Berlin – especially Kreuzberg – is famous for its May Day demonstrations. We decided to go to everything we could to make the most of being here.
Unlike the Anglophone countries, which adopted the tamer Labour Day, in Germany May Day is a public holiday. So on the evening before, there were lots of people out and about, walking and in cafes.
An excited vibe in the air. We went to Mauerpark: A bonfire, people clustered around live performers, a line of police at every gate.
On May 1, we went to the trade union demo in the morning: A march to Brandenburg Gate, perhaps the most famous monument in Berlin. Each union formed a block, with their colours, their t-shirts, their banners and flags. Union after union after union.
The road through Tiergarten was closed to cars\ to make way for a stage and stalls. Here, each union and leftie group posed for their own photo – presumably so they could post them to their social media accounts, as anywhere!
Next stop: MyFest, a huge street festival in Kreuzberg. Live music stages and toddlers wearing earmuffs and people having picnics and a plethora of food and political stalls. Some say this festival is co-optation, in that Kreuzberg was the site of the massive May Day protests of the 1980’s and 90’s. It’s more difficult to march where tens of thousands of people party.
Rock climbing, circus, bouncy castles. The activities for kids were all free, even human foosball. An inflated outer ring, and handholds for each kid – they must stay in position, just as the plastic players always stay in position in table football. There was a huge range of people at the festival, including tourists, some of whom I´m guessing would be unlikely to celebrate a day of workers´ struggle at home but here were right into it.
Despite the Police order against protesting at MyFest, at 5pm thousands of people gathered to march around Kreuzberg. This “unannounced demo” was in solidarity with refugees, against the rising cost of housing, for better wages etc.
And finally, the largest demo of the day: The official “Revolutionary 1 May Demo.” This set off about 6:45 p.m.. Banners, speakers on trucks, thousands of people.
We marched. And marched. The longest march I´ve ever been on. Later we realised this was probably due to the Police blockades. People – kids, families, friends with dogs, older people, a crowd drawn from the Festival – marched chanting “A-, Anti- Anticapitalista.” Up to 25,000 people according to reports.
By 9 p.m., the demo had woven back to Kreuzberg. We finally recognised where we were, and took the U-Bahn home, not realising that this was, at last, very close to the headquarters of the SPD, Germany´s ruling party and the destination of the demo. The SPD is supposedly Social Democratic, but is not seen that way by the demonstrators and many others.
The next day, we read that the demo did make it to the HQ, though the police had it heavily barricaded… 6,400 Police were on duty. They went in with pepper spray, even on those waiting at the U-Bahn station. We were relieved to have left when we did.
We also spent a bunch of time on Google Translate, getting the gist of the many fliers we’d been given over the day.
A film on Rent Rebels, the Blockupy protests timed for the EU elections, a blockade to stop a family being evicted from their flat, weekly left discussion groups, fights for public transport, stop all deportations, keep Tempelhof 100% public, the ecological left, a demo against gentrification, a call to join a union of precarious workers. A very outward looking day, as well as a chance for people in Berlin to celebrate struggle and protest against capitalism.
Frances Mountier is a writer living in Berlin.