Yesterday was May Day, or Erster Mai. It’s a state holiday, at least in Bavaria, and is the equivalent to Labor Day. In Germany there is also vandalism and craziness on May Day, as is in other parts of the world, but here in Munich it isn’t too wild. I’m not entirely sure what other festivities are traditionally attached to May Day in Bavaria, but here’s what I do know:
1. For the Catholic Church, May is the month most closely associated with the Virgin Mary, and on the international church calendar, May 1 is the day dedicated to Joseph. (“Joseph the Worker” became more popular in the 19th and 20th century as the patron of workers, especially laborers or blue collar workers, and this feast was used deliberately to offset the impact of anarchist- or communist-tinged activities on International Worker’s Day.) I went to church in the morning, where I learned that, in Bavaria, St Joseph’s feast is displaced by the feast of the “Patroness of Bavaria.” Mary has been the Patroness of Bavaria since 1616. Mary being the patron of somewhere is basically another way of saying, “we are a very very Catholic place.”
2. On May 1st they raise the Maibaum in a ceremony called the Maibaumaufstellen. I guess Maibaum would be translated as “May pole,” but strictly it means “May tree,” and it is not something you dance around with ribbons.
Nope. Although maybe it is or was another custom associated with the Maibaum… There are lots. And there’s lots more background to May Day (or Walpurgisnacht) as a Christian and pre-Christian celebration, but I’ll leave you to Wiki it yourselves…
A Maibaum is this thing. In Bavaria, it’s decorated with the Bavarian colors of blue and white, and decorated with local symbols. They seem to be used like large signposts or billboards — the decorations reflect the different craftsmen or trades that the market or village provides — a butcher or cobbler or so on. At this point, the decorations seem mostly symbolic.
These very large poles are traditionally raised by hand by a troupe of local men. They wear their traditional clothing (lederhosen!) and afterward there is sausage and beer and the typical Bavarian food, plus a dance. I will tell you upfront: I saw them raise the maypole but I didn’t see the dance. There, now you won’t be disappointed.
But I imagine the dance was like this.
Both my host family and the neighbors had told me about the Maibaum-raising ceremony that would happen in the courtyard next to the church of St Martin, so at 1pm we all went over, and saw that a huge crowd had already gathered. The Maibaum is only replaced every four years at St Martin, so I got very lucky!
At first we could hardly seen anything because of the crowd and the tractors. But here you can see the tree, carried in by tractors, as they put it into position.
Here is the Kirchplatz, with all the people gathered on the far side. There were bunches of people behind me, but we somehow managed to end up at the very front, which was great for my picture-taking!
And here are about half of the strapping Bavarian fellows who did all the work.
This sawhorse thing holds up the middle and is slowly moved closer toward the base.
Getting ready to get rid of the tractor completely… I should add that this whole process took over an hour and a half. But it was fun to watch, and everyone watching on the sides was very festive and chattering away.
But for Felix and the other kids, it definitely took a long time.
The head of the Turkish kid in front of us — both he and his mom were completely decked out in Bavarian dress.
Then they brought out these poles, tied together with rope. They fit them against the big pole like so:
Here’s part of the crowd. Behold, the people of Germany. (Be sure to check out the little boys in the center in their fancy outfits.)
Eventually they line up more of these pairs of poles… I’m skipping WAY forward in time.
After they arrange the poles just so, they move closer together all at once, raising the pole…
… and then rearrange and do it again.
This guy in the blue shirt was in charge of it all.
Then they added even TALLER poles behind. It took them a while to get them around the big pole, since it was like using very large and heavy chopsticks. While they moved the other poles down by banging on them with smaller rods with hooks on them, the tallest ones had to be pulled downward on a rope:
And there’s the guy with the rope.
These guys, by the way, are the Untermenzinger Jugend. I’m not sure I know what the equivalent might be in English, but they’re basically a club or group of men who (technically) belong to St Martin’s parish. They were certainly either baptized or confirmed there, and some were altar boys, etc. Sadly, I don’t attend St Martin’s enough to recognize any, but I’m going to bet you lots of money that most of them are not regular attenders.
We’re getting close… Now I’ll show you the video I took!
As I said, the whole thing took nearly two hours from start to finish, but I’ve compressed roughly the last half of it to three and a half minutes.
Almost there… This Maibaum is almost 90 feet tall.
This is how they supported it toward the end…
Once they were finished, time for refreshment.
Then there was a big party with food and drink, but I just observed, since I didn’t bring money with me. And oh yeah, I’d come with N. and the two littlest kids. N. took Felix home as soon as the Maibaum was up, and I stayed with Amelie and her friends for a few minutes. Amelie then went home with her friends, but I waited, hoping the dance would start… it didn’t.
This is when I came back an hour and a half later to see if I could catch the dance (I had to stay home with Felix in the middle). But it seemed that they’d already danced, and most of the people in the fancier clothes (whom I pegged as the traditional dancers, or maybe musicians) had left.
Here are the ones I mean.
And here’s one of the women. COOL, huh??
Speaking of traditional dress, here is our sweet neighbor Bastienne in her dirndl.
And I almost got a picture of this little guy from the front, but he walked too fast.
Here he is again with his little brother.
I tell you, when I have kids I am going to order these clothes on the internet and make them wear them at all times.
This woman was standing right next to me the whole time. I didn’t try to listen to anyone in particular over the general noise, but N. told me afterward that she couldn’t understand everything this woman was saying, because she spoke so much Bairisch.
Finally, some dancers!
Actually though, the internet tells me the dancing may have looked something like this:
And that’s all I’ve got… hope you enjoyed your taste of Bavarian “village” life!