Last May Day we headed out to Donaustauf to observe a traditional Maibaumaufstellen – raising of the Maypole. Why are Maypoles raised? No idea. From what I’ve read, it is most likely a continuation of ancient pagan rituals, but where those rituals originated is not known for certain. The traditions vary from place to place, and I was told that they are not as popular as they once were, which is a shame. The celebration of May Day is another of the wonderful German traditions I’ve stumbled across that link the past to the present and bring the community together for a day of festivities.
Because the first of May, Tag der Arbeit (Labor Day) is a public holiday in Germany, the children had the day off and we decided to spend it immersed in Bavarian tradition.
We arrived early, and uncertain as to the exact location of the day’s event, we headed toward the center of town. The streets of Donaustauf were quiet, and I began to wonder if I’d somehow managed to get the information wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time, and my mind quickly began to run through options of alternative entertainment for the kids. Finally, we turned the corner to the entrance to the local park, and we knew we were in the right place.
There situated in the center of a large open grassy area was a long pole festively painted Bavarain white and blue, chained to a wheeled conveyance at both ends just waiting to be pulled. Standing beside the reclined pole was an older gentlemen, exquisitely dressed in trachten. He was busy measuring the length and width of the pole and paid little attention to us. We stood and watched him for a little while, then asked him about the day’s events. He explained that a team of horses would pull the Maibaum to the appointed place in less than an hour.
Since we’d visited Donaustauf previously, we knew where they pole would end up and we headed up the hill to wait in the parking lot.
To our surprise, the lot was filled with fest tables and small tents selling beer, wursts, popcorn and cotton candy. We’d packed a lunch, so we bypassed the fest tents and headed to the park for a picnic. On prior visits to the town, the small park was nearly always empty. Today, it was packed full of beautifully attired German children. Dirndls of every color flew through the air on the swings, and boys in lederhosen tumbled raucously down the slides. My kids quickly finished off their lunch and joined in the melee. I sat on a nearby bench and spoke with a local Oma (grandma) about the Maibaum tradition. She seemed surprised to find that I’d actually come from out of town to see it. Their Maibaumaufstellen is small, and doesn’t seem to draw large crowds.
It wasn’t long before the Dirndl clad mass of children disappeared, as if drawn by an invisible call. We assumed that the parade would begin soon, so we swung by the fest tents for a cotton candy, and headed off in search of the parade route.
As with most German parades, you could hear it before you could see it. The small parade featured the town’s marching band and several groups of individuals clad in Trachten. In the middle of the sea of Dirndl’s and Lederhosen, was the Maibaum, drawn by two beautifully adorned draft horses.
The draft horses carefully pulled the pole through the crowds to the hole it was to be lowered into. A few words were spoken, a few toasts were made, and finally the pole was extricated from its transport and prepared for raising.
What I was unaware of at the time was exactly how long it took to erect the Maypole. We were quite used to the manner in which they raised the pole, it was the same method used to raise the Narrenbaum during Fasching. Perhaps it’s the cold weather, or, more likely the absence of a beer tent, but the Narrenbaum went up a lot faster than the Maibaum. It was definitely fun, but once the kids realized that it was going to continue at the current speed of raise the pole one notch, take a nice beer break, raise the pole another notch, take another beer break, they started to lose patience with the event.
I managed to convince them to remain a while in order to observe the pole in its final position, but they were dragging me down the hill as the men in Lederhosen finished their days work. They were done for the day. After we left, the Trachten clad parade participants performed some traditional dances, and I’m sure the fest went on for some time after. The kids weren’t all that keen on returning this year, instead we’re attending a fest at the local Kindergarten, where my youngest is playing the part of a glass worker in the Labor Day play.
Last year, I wrote about Dancing in the May, you can read about it in my story, In German, I Dance.
Happy May Day!