tavern sign  

Fishy Sign

A picture of a beautiful and appropriate restaurant sign outside an Italian restaurant in Zug, Switzerland, makes a tricky subject to find the difference between the two photos. The sign depicts a pike (‘hecht’ in German), and I say “appropriate” because the restaurant is only a few metres from the shore of Lake Zug – in fact, from where it ‘swims’ in its sign, the metal fish can ‘see’ its ancestral home! Perhaps little eaten now, but once regarded as a delicacy, the pike is the king of predatory fish in Europe’s rivers and lakes. Pike have a series of backward-pointing teeth, so once they get their jaws clamped on their prey, they couldn’t let go even if they wanted to – they have to swallow it or die in the attempt. Pike can grow so large that they are said to sometimes think of taking on a human; this belief is probably the origin of the legend that one was found to have choked to death trying to swallow a swan! The largest pike caught in Switzerland was taken in Lake Maggiore by an angler from Ascona. It weighed in at 19.6 kilos (43 pounds 3 ounces); this record has stood since 1990.

Inn signs have a long history in Europe. The first ones were introduced by the Romans in the form of some vine leaves hung up outside a tavern to indicate there was wine available. As the Roman Empire spread to areas where grapes were not traditionally grown, other green bushes like holly were used to show where there was an inn. By the 12th century pubs began to have names, but since most people could not read, a picture was used to illustrate the inn name, e.g. ‘Red Lion’ or ‘Crossed Keys’. The use of a pike in the name of the restaurant and its depiction in the sign probably indicates that fish was a speciality of a restaurant that previously occupied this site.