MAY – PARADES, MAY POLES AND THIEVES
Just gotta call it fate. I post the maypole article below a few days ago. Then just two days later, I am walking through the first district past a cozy little restaurant near the university and low and behold, what greets me — a stolen maypole. Some cheeky students snatched the maypole from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences of Vienna (Boku), transported it on the Bim (do maypoles need tickets, Herr Schaffner?) and erected it at that restaurant to hang out for a while and spread May good-cheer to the lawyers, politicians, tourists and students who pass the 1st district eatery on their way to their next appointment. LOVE IT! (see featured photo at beginning of text). Rumor has it that the green-with-envy Technical University students have asked if the stunt qualifies their Boku brethren for extra credit points because everyone knows, “while the TU students are working their butts off for every point possible, the Boku students are racking them in with far easier tasks and twice the fun.” Well, TU students, if you’re good, maybe the Boku students who swiped the maypole will invite you to the Jause and beer that will no doubt be demanded as ransom.
In any case, I’ll keep my readers updated as the story progresses…
Original post about the maypole tradition:
While flag-waving workers and balloon-tied toddlers led by SPÖ politicians parading to the beat of marching bands through Vienna’s street culminate in a sea of red at the city’s Rathaus, another Austrian tradition takes places in what may appear to be tranquil town squares throughout the country. Perhaps it’s the chimes of the church bells or the gurgling of the square’s fountain that lure you into the belief that here is one place in the the world at least, where one can sip one’s Melange, admire the budding window boxes and enjoy the scent of freshly baked bread tempting you from the bakery next door. No worries. The universe of this little town square is on its proper course.
But then you look up to admire the town’s symbol of pride. The pole that you noticed the townspeople raising the day before with music and fanfare, the tall, slender, wooden pole that towered above the highest house in town with the small pine tree attached to its tippy-top, it’s different now. There’s something missing. The tree! The tree is gone! And from the corner of your eye, you spot ’em. Two young men stealthily stuffing the last remaining pine branch into the back of their Opel before they speed off in the direction of the neighboring village.
Yes, in an annual attempt at one-upmanship, villages throughout this serene land of white windy winters that melt into spring, engage in a tradition of a more mischievous thing. They steal each other’s maypoles. And because the maypoles only rival the Gamsbart in their display of pride and masculinity, they are guarded round-the-clock. But some villages prove more clever than others. Upper Austrians, for example, have been quite crafty. In 2012 a group from Engerwitzdorf, a town outside of Linz with just 8000 inhabitants, managed in three nights to steal a total of twelve maypoles from neighboring villages. And afterwards they even had the audacity to cheekily display their bounty along the highway. In Lower Austria, another group of thieves chose an even more brazen place to display their prize — the lion’s enclosure of the Haag zoo.
But it’s all in good fun. And tradition doesn’t only stipulate the amount of days that the trees can be stolen (three after being raised) but also the means of return. The home village loads some kegs of beer onto a tractor and drives the ransom payment to the hostage-taking village in return for the “missing” tree. Unless you are the mayor of Linz, in which case you may decide not to pay the beer because the tree went up 4 days before May 1 and was guarded 5 days, and then stolen 10 days after it went up. Whoever said math isn’t useful in the real world? And that sometimes it pays to turn a blind eye to numbers and stringent rules in the name of good fun.
Is stealing a Maypole Illegal: According to this gov. flyer if you keep to the tradition, it is rarely ever penalized: http://www.bmi.gv.at/cms/BMI_OeffentlicheSicherheit/2014/03_04/files/Brauchtum_und_Recht.pdf
Krone report about stolen maypole in Vienna and its subway adventure: http://www.krone.at/Oesterreich/Studenten_mit_gestohlenem_Maibaum_in_Bim_unterwegs-Spassaktion_in_Wien-Story-508471