On my abortive trip to Germany, I didn’t see much. But I did manage to visit the renowned Gänseliesel in the university town of Göttingen.
“Gänseliesel” means “goose girl” or more exactly, “Goose Lizzy,” Liesel being a diminutive of Elizabeth. She arrived in Göttingen in 1901 after a competition for a new sculpture to decorate the fountain in front of the city hall. According to Wikipedia, Goose Lizzy was ranked second by the judges, but when the top three designs were put on display, she was the overwhelming favorite. She’s been the town’s darling ever since.
Traditionally, university students (especially recipients of the PhD) have visited Goose Lizzy to give her a kiss and deposit a gift of flowers, amidst drunken revelry. A charming custom. Over the years, however, vandals have attacked the statue, so that the original is now in the Stadtmuseum, while the fountain is adorned with a replica.
I thought perhaps Gänseliesel was a figure of folklore but I have located no stories about her. Still, the Göttingen statue is not unique; another well-known example exists in Strasbourg, and the motif of the goose-girl is found in several European towns. Much to my dismay there is even an Alsatian company that makes foie gras and uses the brand name “Gänzeliesel.”
In antiquity there was a similarly popular sculptural subject, the little boy playing with a goose. Several examples of these goose-boys have survived from the Roman period.