‘Witches’ get mean in German neighborhoods

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Tonight, people living off base have to be extremely careful. It’s “Hexennacht,” witches night, when mysterious things happen in German neighborhoods.
Legend says that on the night of April 30, evil ghosts represented by cold weather, snow and darkness meet with witches and demons at the Blocksberg in the Harz mountains. Here they get into mischief until midnight when they take off on broomsticks, pitchforks and billy goats.
Traditionally, children and teenagers play tricks on neighbors: they ring doorbells and run off, put mustard on door handles, hide floor mats and trash cans, remove garden gates and wrap cars in toilet paper.
German Polizei will patrol to make sure no major damages will be done. Sometimes, older children or adults do destructive things like lifting drainage covers in the middle of the road or moving traffic signs. That’s why drivers must be careful at night or the following morning.
The history of witches night goes back to Pagan times when people believed that evil ghosts tried to prevent the “Queen of Spring” from entering the country. Witches and demons were masters of people and things, so people did a lot to protect themselves. They hid billy goats and broomsticks so witches would not be able to ride on them through the night and do evil things. It was an unwritten law that children must not get beaten with a broomstick, because it could be a witch’s tool.
Also, socks were put cross-shaped on children’s beds, pentagrams were put over house entrances or sacred salt was scattered over the threshold. Residents used several herbs known to ban witches to smoke out houses and stables. Herbs included rue, St. John’s wort and juniper.
Witches night is also called “Walpurgis” night. Walpurga was an English saint who worked as a missionary in Germany in the eighth century. In 761, she became the abbess of a monastery in Heidenheim, which was founded by her two brothers Willibald and Wunibald, who also were saints. She was known for exorcising demons from the bodies of the sick. Walpurga died in 779, and on May 1, 871 her body was transported to Eichstätt to be reburied next to her brothers.
Another German tradition to welcome May is “Tanz in den Mai,” dance into May. Dances take place the night of April 30 in community halls, gasthauses, hotels or other facilities with dancing halls.
In several villages of the KMC, the May tree will be put up the evening of April 30 or in the morning of May 1. In heathen times, the May tree was put up during spring fest as a symbol for fertility and spring. The bark had to be taken off because people thought the evil spirits were hiding underneath. Today, May poles symbolize the beginning of spring and hope for a good harvest. It usually is a fir tree with the lower branches stripped and only the treetop untouched. The pole is decorated with colorful ribbons, carved wooden figures and craftsmen’s trade ornaments like sausages for the butchers and pretzels for the bakers. Sometimes this ceremony of putting up the tree is combined with a village fest.
Following is list of a few events in the KMC:
-Putting up of May tree 5 p.m. in Stelzenberg.
-May fest tonight on the area of the German Army Reserve Comradeship between Otterbach and Sambach.
-May tree fest, 6 p.m. in Krickenbach.
-Putting up of May pole 10:30 a.m. in Queidersbach.
-May tree fest starts 10:30 a.m. in Krickenbach.
-May fest on the area of the German Army Reserve Comradeship between Otterbach and Sambach.
-May tree fest, 11 a.m. in Mölschbach.
-May fest on Miesau’s village square.
-May market in Bruchmühlbach.
-May tree fest in Mehlingen and Baalborn.
In Germany and some other European countries, May 1 also is a legal holiday, Labor Day. Stores and other places usually open Saturdays will be closed.
In 1890, May 1 was proclaimed as the day of the working class by the first international workers’ congress in Paris. It was a day to fight for an eight-hour workday and other working-class rights. Today, trade unions and workers meet for assemblies and political speeches.