Raising of the Maypole
With the melting snow and budding blossoms of spring comes Bavaria’s 800-year-old tradition of the maypole. Although its name suggests a May celebration – and the maypole is, in fact, raised on May 1st – the preparations for this festive holiday begin weeks or even months before the main event. Village men’s clubs known as Burschenverein will venture into the woods to select a tall sturdy pine tree as their perfect specimen. The tree is cut down, carried back to town and prepared, often by stripping the bark and painting the exposed wood blue and white, the primary colors of Bavaria’s coat of arms.
On May 1st, the Burschenverein, donning their lederhosen and Alpine hats, parade the maypole through town, slowly hoisting it and anchoring it into place for all to see. One special member of the club called the Maibaumkraxler then carefully scales the pole, attaching a special wreath. Maypoles may also be decorated with ribbons and signs from local craftsmen clubs. As part of the celebration, the locals often dance through the night beneath the maypole’s watchful eye.
The maypole is a great source of pride for each Bavarian village. But a whimsical tradition threatens their pride as “rival” villages will often steal the maypoles of their neighbors and demand a hefty ransom for their return – usually copious amounts of food and beer. These pranks have evolved impressively throughout the years. In 2004, one group stole another’s maypole by helicopter! It is, however, all in good fun, and a cherished piece of Bavarian heritage.
Guests visiting Bavarian ports on May 1st may have the great honor of witnessing these traditions on May Day. And, as part of a new tradition, our guests visiting Vilshofen, Germany may even see a special maypole raised and decorated exclusively for AmaWaterways!
Traditional Bavarian Arts
Of course, no Bavarian celebration would be complete without some traditional folk dancing. One of the most popular styles of dance, particularly for tourists to watch, is the Schuhplattler. This “courtship” dance features performers slapping their thighs, knees and the soles of their shoes while stomping in rhythm to the music.
Another movement that delights spectators is the art of Goasslschnalzen, or rhythmic whip-cracking. Performed between Christmas and Lent, this custom is said to drive away evil spirits that bring with them the bitter cold of winter. Sometimes the whip-cracking is set to music for an audience. The tradition is so popular that approximately 1,700 performers from Salzburg and Bavaria take their skills to a competition each year, keeping Bavarian history very much alive.
Experience Oktoberfest and other Bavarian customs and traditions while sailing with us on our Danube River cruises!