The First of May

Kelsey Ennis
Major: History and German
Bonn University, Spring 2017

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A May-tree

Here in Germany, the first of May is not just Labor Day, but a day of celebration, tokens of love, and protesting. This past Monday I didn’t have class at the University or work at my internship. Like most other Germans, I had the day free. For many, this free day starts on the eve prior, with a widely spread event “Tanz in den Mai”, or dance into May. This means that all over town, especially in the larger city of Cologne nearby, there were clubs hosting a grandiose party going into the next morning, much like we treat New Years. It’s supposed to bring good luck and keep bad spirits out of the rest of the year, so I heard. A few people used the opportunity to party hard, driving around town with radios and music blaring and trees hanging off the backs of their cars, with multi colored streamers flowing behind. You may have heard of May-poles or May-trees, but if you’re like me, I had never heard of this. Instead of a pole that people dance around, weaving ribbons as they go, the state I live in, Nörd-Rhein Westphalia, has a very specific tradition. The trees I saw, all decorated with crepe paper, had a very specific purpose: profess ones love for another. The trees were all fairly young, but good sized birch trees, tall and thin. After they were driven all around town by some, they were erected around midnight, outside of a girl’s window or door. The suitors would attach a large heart to the tree, with the crush’s name, so that she would know it was for her. When I went around town Monday, I saw quite a few around, and Tuesday when I went to class, I counted 20 different decorated birch trees from the bus. It was the cutest thing I had seen since coming here, you couldn’t help but smile at them.

Something not to take as lightly, though, is another usual happening on May 1st: protests. Where I didn’t hear or see any, the First of May is used by many as a day of demonstrating. The largest, of course, was in Berlin, but there has been a history of demonstrations also happening here in Bonn at the Hofgarten. Safe to say, this past Monday was very much a learning experience for me on local customs. I found out that I wasn’t as in the dark as I thought I was, as one of my coworkers at the museum I’m interning at was explaining the traditions to another who also didn’t know them on Friday. I participated a little, staying up past midnight with a friend, but alas. We were both heartbroken to find no decorated birch tree outside our windows the next morning. How about we all just pretend we’re named Marta, just for that one picture? Happy May Day!

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Let’s pretend our name is “Marta”
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