01 May 2013

May Day!

I won't write a post on the history of May Day because there is plenty of information that is searchable with those two words.  It's a historic day and has contained various significance over the centuries, including the communist cry for the worker and Hitler's Tempelhof rally/his death.  I wanted to insert a little bit of lightheartedness and personal for the day instead of all those historical facts.  Pretty sure that's going to be covered with great frequency.  Who's ready to learn about a May Day tradition?

(I do want to apologize for the delay/absence in content--I do this in my spare time and I haven't had much of that lately.)

May Day is a good time in Germany.  Germans have a tradition of putting up "Maibäume" (May trees).  As you may have read in the About section, I did three months of field research in a small town called Lütte.  I could go on and on about this town of 500 people, but I'll be brief.  The town retains much of its rural character though Berlin transplants are about as common as born and bred locals, some of whom were collective farmers.  Traditional celebrations are still ongoing and the Maibaum is certainly one of them!  I don't remember there being a parade through town (there aren't that many streets anyway...), but on Am Lütter Bach (Bahnhofstraße), right by the church, they dug a deep ditch and used multiple stilts to raise up the tree.

There are nearby towns (Dippmansdorf, Schwanebeck, and Fredersdorf) that also have their own Maibaum and all of them are competing for the tallest Maibaum.  It's a sort of civic pride to have the biggest Maibaum around.  They are erected during some drinking and eating and always on a lawn near the road (so you can compare their heights, obviously). 

 Local men and Freiwilliger Feuermänner (volunteer firemen- rural villages don't have professionals) used the stilts of varying lengths. They progressively placed them underneath, with taller ones closer to the tree, while using ropes to steady it.  You'll notice that the rope holders move further away from the tree as it goes up.  This can take up to an hour, depending on the skill level and height, but the teamwork is really, really impressive and gives a different meaning to a day dedicated to workers.  All of this is just to put a tree higher up in the air.  Think about that for a second.
 All the little boys wanted to be a part of it and also be a Freiwilliger Feuermann! It's all the kindergarteners would talk about and they just walked around the men working, which got troublesome at times.
 Almost there!
Ta-da!  After the tree was firmly in place, we were treated to a toast to the contributors (the butcher and baker for donated food) and some oratory nonsense.  It was a fun time and it's great to drive around and see other towns' Maibaum.  If you're ever in Germany around this time of year, make sure to see the town put up their Maibaum!