A midday walk through the colorful market square of Poznań in central Poland means vibrantly painted buildings, bustling cafes, food stalls and vendors—and throngs of locals and tourists jostling for the best spot to watch a 465-year-old fight. It just happens to be between a couple of mechanical goats.
At the heart of the square is Poznań’s Town Hall, topped by three turrets with a clock tower in the middle. As the time inches towards noon the assembled crowd waits for the bell to toll, craning their necks to watch two iron billy goats glide out and face each other. As they have done since the year 1551, the goats butt heads twelve times to strike the midday hour.
It’s a lovely tradition, with an unexpected origin story.
Back in the middle of the 16th century there was a chef in town (some versions call him “Pete”) who was charged with cooking an elaborate feast for the mayor and some visiting dignitaries. Pete set about preparing some roast deer, but things didn’t go so well. Distracted by the festivities of the big event, his beautiful joint of venison ended up falling off the spit, straight into the fire, burning to a crisp.
Pete needed some new meat, but the butcher had no more venison. In a desperate move to save the meal (and his own neck) he grabbed two grazing goats from a nearby meadow, but they escaped his grasp and darted off towards Town Hall. They ran up the stairs into the tower, catching the attention of the crowd below when they emerged from the turret, locked horns and began to battle it out. The crowd included the mayor and his guests, who were more charmed than they were angry about the meal, so Pete and the goats were pardoned.
A new clock was in the works for the Town Hall, so the mayor ordered that two goats be added to the mechanism, cuckoo-clock style. They’ve been taking noonday center stage ever since. Luckily for the crowds down below it’s always a draw, so they’ll be back again tomorrow to fight another day.
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