I met up with Tom early one morning to hike up the hills behind Bad Honnef to check out the basalt formations and get a little air. Together we wandered the quiet residential streets passing the ancient water pump and turning into the forest for the steep climb. This was all part of Tom’s routine. When he wasn’t with his family or piloting some massive Airbus, he was centering his soul from the back of a paddleboard or pounding the trails behind his house.
We came along a road and there in front of a well-appointed home stood a birch tree festooned with bright ribbons. As I walked on getting more breathless from the grade, I looked. “It’s a Maibaum,” said Tom. I knew Maytrees to be somewhat larger and involved pines on top of poles that had horny German youth dance about with sprightly steps and billowing shirtsleeves. This was different. This tree leaned against the house and Tom explained that in the Rhine region suitors chopped a tree to prove their value as
hard-working men to girls they loved. “The government allows the trees to be cut in one place late at night and then they are delivered the next morning. Some girls get many. Some girls get none,” he told me. I found out later that spurned suitors must remove their trees. In Germany there is ample heartache for both genders.
Several days later I was spending time with friends Mike and Sebastian on the dock. I asked them to tell me more about this custom. Sebastian laughed. “Yes, there are trees for love, but there is also a tree you give if you are angry.” He explained that in some cases those that have been treated cruelly by a partner might cut a tree and decorate it with messages of sorrow or bile. “It is then there in the morning for all to see,” he said.
I asked him, “Could you place a tree at an accountants or at the home of a government official? How about a nasty high school teacher or rip off car repair shop?”
I could see the light go on behind Sebastian’s eyes. “Why not,” he said. “There are more than enough birch trees for both lovers and haters.
Indeed, I thought, stumbling on a pun, “Yeah, I guess love’s a birch.”
Cold beers in hand, both Mike and Sebastian looked up at me and blinked. “With jokes like that you could get your own tree,” they said.