The Buttenheim Kerwabaum

Where there is a Bavarian beer festival there are also remnants of the Germanic pagan traditions. Today in Buttenheim we witnessed one of these old tribal traditions at the St. Georgenbräu brewery in Buttenheim. St. Georgenbräu also happens to be one of our favorite breweries in the area. This is why:

Fashion historians might also note that Buttenheim is the birthplace of Levi Strauss, and his childhood house has been turned into a small museum–which I imagine is about jeans but we have never been:

So this tree-planting festival felt pagan and very country. A large group of men hoist a ten-storey high pine tree decorated with ribbons into the air using only man power–no machine. It was so low-tech and superstitious–proving how different Franconians are from other Germans! I imagine they have done this same ceremony for hundreds and hundreds of years. This also satisfied a great curiosity of mine about why one of those symbolic trees are in every village and town in Franconia.

What was most interesting to me (esp from a North American perspective) was the lack of any safety precautions. Little kids were running around right under the tree while they were doing this and people were coming and going too. The work area was not roped off. They were moving large concrete blocks from the ground as well as the tree and it was all very casual. No hard hats were worn and although they used their feet to prop up the bottom of the poles I did not notice any steel-toed boots. The guys were sipping beer while they were working, totally normal here. Not drinking stupidly of course.

They didn’t really have any kind of leader. They all worked together in a casual, organized chaotic way. Not at all the stereotype of the German way! The whole tree-hoisting process took well over an hour. They’d basically push the poles to hoist the tree about a foot/10 degrees at a time. Then they would reposition the poles and do it again. A collective effort, admirable in the way no one ever got impatient or annoyed and they easily could have. I think it’s because they just take their time and work together and are doing it for fun, for community and tradition. Plus, they get to crack the delicious St. Georgenbräu, which is normally not even served out of the wooden barrel. They also brought in a pig on a spit carried by a tractor. The pig was for the team of men only, but we were warmly welcomed to have a crack at the barrel beer–which is all I wanted anyway 🙂

Here is a picture of Josh filling the holy grail:

The Sandkerwa is a giant five-day festival going on now Bamberg. It does not feel remotely pagan or country, but there was also a tree-raising ceremony here today. Tomorrow there will be fishermen jousting in the canals–hope to see that!! Every night but especially tonight, the Sandkerwa is a world-class piss-up! Tonight we noticed a table had gone through the window of one of the local antique shops, and we saw a guy being carted off on a stretcher.

The pictures of the Buttenheim Kerwabaum being raised–and of the wooden barrel being tapped.

The history of Franconia is very interesting! It’s worth browsing the Wiki

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