City Stories: The Tale of Schneider Wibbel

Just as Romeo and Juliet is a cautionary tale about not hooking up with the first guy who climbs your garden fence in the middle of the night, so too should the tale of Schneider Wibbel serve as a warning to both choose your friends and employers carefully and think twice before offering to help them out of a tough spot.

According to legend, the (true?) story originates in Berlin, in the time of Freidrich Wilhelm IV. A master baker was sentenced to prison for murder, however, was able to convince one of his companions to serve the sentence in his place. Unfortunately, however, the companion died in prison. Upon hearing of the death the King pardoned the baker ‘posthumously’.

Düsseldorf born playwright, Hans Müller-Schlösser, reworked this tale, setting it in his home town at the time the French Occupation. In Müller-Shlösser’s version, one night after consuming a few too many German beers, master tailor, Schneider Wibbel besmirches the good name of the Emperor and is sent to prison. With a degree of foresight however, Schneider Wibbel sends along a servant in his place. The man is convicted and subsequently dies in prison. Wibbel, not one to pass up an opportunity to make the most out of a bad situation, returns to town claiming to be the tailor’s twin brother. He promptly (re)marries his wife and returns to work. When the French finally leave town, Schneider Wibbel reveals his identity and resumes his former life.

The play opened in Düsseldorf in 1913 and was a great success; leading to not only thousands of productions, but also an opera, eight films and five radio plays. In the Altstadt, a street is named for Schneider Wibbel and features a much loved bronze relief.

Clearly Schneider Wibbel, and his real life baker inspiration, are to be commended for their ingenuity. It is not surprising therefore that local wisdom has it that rubbing the bronze relief – especially the tiny mouse hidden in the folds of his cloak – will bring good luck.

If you do stop by the statue, however, make sure that after rubbing Wibbel’s nose for luck, you spare a thought for the honest souls – real and imagined – who give their lives that the Schneider Wibbels of the world might prosper.