Why you should care
Because nothing brings together a community like drinking, music and drugs.
Two p.m. is family-friendly, with picnics and some light drinking. Come 6 p.m., it’s rowdier; by 10 p.m., the DJs are at full blast; and at 4 a.m., MDMA and weed aren’t hard to procure if you’re friendly. Welcome to May Day in Berlin, where the party lasts all day on May 1, even when the police in riot gear come round.
Situated mainly in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, around Oranienstrasse and Görlitzer Park, May Day is a daylong get-out-of-work card, an excuse to hang out with friends, eat street food, get shit-faced in the afternoon and throw some cobblestones (if that’s your thing). The best thing about it? “The whole of Berlin is out partying together,” says Laura Harker, a two-time Berlin May Day attendee. The worst? The heavy police presence and the lack of bathrooms (that malt liquor travels through the system quickly).
Even with its rebellious history, in Berlin the event is no longer a major political statement.
This is a tradition as old as your great-great-grandfather. The world over, May Day began in the late 1800s as a way to commemorate the Haymarket Riot in Chicago. (In all honesty, May Day began even earlier, as an ancient rite of spring celebrated by pagans. The political aspect was introduced more recently.) In Europe, where labor movements were strong, the event took off. In 1958, to spite May Day organizers, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially recognized May 1 as Law Day. No open containers and late-night block parties for true American patriots!
Even with its rebellious history, in Berlin the event is no longer a major political statement — most people just go for the “party” (and no, not the Communist Party). In 2012, Spiegel Online reported that “May 1 celebrations in Berlin were once again marred by violence, as protesters lobbed rocks, bottles and fireworks at police on Tuesday evening. The mini-riots, however, were small compared to previous years and marked the continuation of a recent peaceful trend.” Some groups may attend with the goal of aggravating the police, but it’s not the norm. There are many more people like Adam Groffman, a travel writer and four-time May Day attendee who makes sure to avoid confrontation. “If I see the police coming down the street in riot gear,” he says, “I’m going to walk the opposite way.”
Overall, the vibe is communal. Shops set up outdoor stands. If people are being loud into the early-morning hours, they offer their neighbors drinks and invitations to join them in the revelry. And the drugs are endless. Last year, Groffman was with one guy who decided to see how many cigarettes he could bum off the crowd. He walked around the park they were hanging out in and returned a few minutes later, both hands spilling over with free cigarettes.