Traditions Field Note

First of May Celebration in Berlin


Berlin takes it to the streets on the First of May (erste Mai, in German) each year. Locals celebrate spring and to stand up for worker’s rights and promote a multicultural city. It’s an exciting mix of politics and partying as everyone tries to make their voices heard!


A rapper with a sign that says ‘Up with the wages, Down with the rent’

All around the world, people celebrate labor day on May first. In Berlin, they take labor day to a different level. It’s been a tradition since the 1980’s to stage protests throughout the city, especially in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg. I went to this year’s celebration MyFest in the heart of Kreuzberg. Myfest features a collection of musicians, political message groups, and organized protesters running through the streets. There was so much going on I didn’t where to focus my attention! In any case, it was awesome to see so many people celebrating diversity, worker’s rights and the right to free speech here in Germany! What do you think about these values?

What traditions does the community have?

An improvised Maypole encourages people to dance

On May first, offices, stores and schools are closed so that workers can join in on the festivities. Each year, it seems to me that some themes are discussed more than others. This year, there were open demonstrations against racism and Nazi political parties. Although most people in Germany are against what the Nazis did and fight for multiculturalism in workplaces and schools, there are still some people who call themselves “Nazis.”

Those people also form protest groups and march on the First of May, but on the outskirts of Berlin. Because these groups exist, there are “Anti-fascism” groups that protest specifically against the Neo-Nazis. ‘Neo’ is another way to refer to something that is happening in the present, but has strong origins in the past. Anti-fascism groups are welcomed in Kreuzberg for their accepting attitude towards all races and religions.

What tradition did I learn about?

Aside from all the protesting and statements about politics, there is a lot of music and dancing going on. This is to celebrate the arrival of spring. A few people made their own Maypoles to bring to the festival.

I took some time out to eat a kofte,a delicious Turkish food

Traditionally, people make a large Maypole and dance around it holding ribbons, but that is not common in contemporary Berlin. Instead, a few people here make smaller ones and carry them around the festival. I didn’t know that this tradition was also a part of the First of May celebration, until I saw some people carrying these strange decorative sticks around!

Why does the community have this tradition?

Protesting against the government and other organizations has been especially treasured by the German people after WWII. It’s important for young people to raise their voices together against fascism, racism and discrimination. It helps ensure Germany’s history never repeats itself.

These protests are also a way to discuss political issues that will affect many of Berlin’s residents. For everyone in who lives here, having a safe and reasonably priced city is the ultimate goal. There are some areas where people are being forced out of their homes by gentrification. This is when wealthier people move into a neighborhood and raise the rents there. Those who can’t afford to stay are then forced to leave, even if they’ve lived there all their lives. Kreuzberg is having this problem right now, since a lot of people want to live in this artsy neighborhood. Therefore, people are protesting to keep their rents from rising so they can stay in their homes.

Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?

After a long, cold winter, Germans are always ready to celebrate the arrival of spring (me too!). Yet, the First of May is so much more than a celebration about the weather. It’s also a celebration of a multi-cultural city life, where so many people, languages and cultures fit together in a rather small space. Having festivals like MyFest help city dwellers keep a sense of community. In the end, we are all Berliners, and sticking together regardless of race, wealth or religion is the way to keep our city at its best.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s