Felchen stocks on the other hand, are recovering gradually. Only very few fish really hatch out of the egg in lake constance. There are seven hatcheries around the lake at which fish spawn taken from caught fish is incubated. felchen pikes, saiblings and lake trout are mostly already some weeks old when set free in their element. This is not entirely new-a hatchery started operation on Reichenau as early as 1927. But today the lake is stocked with 10 more times more fish that it had round 1960.10974528_912667522088669_3044837843344507426_o

As far as the gourmet is concerned, however, the end result-whether it is Felchen under a ramson potato crust, lake trout fresh from the smoker or Kretzerfilet with almonds seems to be more that worth all the effort!

However I ate a Sander filet with fried Fennel, my husband some smoked eel with green apple sauce and beetroot carpaccio and potato purée. Both were divine!!!

The bullhead is a freshwater fish that is widely distributed in Europe, mainly in rivers. It is a type of sculpin. It is also known as the miller’s thumb, freshwater sculpin.The bullhead is a small demersal fish that lives both in cold, clear,  fast-flowing small streams and in middle-sized rivers. It also occurs on gravelly shores of cold lakes. Further, it thrives in diluted brackish water of the Northern Baltic Sea.


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