Stealing the Maibaum

A Maibaum that was not stolen

Many Bavarians take advantage of the typically beautiful weather on the first of May, and spend the day outdoors. Not only is it a public holiday, but many villages and neighbourhoods raise a 'Maibaum' (Maypole). There will be music and dancing for most of the day at the Marienplatz, as well as at multiple places around the city. From the Maifest im Tierpark in the south to the Moosacher Maifest in the north, there will be plenty going on in and around Munich on the 'Erste Mai'.


But first we have to survive the night leading up to the holiday. From pagan times, the Walpurgis Night has been celebrated to dance away the evil spirits. Often called 'Tanz in den Mai', people stay up until at least midnight dancing and revelling. A bit more disconcerting can be the teenagers who use the night as an opportunity to play pranks and make noise. Although it sometimes leads to property damage, most of the time there is only toilet paper strewn about peoples' gardens and shaving cream on their walls and doors.

One of the more humorous traditions of the night is stealing another community's 'Maibaum'. As the website muenchen.de states, there are unwritten rules that one must abide by in just such a hunt. For example, if you intend to take someone else's 'Maibaum', you must have one of your own. More importantly, it can only be stolen once it is in the community and has been prepared for the celebrations. Taking a tree while it is still in the forest is not a prank, but is simply stealing lumber. The return of your neighbours' 'Maibaum' is normally secured with the payment of a case of beer and possibly the invitation to a 'Brotzeit', and the idea is certainly that it is returned in time for the May Day festivities.

As a rule, the 'Maibaum' has to be raised by noon on the first. In Munich, this has to be done by crane and with necessary security precautions. In the country, the villagers still do it the traditional way with the village's men carrying the 'Maibaum' to the main 'Platz' and heaving it upright. No matter which setting you find yourself in, whether rural or urban, there will be traditional music and plenty of beer. The long-awaited summer is finally here, and the people are going to enjoy it.


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