In Austria, May Day is a national holiday marking Labour Day. In traditional Salzburg, though, it’s frequently celebrated the old-fashioned way, with a Maibaumaufstellen, the Austrian version of the May tree.
Literally meaning ‘setting up the May tree,’ the Maibaumaufstellen is a festival of food and beer stretching over several hours as a team of men work to erect the decorated May tree. This year in Aigen, a suburban neighbourhood of Salzburg, about 40 men, members of a local social club dedicated to preserving tradition, worked over three hours to set up this tree, which is over 100 feet tall. It was a feat of old-fashioned engineering: the men used large timbers, some with twin-spiked forks at the tip, chains, team work and muscle to put the tree into place. Other than the tractor that pulled it onto the open field, no motors were used to hoist it.
While they worked, the rest of us enjoyed sausages and grilled meats, homemade Kochen and pastries and, of course, plenty of beer. A brass band played marches, and many of the crowd, as is common in Salzburg, wore traditional trachten – lederhosen and dirndls.
When the tree was at last standing up it was time to take turns trying to climb it. Usually there might be big, soft homemade pretzels hanging high above as reward for those strong enough to reach them. This year, however, it rained, so the tree, stripped of its bark was too smooth and slippery for success. Defeated by the slick surface of the tree, all comers received a treat for their effort anyway.