LivingTravelMay Day in Berlin

May Day in Berlin

May is packed with festivals and the first day of the month starts off with a bang. Labor Day ( Tag der Arbeit) is a big problem in Berlin with its working class roots and its eternal fight against gentrification.

Although I had little idea of what to expect from the first day of May when I first arrived in Berlin, I now eagerly anticipate this holiday as the official start to a summer after the long winter season. Very different from the maibaum (maypole) and the schlager in Bavaria, this is what you can expect on May Day in Berlin.

History of May Day in Berlin

Labor problems have turned Berliners into a frenzied Erster Mai (May 1) since the 1920s. Open demonstrations were banned in 1924, but the 1929 May 1 st riots between communists and police resulted in the injury o death of about 100 people. The event came to be known as blutmai (Bloody May), and it was only a preview of the conflicts to come.

In the 1980s, the poor and immigrant West Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg was at the epicenter of the development challenges facing the city. Left-wing groups met to confront the economic powers with marches and demonstrations.

However, the relative peace ended on May 1, 1987. Violence broke out between the police ( polizei ) and the protesters. Anger over the political situation in the country boiled over and activists overturned police cars and destroyed property with police overreacting to the chaos by attacking the festival crowds.

The Kreuzberg district of SO 36 was fenced off and some of the festival goers resorted to looting, with fire and mayhem temporarily keeping police and firefighters at bay. A Turkish supermarket was burned to the ground in front of Görlitzer Bahnhof and its ruins became a stark reminder for years. It was eventually replaced by one of the largest mosques in the city.

On the morning of May 2 nd, police formed a counter and were able to calm the district – but not before more than 30 shops had been destroyed and any trust between the authorities and the people had been broken.

Far from being a one-time event, this led to years of violent clashes. In 1988, around 10,000 people demonstrated at the nearby Oranienplatz, chanting “There is no liberation without revolution” and again they ended in riots. While there are many true believers who come forward to protest injustice, there are other rebels without a cause who show up on May 1 to cause trouble.

MyFest in Berlin

Understandably, many citizens (and government agencies in Berlin) have been working to make the celebration a more peaceful event. Since 2003, MyFest has embraced the area’s cultural eclecticism with international food stalls and stages featuring musical acts ranging from hip-hop to Turkish folk to heavy metal.

If you prefer something more relaxing, the parks in the area are full of groups of people enjoying the sun. Grab a Späti (convenience store) of beer, try an exotic dish you’ve never had before, and find a place to rest on the grass.

Berlin May Day Safety

MyFest has been very successful in bringing people groups together for May Day without the threat of violence, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

If you plan to visit at this time, it is best not to stay near the Kottbusser Tor, as there will be regular public transport stops and street closures as well as crowds. Stay close in the other popular districts of Friedrichshain and Neukölln.

If you drive into the city, avoid parking your car anywhere on the street in Kreuzberg. Although car fire incidents are significantly lower than in the past, there is random property damage and the tempting fate is best avoided.

Daytime events are monitored by a heavy police presence, but don’t be discouraged. There is little chance of an interaction between the protesters and the police until after dark. If you ask right, they can even let you take a photo with them in riot gear.

Be aware that the sun and crowds can be overwhelming for some people. Moving through busy streets often means breaking through the currents of other bodies. If that’s not your idea of having a good time, stay outside or go early. Also, stay hydrated and protected from the sun, as this first sign of summer can leave people feeling burned the next day.

If you like a little danger, dusk brings out the wilds. Kreuzberg SO 36 remains the center of unrest until late at night when residents gather on balconies and call the police. He usually keeps throwing bottles from above, with masked youths throwing rocks and bottles and smashing bank shops around Kottbusser Tor. The police have been trained not to provoke or react, so if you don’t want to be part of the madness, stay away and don’t participate. Note that there are many police cameras that record events, so if you are tempted to get loud; there’s a good chance you’ll get caught in the movie.

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