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May traditions in Germany: Scary witches and protests

Petra Lambeck als
April 30, 2019

Few months in the year can boast as many traditional celebrations in Germany as the merry month of May. Temperatures rise and with them, so does everybody's mood. The celebrations vary from region to region.

Deutschland - Maibrauch
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini

They're ready to dance again — all those witches and devils. On April 30, in the night to May 1, the Harz region of Germany sees all sorts come out of the woodwork. Thousands of people, mainly women dressed in witches' costumes, gather together and dance around bonfires during the famous "Walpurgis Night." And they can certainly kick off their shoes and dance the night away since the next day, May 1, is a national holiday.

The festivities are based on ancient folklore according to which witches were believed to fly on their brooms to the Brocken Mountain on the eve of May Day. Together with devils, they would celebrate the arrival of spring there.

Bright trees dot the landscape

May celebrations are not just about devils, witches and bonfires. There is also plenty of eye candy around: young male suitors decorate trees with streamers and place them before their beloved's home as a sign of love. Police have cautioned about cutting down small trees in the forest, however, because it is considered an act of theft and can be punished with a fine.

Read moreThe Germans' annual obsession with asparagus

Radio reports advise young men to buy their arboreal tokens of love at special outdoor markets or stands. Or, they can take advantage of a new "taxi" service in which specially ordered May trees are delivered to a young woman's doorstep. In southern Germany, people erect large May poles in the center of a market square.

Protests in Berlin

Things can get hairy in other parts of the country, however. For the past 30 years, there have often been violent protests in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin,​​​​​​ where more than 10,000 demonstrators voice their rejection of capitalism, racism and social ostracism. The past few years have, however, been more peaceful.

Click through the picture gallery above to explore Germany's unique May traditions; and below to relive last year's May Day protests in Berlin.