May Day


Today is May 1st, May Day, the day for the workers, equivalent to Labor Day in the United States. 

Walking to my butcher shop two days ago, I noticed this sight (see photo above).     Someone had sawed off The Village’s Maypole.  A maypole should look like the title image for this blog.  

 A maypole is the blue and white striped pole at the entrance to most Bavarian villages, displaying wooden figures and placards from its arms, listing the services found in the villages. It served as the Yellow Pages before such a service existed, and my theory is it was implemented before people could read, or for people who forgot to wear their distance eyeglasses.  

Maypoles are not erected every year, but rather every other year or every four years, or as decided by the volunteer firemen and their junior squad, or the youth group of the village in charge of maypole duties. The men go out into the Bavarian woods, pick the largest, sturdiest tree, chop it down and keep it hidden at someone’s farm to prepare and decorate. 

Neighboring fire departments or youth groups will scout out maypole hiding places in order to kidnap the maypoles in preparation. Or as in the my photo, they chop, saw off or completely remove the existing maypole. 

I once had a volunteer fireman in a business English class I taught. He was an engineer by day and volunteer fireman by night.
 “You look tired today, all ok?” I asked him one class. “Did you have a fire in the night?”

 “No, I was on maypole watch. We couldn’t let those bastards steal our pole.”

 “What do they do with them?” I asked.

 “Ach, we wait for the ransom note. They usually want loads of beer or a feast buffet. A party.”

 May Day is a huge deal for the firemen and youth groups. They erect the pole by hooking up a firetruck or tractor pulley and cranking the tree into position. The entire village is invited and everyone arrives in tracht, the women in dirndl with breast shelves and cleavage finally exposed to sunlight after a harsh winter. Firemen and male civilians arrive in lederhosen, calf wraps and checked shirts covered with cable sweaters or wool janker jackets. Material pulls tight across flat, strong backs as the men pound wood slats into the ground with strongman competition wooden mallets. 

Beer benches and tables cover the entire square, and traffic shuts down for a two block radius. The local Wirt, Bavarian restaurant, serves regional dishes of warmerl (pork belly sandwiches), pig roast, potato dumplings, and the beloved sauerkraut with cumin. Beer is aplenty and usually the local wheat beer brew. Women drink alcohol-free wheat beer or wine spritzers and the kids apfelschorle, apple juice spritzers. 

This is too big of a celebration to host every year, and the villages alternate. It also spares the trees and gives them time to grow. The junior firemen in The Village erected a beautiful, new maypole last year which now looks like a chomped off blue and white candy cane. We will be passing this sad sight for the next year. At least someone now has a fancy garden ornament.  

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