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1st May is Maypole Day in Bavaria

Maypole in Starnberg, Bavaria
Maypole in Starnberg

Did you ever walk through a Bavarian village or town?

Then you will probably be very familiar

with the image of the maypole.

The 1st of May is the day of one of Bavaria’s most popular traditions:

raising the maypole.

But do you also know the traditions around the maypole?

You will learn about them in this article!

How to get a maypole

As early as autumn, the young men of the Burschenverein go out to the woods to choose the perfect pine tree:

It has to be as tall and straight as possible. Then this tree is felled and prepared in a safe hiding place.

Preparing the maypole

Every year, there is a huge competition among the villages and towns in Bavaria: Who will erect the highest (often more than 30 meters), straightest, and most beautiful tree?

In each region, the maypole may look different.

The maypole is painted in the Bavarian colors, blue and white.
Blue and white: the colours of Bavaria

Traditionally, all branches and the bark are removed and it is painted in the colors of the Bavarian coat of arms: blue and white.

The treetop is decorated with a green wreath.

In addition, it will be decorated with signs denoting local craftsmen’s guilds.

Stealing the maypole

The maypole’s height and beauty are not the only contest between villages.

A popular and exciting part of this whole tradition is that one village tries to steal the maypole from the neighbor village: It is indeed permitted to "steal" the maypole!

Therefore it is guarded by the people of the village in shifts day and night.

Nevertheless, it frequently happens that a maypole does get stolen!

Then there are boozy negotiations to get it back!

As a ransom, a large amount of snacks and beer will be agreed on, which will then be eaten and drunk together at the handover.

Fröhliche Menschen mit Bier am 1. Mai

Maypole stealing is governed by a pretty strict code of conduct:

damaging the maypole in any way is absolutely frowned upon

as is a non-payment of the ransom

Hoisting the maypole

Hoisting the maypole is a really tough job that requires the hands of all the strong men of a village!

It is raised using pairs of two poles, slung together at the top by thick rope.

This can even take half a day!

Once firmly anchored in place the maypole is decorated with the signs and topped with a wreath. Fixing the wreath in place has traditionally been the job of the "Maibaumkraxler" who has to climb the maypole, attach the wreath, and make it safely back down to the ground again.

These days, this dangerous job is usually taken over by the local fire brigade.

Maypole Celebration

Of course, there has to be a celebration!

Frauen feiern am Maifeiertag in Bayern

There is a “Bierzelt”, a tent with Bavarian brass music, hearty food - and of course lots of beer:

for this occasion, the traditional dark "Maibock" beer is brewed!

Often there are folk dances or a “Maiköngin”, the “May Queen” is chosen.

As Bavarians are very conscious of tradition, they will obviously wear their costumes: dirndl and leather trousers!



Now you know everything about the Maypole in Bavaria!

If you come to a new Bavarian place, then keep your eyes open: you will definitely discover the maypole in a central square!

What jobs can you discover on the signs?

You might find a resident who can tell you more about the history of the maypole: Did it get stolen? Was there a big party when it was put up?

And maybe you can watch for yourself on May 1st how such a maypole is put up.

This is definitely a special event for the whole family!

Would you like to practice your German reading skills?


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