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Monday, April 30, 2007


'twas the night before May Day, when all through the inner city
not a street was silent, not even a house

The Molotov cocktails were prepared with care
In hopes that the police would soon be there

(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.)

Yes, Walpurgisnacht - Walpurgis Night, April 30th, is upon us once more. It's a festival is named after Saint Walburga, apparently a niece of Saint Boniface if you really must know, and whatever the precise historical details, in parts of Central and Northern Europe it's a jolly good opportunity for a bit of a knees-up to celebrate the arrival of Spring. And maybe light some whopping great fires.

This is particularly welcomed in Berlin, because April 30th is of course the day before May 1st, a public holiday (Tag der Arbeit) meant to commemorate the common worker (but as no-one really works any more it's a good excuse for a long weekend). Since 1987 May Day in Berlin has been "traditionally" marked by violent disturbances centered around the (western Berlin) Kreuzberg district, which usually start in the late afternoon / early evening following the equally traditional demonstration by various left-wing groups. Originally these disturbances - in some cases full-blown riots - were very political in nature, but cery soon degenerated into free-for-alls with many of the participants joining in the stone throwing, petrol-bombing and general looting just for the fun of it.

Police fencing around the Mauerpark
Police fencing around the
Mauerpark prior to Walpurgis Night

But back to Walpurgis Night. Following re-unification, West Berlin's established left-wing political was joined by the nascent East Berlin scene, which somehow developed the tradition of holding a pre-May Day event, adapting the Walpurgis traditions for a bit of non-sanctioned fun in the city's parks, typically the Mauerpark. Of course the sight of hundreds of young, non-conformist people sitting round fires drinking beer and whatnot was a good enough excuse to call in the boys in green, and from the early 90's onwards the evening of April 30th has been marked by disturbances, particularly in Prenzlauer Berg andFriedrichshain.

In recent years, things have quietened down both on Walpurgis Night and May Day itself. However, this year marks not only the 20th anniversary of the original Kreuzberg May Day riot, but also increased tension in the run-up to the G8 summit, taking place this year in June on Germany's Baltic coast. With that the current unloved grand coalition government, and the recentdisturbances related to left-wing projects in Friedrichshain, the authorities are ready for an upsurge in trouble. Already the Mauerpark has been largely fenced off, in an attempt to enforce an alchohol and fire ban; in parts of Kreuzberg on-street parking has been banned and residents have been ordered to remove their vehicles to somewhere safe.

We'll keep you posted.

Posted at 10:08 AM in

Hey thanks for that very informative article i had the pleasure of going to Berlin from Canada this year for the may 1st festivals and it was awesome. I didn't really see much destruction only a hand full of rocks being thrown at a gas station, either way its a great time to see Berlin. As for April the 30th festival i was wondering why they had a massive fire there, once again thanks for the 411 love Berlin :)
Posted by: Kareem Minhas | 2008-06-09 15:51