A fresh maypole is erected every year in Ludenhausen, erected by an extremely unconventional traditional society. Surely a record: the naked maypole has never once been stolen. Our reporter took a look around. Text and photos: Klaus Mergel
Ludenhausen Maypole Kings
Setting up a maypole is a joyful event. Yet the organisation involved in selecting a tree, cutting, transporting, decorating, guarding then finally erecting it all takes time, money and hard work. That’s why most maypoles in Bavaria usually last up to six years. But in the small village of Ludenhausen in the district of Landsberg, they have turned this into an annual event.
You heard right: a maypole that doesn’t even last 365 days. That’s no time at all, given the effort it takes to decorate and set up a tall fir, whose timber cost alone is a couple of hundred euros.
In Bavaria, it is not uncommon for a maypole to become rotten by the fourth or fifth year. Once this has been confirmed by an expert, it has to be removed. This is not an issue in Ludenhausen, where every year on May 1st, a fresh tree is installed in the village square.
Youth club for fifty-year olds too
The “Jugendclub Ludenhausen” is in charge of the action. While elsewhere, the maypole is erected by boys’ clubs, traditional costume societies or rural youth groups, here in this village of 600 inhabitants, a rather unconventional club has been running the show for decades.
In the past, members would leave when they got married or on their 26th birthday
It has 140 members, male and female. Denomination? It doesn’t matter, even though this is a strongly Catholic area. Age: between 14 and 50. In the past, members would leave when they got married or on their 26th birthday - but that rule no longer applies.
The Jugendclub was founded in 1965 and obtained official society status in 1984. The first Chairman, Magnus Stork, explains: “In those days nobody wanted to set up a rural youth group, because that would have involved incurring liabilities towards the church.
And the founders didn’t want it to be a boys’ club, as they didn’t want to exclude the girls,” says the IT manager. A pinch of secularisation and emancipation in the foothills of the Alps.
50-metre long spruce garland
As well as ski trips, a football tournament, an autumn fair and a carnival parade, the main task of the club for the past 54 years has been to set up the annual maypole. And this is quite a demanding activity. Spruce branches, known locally as “Dox”, are hauled from the wood and cut to size. A tree is felled and transported to the village. It is erected by hand using so-called “swallows”.
The most awkward task of all is weaving the two crowns and creating the 50-metre long garland of spruce branches. “It takes us two weeks,” estimates the second Chairman, Manuel Leppelt.
Ludenhausen insists on naked trees
It’s the same procedure every year. None of the young people have any idea why they set up a new maypole every year. “Out of tradition,” suggests a young woman. Correct, but which one? “Perhaps because our tree isn’t painted,” says another. “The effects of the weather mean that by autumn it no longer looks that great.”
In Ludenhausen they are proud of their naked tree, the society chronicles talk of a “beautiful contrast to the kitschy painted trees in the surrounding area.”
One advantage of the “naked” tree: the risk of theft is low. Villages that paint their trees have to guard them for weeks. In Ludenhausen, they only cut the tree down a week before setting it up. And bring it into the village just before May 1st. “The rules don’t allow it to be stolen in the woods,” says Stork.
Coveted, but never stolen
And nobody has yet managed to steal the Ludenhausen maypole. The attempt by the Thainingers is legendary: they were caught in the act by Farmer Mengle. He set up a loud cry, clung boldly to the top of the tree and caused the thieves to lose their balance. A victory, which the owners of the maypole have immortalised in a satirical song.
They were caught in the act by Farmer Mengle
In 1950, the neighbours from Rott tried - and failed - to steal it with a truck. They were caught in the act. The fight over the tree developed into a punch-up, which threw “long, dark shadows over the relationship between the citizens of Ludenhausen and Rott” as the commemorative publication of 1976 recalls.
One thing is clear: Ludenhausen has the longest
35 men from the parish of Reichling, now administered by the small village of Ludenhausen, tried their luck too. They left their tractor at the edge of the village, but were discovered. They must have fled in a hurry: a satirical song featuring the line “a bunch of hats were left behind” tells of how various items of Reichling headgear were found lying on Ludenhausen soil. Naturally, the relationship with Reichling became quite tempestuous. Ironically, however, most of the money for today’s maypole comes from the parish of Reichling.
And that goes towards an impressive tree. In the past, the maypoles measured between 36 and 42 metres. Often with a steel ring on the top. “The crown often breaks when the tree is felled”, explains Leppelt. But that still counts for the official length. Ludenhausen has already won several hundred litres of free beer in the competition to see who has the longest maypole.
More about the Jugendclub Ludenhausen: jugendclub-ludenhausen.de (only in German)