Maypole Celebrations in Germany

Maypole celebrations festival in Germany

As we were driving one day in early May, I was surprised to find a very tall Christmas tree colorfully decorated in red and yellow erected on a large pole in the middle of a district center.

Maypole celebrations in Germany
The maypoles I have seen in Stuttgart have only been decorated in red and yellow, while maypoles in Bavaria are decorated in white and blue – the Bavarian state’s colors.

I asked J.P. about it who looked at me in disbelief as to why I thought a Christmas tree would be up in May.  He then informed me that it was not a Christmas tree but a “Maibaum” or maypole in English.  I had heard of maypoles before, but had never seen one and didn’t know what they represented.  J.P. informed me that in many areas in Germany maypoles are erected in a district’s city square on May 1st to celebrate the return of summer and that they stay up for the entire month of  May.  So you can imagine how excited I was to see a sign for a Maypole festival.  J.P. cautioned me to contain my excitement as he though it would be a small festival, but I still wanted to go.

The Maypole Festival in Weilimdorf, Stuttgart Germany
The Maypole Festival in Weilimdorf, Stuttgart.

And it turns out there is more to the maypole than just the return of summer, but no one can agree exactly what that is.  Maypoles have been found in Germany since the 16th century, but date back to the 10th and 11th century to paganism in the Iron Ages, so perhaps the maypole is a pagan symbol?

Other scholars debate that the maypole is a symbol for the world axis.  Or perhaps the maypole was a Germanic reverence for sacred trees.Or my personal favorite, that the maypole is a phallic symbol to worship Priapus, a minor Roman God of fertility who always had an erect xxx(I’ll let you fill in the blank).  Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Sigmund Freud was a supporter of this theory.  Adding more fuel to this theory is that May is the most common month for Germans to get married.  Yet, maybe the answer is simpler than that.  Maybe the maypole is simply just a part of the merriment of the return of summer – no further explanation needed, as some scholars believe.

Maypole celebration in Munich, Germany
A blue and white maypole in Munich, the Bavarian state colors. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

When we arrived to the Maypole Celebration taking place in Weilimdorf (an area in Stuttgart) the festivities were in full swing.  Despite being a small festival, there was a band and beer gardens, serving what else but sausages and pretzels.

Th Weilimdorf Maypole Festival appeared to be sponsored or put on by the Fire Department as fire trucks were everywhere.  Even the games had a fire department theme to them:

Maypole celebrations games, Germany
The Fire Department hosted games using fire hoses for older children as part of the Weilimdorf Maypole Festival.
Kids at Maypole celebrations, Germany
And rides using fire truck ladders for smaller children. All part of the Maypole celebrations in Weilimdorf.

The Weilimdorf Maypole Celebration was a small one, as J.P. had predicted, and even though we missed the traditional maypole dance, I still enjoyed it.  It was a hot sunny day – perfect for a celebration of summer’s return and everyone was in a good mood.  Perhaps the simplest explanation of the maypole is the correct one, that it is simply just part of the celebration of the return of summer.

Have you been to a Maypole Celebration before?  What color was the maypole?

For those living in Stuttgart and wanting to see a maypole, I’ve seen them in Feuerbach and Weilimdorf, although I’m sure they’re in other locations as well, but hurry, they’ll just be up until the end of May.

Maulbronn Monastery – The Best Preserved Cistercian Monastery in Europe

Entrance to maulbronn monastery in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Maulbronn Monastery is the best preserved Cistercian Monastery in all of Europe.  It’s near Stuttgart, in the state of Baden-Württemberg,  Germany. And it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Maulbronn Monastery is located in Maulbronn,  My Favorite City in Germany That You Probably Haven’t Heard Of.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in large part because it’s the best preserved Cistercian medieval monastery in Europe.

Maulbronn monastery chapel in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Maulbronn Monastery Chapel

At the time of writing, extensive renovations were being done on Maulbronn Monastery. That’s understandable considering that it was founded in the year 1147 under interesting circumstances.

Legend has it that some monks looking for a new location for a monastery. They decided to let their mule out and wherever he stopped for water, that would be a sign from God as to the location for the new monastery.

And so when the mule stopped in Maulbronn, twelve monks starting building their new monastery there.

Maulbronn monastery hall in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Walking through the halls of Maulbronn Monastery was very peaceful. However,  I also felt a little sad, knowing that the monks had to live in seclusion from the rest of the world.

The monastery was also a very cold place in winter. There was no heating except in one small dark room.  It got a lot colder after the Protestant Reformation broke out.

The Duke of Württemberg decided to take out the windows of the monastery. He used them in one of his own castles instead. The monks were left with cold winds blowing through the monastery.

Maulbronn monastery ceiling hallway in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Maulbronn monastery ceiling mural in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Maulbronn monastery ceiling mural in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

At least the monks had interesting ceilings to look at.  I was fascinated by all the murals and hand paintings on the ceilings.

Maulbronn monastery courtyard in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

And when the monks tired of looking at the ceilings I can imagine that the courtyard would have been a very welcoming place.

A monk’s life was not easy.  The monastery was self-supported through their own hard manual labour. In addition, the monks were required to pray several times a day for a couple of hours at a time.

