A may pole is a decorated pole or tree, usually put up on May 1st. In most regions, like in Bavaria, it is a much celebrated event usually in the town square and is connected with a little village fair. A traditional Bavarian may pole will have blue and white painted spirals, from bottom left to upper right, to reflect the Bavarian colors. In Franconia they chose red and white.
Traditionally the men of the town would put up the pole with long sticks and lots of shoving. Nowadays it is more likely that they use a tractor, forklift, or a crane depending on the size of the tree.
It is also tradition to try and steal the may pole before it is set up. Young guys will stay with the may pole overnight to protect it from others. The rule is that only towns can steal a may pole if they are putting one up (and protecting one) themselves. In some regions, a may pole may count as stolen when it’s been hit with a spatula three times, in others it actually has to be transported away. A stolen may pole has to be “bought back” from the thieves, usually with food and drinks. A tree that is not bought back will be put up by the town that stole it for a while alongside their own tree as a sign of triumph and good luck for the town. After a few weeks the “spare” pole will be cut up and the parts auctioned off.
May poles used to be decorated with the town’s trades and would tell a traveler that the town they are in could provide them with a butcher, a blacksmith, or a carpenter, for example. They sometimes also show emblems of local clubs (like soccer clubs) and pictures of significant buildings of the town (such as the church or town hall).
The poles themselves typically last a few years, are inspected yearly, and have a maximum life span of five years because of insurance reasons.
In 2011, here’s where you can check out May pole celebrations in the Munich area:
- Sendling: may pole and street festival in the Pfeuferstreet from 10 am on with flea market and parade to the may pole
- Hirschgarden: from 10 am: putting up the may pole, from 12 am: morning pints with music, in the beer garden with good weather
- Tierpark Hellabrunn (zoo): at 10 am they will put up a may pole in the beer garden at Hellabrunn, with parade and music
- Trudering: from 12 noon on the may pole will be put up in front of the church St. Peter and Paul
- Isartaler May festival: 10 am with white sausages, morning pints, and may pole erecting in front of the restaurant “zum Isartaler”
- Neuaubing: between 1 and 2 pm the parade with may pole will go from the Pretzfelderstraße to the church square of St. Markus