This is the crazy time when 6 million visitors descend on the beer taverns of Munich clad in lederhosen; a stein in one hand and a pretzel in the other. If you’re looking for a random fact to show off your local knowledge between your shouts of ‘prost!’ then I’ve got the perfect one for you.
There’s a tradition dating back to the 13th century amongst all the towns and cities in Bavaria. More of a challenge than a tradition, in fact…
The Theft of the City Maypole
Every year, to celebrate the arrival of spring, each town and city erects in the central square a custom-made wooden maypole. The design reflects the individual characteristics of the city; advertising craftsmanship and showcasing traditions. Painted blue and white, decorations include ribbons, wreaths and signs. The pole is hoisted up in an annual celebration on the 1st of May. Brass bands play and revellers dressed in traditional costumes enjoy the specially crafted Maibock beer. But in the 2 weeks prior to this, a challenge is levelled at their fellow Bavarian citizens.
The maypole is left lying on the floor of the square, tempting citizens of neighbouring towns and cities to steal the maypole. Instead of punishing thieves who are successful, the city who lost the maypole is obliged to host a party in honour of the group responsible for outsmarting the city. This is quite an incentive, and in the past, the party has been substituted for some pretty amazing rewards. The locals take the tradition seriously and organised groups are formed every year in order to guard the city maypole.
The Best Story
…was the theft of the Munich Maypole by another town’s police force. Yes, really. The entire force got together to plan and execute a seamless operation, removing the maypole from the city of Munich. I guess they have to be able to think like a criminal, right!? Anyway, the city of Munich of course saw the funny side. As is tradition, they hosted an enormous party for the other town’s police force. The party is actually a ransom which the city has to pay (the cost being large amounts of food and beer) in order to get their maypole back.
My next favourite story is the one of the village in the Alps. A group of 4 men got together and chartered a helicopter, which they used to lift the maypole up and away out of the village limits. Their creativity and boldness was rewarded; but instead of demanding the usual ransom of beer and food, these men asked for lifetime ski lift passes for the mountain. This was granted, in what has to be the most bizarre ransom payment in the history of the Maypole Theft tradition.
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