April Fools’: a German tradition from Medieval Times

There’s a good chance you fell for at least one April Fools’ joke today. Every April 1, the Internet is flooded with hoaxes and stories meant to trick people into believing them. April Fools’ is a tradition celebrated widely in both the US and Germany. Although it is unclear exactly how and why this day of jokes originated, there is plenty of evidence that Germans (along with other Europeans) were already playing tricks on each other back in the Middle Ages!

Long before the Internet, Germans were celebrating April 1 the old fashioned way. On April 1, 1530, a meeting was allegedly scheduled for lawmakers in Augsburg, who were told that they were gathering to unify the state’s coinage. When people heard of the meeting, they began trading their currency to make a profit from the change. However, the meeting never took place, the law was not enacted, and everyone who showed up – as well as those who traded their currency – were mocked as fools.

April Fools’ pranks continued over the years in Germany, and newspaper publishers soon jumped on the bandwagon. According to legend, one German newspaper published an April Fools’ article in 1774, claiming that it was possible to breed chickens in different colors by painting the coop that the hen lived in. A newspaper article from April 1, 1789 claimed that hail the size of pigeon eggs had fallen in Berlin. On April 1, 1923, a Berlin newspaper reported that Egyptian mummies had been found in the city’s underground railway station.

As technology developed, so did April Fools’ pranks. On April 1, 1926, German magazine Echo Continental announced the development of a new triple-decker bus for the city of Berlin, complete with an edited picture that served as “proof” of the development.

Have you been fooled today? Let us know in the comments!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

 

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