The raising of a new Maibaum, or may pole, takes place on May 1 throughout Bavaria. The raising is a wonderful, traditional event and seeing it done in person offers you a unique insight into the Bavarian culture.
What is a May Pole? The May Pole is simply a tree that has been prepared and decorated by the local club, typically the Burschenverein. How the pole is decorated depends on the region. In most places in Upper Bavaria, the pole is smoothed down and a spiral patter of white and blue paint is applied, reflecting the official Bavarian colors. A series of signs hang from the pole and these typically denote the various trades and services available in the community. In other places, several branches may be left on the pole or it may be left in its natural color.
The History of the May Pole: Written reference to the Maibaum dates back to the 13th Century and there is a lot of debate about the history behind the ritual. Most likely it stems from pagan times and could represent the world axis, Germanic reverence for sacred trees, some kind of Norse cosmological view, or even as a phallic symbol representing nature’s bounty.
The Festival: Each winter, the local Maibaum is inspected by officials from the TüV. If it is determined that the Maibum must be replaced, the Bürgermeister is notified and the community starts planning for May 1. For a tourist, it can be quite difficult to figure out which community will be putting up a new May Pole - the only option is to ask around a lot or check out local websites. A key question in choosing to attend the raising ceremony is the technique that will be used to raise the pole. In a traditional ceremony, the local men are dressed in their finest Lederhosen, broken into teams, and strictly commanded by an older gentleman. The various teams work poles underneath the Maibaum to raise it slowly and carefully, inch by inch. This is an engineering feat that passed down through the generations. This process lasts several hours and is supported by a brass band and a beer booth. Sometimes, the local ladies even provide homemade cake and coffee for sale. After the Maibaum is in position, the party usually continues through the evening. Sadly, some communities opt for mechanical means to raise the Maibaum and this isn’t nearly as interesting!
May Pole Thieves: During the preparation of the Maibaum, the community has to guard against theft. In what sounds like a college prank, the neighboring community conspires to hi-jack the pole and carries it off into the mountains where it is hidden. Shortly thereafter, a ransom note is received and negotiations start – the payment is usually made in a liquid form!
BayernTrips offers a trip each year that centers on the Maibaum raising ceremony on May 1. The day is a holiday in Bavaria and a small version of Oktoberfest, Frühlingsfest (Spring Fest) is in full swing at the Theresienwiese. For more information on the trip, please the Spring Fest trip listed on our website at www.bayerntrips.com