That also included waking up in the middle of the night to do so.  The pews were designed so that the monks would be supported while standing. They weren’t allowed to sit since voices sound better when standing.

Maulbronn monastery pew in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Church pew where the monks stood several times a day for a couple of hours at a time.

For all that holiness, you may be surprised to learn that the chefs at Maulbronn Monastery were creative when it came to getting around the vegetarian rule.

Legend has it that Ravolli, or Maultaschen in German, were invented at Maulbronn Monastery. It was a way of sneaking meat into the monk’s dinner which was supposed to be completely vegetarian.

Maulbronn monastery fountain in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Maulbronn Monastery was eventually turned into a Protestant Theological College. Much to the monk’s chagrin, I would imagine.  One of the most famous students was German poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Herman Hesse.

His time at Maulbronn is illustrated in several of his works, most notably “Beneath the Wheel”.  I imagine they’re quite interesting given that he was expelled from the school.

Maulbronn monastery window courtyard in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Cistercian monks also had to follow no talking rules and talking was only allowed in one room of the Maulbronn Monastery.  I t would have made a terrible monk!  How about you?

More info on Maulbronn Monastery

Maulbronn Monastery is located ~35 km NW of Stuttgart, Germany.   For more info on opening hours, directions on how to get there see:  Maulbronn Monastery Service. Audio tours are available in English for €2 extra, which I would highly recommend.  See also Maulbronn, My Favorite City in Germany.  If you can’t make it to Germany, watch a virtual tour of Maulbronn Monastery.

Also be sure to watch for Maulbronn Monastery on the 2013 €2 commemorative coin in Germany.

Have you visited Maulbronn Monastery? I’d love to hear about your visit.

See more places to visit in Germany.

Masks of Carnival: A Photojourney

The masks of carnival are one of my favorite parts of Carnival in Germany.

Carnival officially begins on Nov 11th, but it doesn’t really ramp up until the crazy carnival week starting today (Feb 16,2012).  Old Woman’s Day kicks off the festivities and is my favorite day of carnival and you’ll likely see lots of women dressed up as witches.  During the rest of carnival you will see scary masks with bulging eyes, warts and jutting chins meant to scare winter away.  Sadly it hasn’t worked so far this year and I’m in desperate need of a holiday to Magaluf in Majorca.  Then there are the same masks with a huge grin plastered on them  – to welcome in Spring perhaps and to hand out handy!
The best place to see the masks of carnival is at one of the MANY carnival parades found throughout certain parts of Germany.  These photos are from the Stuttgart Carnival Parade and the Tübingen Carnival Parade, both located in SW Germany.

Either this mask wasn’t that scary or the kids were more concerned about the candy!
Many of the masks are hand-carved and can cost upwards of €1000!
These guys were scary and smart! It was freezing, but their costumes looked rather cozy.

Not only are these guys scary, they’re also tricksters, sneaking up behind the crowd and smearing unsuspecting people’s faces with black paint, or dumping flour on people’s heads when they weren’t looking.  The lucky ones just get covered in confetti.  I’ve been lucky…so far! Note:  Don’t wear white or expensive clothes when you go to a carnival parade!

They’re not just pretty faces, they’re also expert pyramid builders!
Masks of carnival in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Masks of carnival in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
This guy kept lifting his mask for quick sips of his beer. He certainly was one of the happiest parade participants.
Masks of carnival, Germany
masks of carnival
One of my personal favorite carnival masks.

Whoever said that Germany is the least funny country in the world, has obviously never been to a carnival parade where scariness and silliness go hand in hand!

See more places to visit in Germany.

Why Charming Houses in Northern Germany Are Disappearing

One of my favourite type of traditional house found in Northern Germany is in danger of disappearing – the thatched roof house.   I love seeing farmhouses with thatched roofs when spending time in Northern Germany and find them utterly charming.  They remind me of a simpler time.

Unfortunately, thatched roofs are in danger of disappearing and I can’t say I blame the Germans.  Thatched roofs can be a fire hazard.

They catch fire more easily than other roof materials do, the fire spreads more quickly and when the reeds burn, they slip and fall into the house which can make it difficult for people in the house to escape from the fire.

As a result, houses in Germany with thatched roofs also carry substantially higher insurance costs than houses with roofs made of other materials do.  Furthermore,  thatched roofs are not any cheaper than building a roof with other materials, so building a thatched roof results in increased costs, not to mention safety concerns.

With this in mind, I can’t really blame Germans for choosing other materials over the thatched roof, but I would hate to see all the thatched roof houses in northern Germany disappear.
Thatched roofs may not look very durable, but they can last 30 years or longer.  They are built with a high pitch to keep the water running off the roof and normally it’s only the top layer of reeds that gets wet.  The thick densely packed bundles of reeds serve as an insulator.

I love seeing how the thatched roofs evolve as they age.  It reminds me of how people’s faces change, a few more wrinkles here and there, which gives them character.  The inside of this house which I’ve been inside looks the same as the inside of any other house – white ceiling with no visible thatched roof.

All the thatched roof houses I’ve seen in Germany are made of brick.   I really like the contrast of the thatched roof when it starts to grow some green moss with the red brick.
What types of houses have you come across in your travels that you enjoyed?