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May customs: Corona compliant May Day traditions in Bonn

May customs : Corona compliant May Day traditions in Bonn

It is the second time that May Day celebrations have been cancelled. But some Bonners refused to let the May customs be taken away from them and came up with some creative innovations.

Two young men squat in a front garden, hidden behind a wall, and knot colourful strips of crepe paper into the thin birch tree lying in the grass in front of them. It is shortly after 6 pm. They started early with their project so that they will be finished before the curfew, and normally there would be more than two of them helping.

Moritz Bechtel and Christoph Pannes are from the Ramersdorf Junggesellenverein, (bachelors’ club). They are preparing the maypole for the village square. They have already put one up in front of the Herz-Jesu-Kloster Ramersdorf retirement home. Satisfied, Pannes lifts the decorated tree over the garden wall which is almost the height of a person, and Bechtel takes it on the other side. The tree is so light that he is able to carry it upright like a flag to the village square. "It's very small by our standards, but a 10-metre tree would be difficult for two people to transport. That's why it's a bit smaller this year," he explains.

Christoph Pannes follows him with the necessary props, including wooden wedges and cable ties, and adds: "The tree is small, but great in its importance. We want to cheer people up. It's important to look forward instead of moping."

The two young men feel deeply rooted in Ramersdorf. Therefore, their commitment to the village and to the bachelors’ club is as matter of course; that there could be no maypole one year is unimaginable for the two of them. "After all, it has always been like this," they explain. "Our fathers and grandfathers did this too." But this justification only roughly covers what they really mean. You can tell that they are concerned about more than maintaining tradition and a sense of duty. The deep-seated emotional connection to their hometown and the people is difficult to put into words.

However, it is not easy to keep the club running under the requirements of the Corona Protection Ordinance. “The club lives from the community and shared experiences,” Bechtel says, stating the obvious. “That is all lost now.” Of course, members use digital communication channels such as video conferencing to keep in touch, says Pannes. But of course, it is not an adequate replacement. "Normally we go into the forest together and, in consultation with the forester, fetch trees for each member who wants to put one up," Bechtel describes the years before the corona pandemic. And then they always went off together to put up the trees. “Afterwards we auctioned off the honour of being the May King,” Pannes interjects. "Depending on how many trees were put up, it was quite a long night. You wouldn't believe all the things that can happen.” He winks conspiratorially but doesn't explain further.

PowerPänz puts up two trees

Only a few kilometres away in Oberkassel, another association is putting up two May trees. The parents of ‘PowerPänz 2001 e.V.’ want to honour the workers in their two day care centres. “We actually wanted to do it last year, but unfortunately it was a leap year, when traditionally the women put up the May trees for the men. But since only women work in our facilities, that was unfortunately not possible,” explains association member Susanne Tschöpel as she attaches the tree along with another mother. “Our appreciation for the work in the day care centre is of course particularly great at the moment. We want to use this to say thank you.”

Meanwhile, there is a problem on the village square in Ramersdorf. A holder for a maypole already exists; but when Bechtel places the thin birch trunk on the cover, it becomes apparent that the hole in the floor is intended for much thicker trees. The maypole is too thin. While the two ponder whether they have enough wooden wedges with them, Pannes discovers a similar receptacle for a flagpole a few metres further on. This one is much smaller - and after a few practised moves, the paper ribbons flutter in the wind in the crown of the birch tree.

Bonners get creative

But this maypole is far from being unique. Although it has become more difficult to get May trees in the pandemic and a curfew applies, some Bonners have not missed out the opportunity to surprise their loved ones. For the two students Fabia and Julia it is the first time that they are putting up a May tree. The two have teamed up to surprise their respective girlfriends. “The idea came when we found the branches in the bulk waste,” Fabia says with a laugh. "We had thought about it before. But it's difficult to get trees this year." The two are very pleased with their solution. “After all, that's much better than cutting down a tree that has been standing there for 20 years.”

Shortly before 10 pm, the streets are deserted again and you can only hear the rustling of crepe paper strips in the wind here and there. As confirmed by Bonn police, it was a quiet night.

(Original text: Benjamin Westhoff, Translation: Caroline Kusch)