Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Tanz in den Mai -Walpurgis Night in Germany

Today’s the 1st of May! One could assume it’s just like any other beginning of the month but I can assure you it’s not. In Germany, Monday night has been a special one! Every year people in Germany gather on the evening of 30th April and dance into May (“Tanz in den Mai”) -but why?

Actually, in the past the 1st of May commemorated Saint Walpurga, an English abbess who lived between 710 and 779. The 1st of May was the day on which Walpurga was canonised and a very popular festival in medieval Europe. The night leading to this feast day was called Walpurgis Night (“Walpurgisnacht”) after Saint Walpurga. Many people argue that Saint Walpurga was not the real reason why this day is still remembered. In fact, it is claimed that “Walpurgisnacht” had already been celebrated as a spring festival by Germanic tribes long before there were any Christians.
People believed that every year on that night witches from all around the continent would fly on brooms, pitchforks and animals to meet on top of a mountain called “Blocksberg”. They would light a big bonfire, dance around it, sing and have a rowdy party. What for? To worship their master, the devil! He would then grant them new magical power in return.
This is a Walpurgisnacht celebration in Heidelberg. Foto copyright Andrea Fink

Some people have appointed the mountain “Brocken” in the region “Harz” to be the setting of this legend.  This is why every year thousands of people come to the „Harz“ region to enjoy these festivities which are accompanied by various events like concerts and fireworks. The first organised Walpurgis Night took place in 1896. Today, people dress up as witches, dance witches’ dances (“Hexentanz”) and there is a big witches’ bonfire (“Hexenfeuer”).

In other towns and cities around Germany there are numerous opportunities to celebrate this occasion- mainly in bars, pubs and clubs. On that night people dance, party and drink May wine (“Maibowle”), an alcoholic cocktail with fresh fruit and flavoured with woodruff. Dance into May is a very popular way to welcome the month May and is loved by all generations, especially younger people. 
And as the 1st of May is 'Labour Day' and a national bank holiday, everyone can sleep in and recover from the celebrations...

This is a picture from 1829 depicting the Walpurgisnacht, as it is mentioned in Johann Wolfgang Goethe's famous play Faust: In the foreground you see Faust and Mephisto walking through the crazy celebrations of the witches.

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