Determined to finally partake in this German tradition, I set about the task of finding an appropriate village in which to celebrate. My three criteria were: (1) it should be a rural setting, though still near Munich and accessible by public transport; (2) the maypole raising should be done “by hand” (no cheating with new-fangled technology , e.g. cranes – thus ruling out many festivals in and around Munich); and (3) it better be a good party. Based on dubious intelligence gathered from this website, I dragged myself out of bed early that morning and gathered my friends to go watch a pack of Lederhosen-wearing men lift a 2000-pound tree. Germans clearly know how to have fun.
Ottendichl, the chosen destination, is a mere speck on the map somewhere between Haar and Feldkirchen on the eastern edge of Munich, and as we set off from the Haar Train Station on foot in the direction of, well, seemingly nothing, I experience a moment of panic, wondering whether I had set us off on a path to disappointment. The doubts disappeared when we finally arrived at the town square in Ottendichl, and joined the crowd that had gathered to watch the erection of the Maibaum. This is done by using a system of ropes and sticks to painstakingly raise the maypole inch by inch, until after a couple of hours, it is finally standing upright. At that point, a series of gunshots marks the historic achievement, and the towns people fall about the business of eating and drinking and celebrating the season. I only lasted about 15 minutes watching the actual maypole raising (what? It’s a group of guys grunting and lifting a heavy object… for two hours), before giving in to the siren call of the beer garden and heading out back for a cold, refreshing Helles.