We Went to the May Day Protests in Germany
May 2 2014
Every May Day, Germans celebrate with union flags and protests, which usually end in clashes with cops in helmets and jail-bound paddy wagons. May Day follows Walpurgis Night, the feast of Saint Walpurga, a night of dance and "the meeting of sorcerers." The two together make for an anti-capitalist witch party with balcony techno and fireworks.
Yesterday, protesters in Hamburg threw bottles, stones, and fireworks while police fought back with water cannons, pepper spray, and batons. Thirteen protesters have been arrested in Hamburg, with 50 injured among 2,200 demonstrators. Meanwhile, 18 officers were injured among 1,800 police. As they raised a red banner that read “Against Exploitation and Oppression,” the protesters were scattered by the monolithic WaWe 10, a million-dollar, wild water kingdom on wheels that soaked everyone to the bone.
While the clash with police in Hamburg was the most serious in years, the Berlin protests were calmer than in previous years (2001 remains the record high for injuries and arrests). It began at 5 PM as far-left groups announced they would begin their unregistered protest through Kreuzberg, with roughly 6,400 officers in attendance.
I went down to the protests to watch more than 19,000 people march through Berlin, starting with the international district of Kreuzberg. I felt the adrenaline from the sidelines. They chanted slogans for affordable housing, medical care, and education. Their signs read: “Against Crisis, War, and Capital” and “Resistance, Revolt, Revolution.” I watched as they stormed through Kreuzberg in all black, some wearing masks while putting open palms over every camera lens within reach. I saw some older people, but the general vibe was a 20-something crowd.
While it was mostly peaceful, eggs were thrown at officers at some point, and the Berlin police tweeted attacks of stones and bottles. The mass group reached their final destination of the Social Democratic Party headquarters in Kreuzberg by dusk, greeted by pepper spray and batons from police as the subway line stopped running due to a conflict between the officers and, apparently, the Black Block. That was the end of it, way before midnight.
Over in Kreuzberg, 160 bands played MyFest for a packed crowd of 40,000 attendees. The best part? The YAAM reggae truck dressed in Christmas lights. From what I saw in the evening, locals set up roving shopping carts selling cupcakes, Jell-O shots, and beer in plastic cups. The rest were just chilling. Some questioned whether Berlin still has its political edge, because the city’s first May Day riot back, in 1987, was a bedlam of tear gas and overturned police cars. Now, it’s a festival. Many didn’t care; most wanted to make a buck by selling whatever they could. By 10 PM, I strolled past Café Luzia and watched all the people whose faces were covered in glitter. One crowd fight was stopped, but there was mostly just techno.
Nearby, Berlin’s Month of Performance Art kicked off with costumed performers on Naunynstrasse. People were posting "demonstration selfies" on Twitter while a refugee hunger strike was set up nearby, at Oranienplatz, filled with dozens of sleeping bags.
Berlin’s northwest district of Wedding saw an apartment in flames, while Friedrichshain had 300 street vendors set up for a peaceful evening. In the center district of Tiergarten, labor unions took to the streets around Brandenburg Gate.
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