Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tanz in den Mai!

Maibaum Stecken
(Stuck May pole)
In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of a Maibaum (maypole). Young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: "Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance into May!"). In the Rhineland, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a maypole, a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. Females usually place roses or rice in form of a heart at the house of their beloved one. It is common to stick the heart to a window or place it in front of the doormat.  - Wikipedia
Having spent the better part of seven years and change in Germany, we saw a number of German holidays. In our small village in Nordrhein-Westfalen there was none of that Commie-Socialist-Leftist political crap associated with May Day in some areas of the world. (Apparently that sort of thing is big in Berlin. Good for them, I'll take small town Germany over the cities any day of the week!)

Next door to us was a delightful family, the Schwartzmann's. They befriended us the day we moved in and remained our friends until the day we left. Great people. Their house had a large number of May trees every year adorning the roof.

Their oldest daughter was the source of all this Teutonic affection from many of the local junge Männer. She was pretty, she was blonde and extremely intelligent. When we first arrived she was 12 I think and could speak English fluently. She proved to be a big help with some of the local juvenile pranksters.

Especially the "doorbell ringer". This one porcine young Hun thought it was a great lark to sneak up and ring our doorbell. Multiple times.

You'd think the little Hindenburg would have lost a few kilos just running off for the 83rd time in a day.

Even my sneaking out the back way and ambushing the little pain in the butt didn't deter him. Only the call from Mutti for dinner would see him heave off and set a course for home.

But one day, young Fräulein Schwartzmann observed Herr Schmerz-im-Arsch ringing the doorbell at something like seven AM on a Saturday morning. As I leaned out to chastise the rotund little twerp I saw young Fräulein Schwartzmann leaning out of her kitchen window and then heard a string of rather forceful language issue forth.

I think she was instructing the young ne'er-do-well of the gentle ministrations she would apply with her horse whip to his rather substantial derrière if he persisted in this line of hi-jinks and juvenile amusements.

Seems the young Germanic lad recalled a previous engagement at that time and wandered off to torment someone else. I waved to young Fräulein Schwartzmann and thanked her.

Apparently the word got out and the other young German lads who liked to play the fool around die Amerikaner soon found other hobbies to amuse themselves.

I kid you not about the horsewhip as young Fräulein Schwartzmann was quite the equestrian. I think her mother said she started riding about the time she started walking. Not exactly Mongolian*, but impressive nevertheless.

Impressive because the horse she rode was bloody huge! I've done some searching through my German horse files (okay, I Googled it) and found the horse I believe our young German lass rode. As I recall she told me her mount was a Trakehner.

Trakehner Horse
(The girl in the photo is taller than the young lady who lived next door!)

Trakehner is a light warm-blood breed of horse, originally developed at the East Prussian state stud farm in the town of Trakehnen from which the breed takes its name. The state stud (Hauptgestüt Trakehnen) was established in 1731 and operated until 1944, when the fighting of World War II led to the annexing of East Prussia by Russia, and the town containing the stud renamed as Yasnaya Polyana.
The Trakehner typically stands between 15.2 and 17 hands (62 and 68 inches, 157 and 173 cm). They can be any color, with bay, gray, chestnut and black being the most common, though the breed also includes few roan and tobiano pinto horses. It is considered to be the lightest and most refined of the warm-bloods, due to its closed stud book which allows entry of only Trakehner, as well as few selected Thoroughbred, Anglo-Arabian, Shagya and Arabian bloodlines. - Wikipedia
Whether or not I got the breed right (and I'm sure I did), he was a magnificent animal. He was a chestnut and taller at the shoulder than Yours Truly. While I am most certainly not of the stature of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I do stand 68 inches tall. In my stocking feet mind you. I'd be surprised if young Fräulein Schwartzmann stood much taller than five-foot-nothing. So it was a rather impressive sight to see her mounted on this massive animal, who obeyed her every command. More like a wee pony than a big horse. She was, like I said, a superb rider.

And every first of May, you could see atop her father's house, evidence of just how popular she was with the local lads.

Oh, and did I mention that beer was involved on German holidays?

Now that should go without saying...

This beverage has another name as well, The Old AF Sarge's Favorite Pilsner.

If I can't get a Guinness, well then "Bitte ein Bit!"

(Oh and speaking of horses, I have a charming little tale about Saxon cavalry horses during the Napoleonic Wars which may amuse some of you. Or not. But not today. Today, we dance into May!)

* 'Tis my understanding that Mongolian kids, at least back in the day, could ride a horse before they could walk. I'm sure my buddy bigsoxfan can confirm/deny that factoid. What with his Missus being actually from Mongolia. A place I'd like to visit someday. Just to see the statue of the Great Khan at least. And sleep in a real yurt. Not the kind hippies are prone to use in this country.


  1. They call it Ding Dong ditchem over here, very annoying, but at least the little bastards aren't doing any major harm while they get their kicks.

    We used to dance the May pole with those ribbons in grades one -three. I don't know if it was a California thing or what, but we moved back east and I never heard of a May pole again.

    1. True on the "Ding Dong ditchem", annoying but no harm done. (Wow, you guys in Jersey have a phrase for every occasion!)

      I remember May poles from when I was young, vaguely.

  2. OldAFSarge, able to make even the first day of a month....Interesting!

    1. I have a new "paradigm" (pardon the expression) - I set aside time each night to write the next day's post. My goal is a "post a day", knowing full well that if I stumble, Tuna will pick up the slack (as he has done so admirably in the past) or my readers will cut me some slack.

      But I remember the first of May from Germany with great fondness. So I couldn't miss it.

  3. I remember seeing the "maypole dance" as a little kid, at some huge event in Kezar Stadium (in SF) sometime during the late '40s.
    By the time I was at an age for that, it was no longer a big deal.
    Besides, that was girl stuff.

    1. Yup, girlie stuff. In the area of Germany I was in I never saw any Maypole dancing. Just the be-ribboned branches stuck on the houses in the village which had daughters. And just the Germans.

  4. In the Hanau/Frankfurt area, mid 60's, the most common beer was Henninger. Semed many of the larger towns had their own local brewery.
    May Day? Seem to remember always being in the field.

    1. I'll bet you were in the field. Since time immemorial armies have gone out in the spring, to train. And get all muddy.

      Bitburger was very popular in Nordrhein-Westfalen.


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