May Day in Germany

May Day Germany
May Day in Germany

In Germany, the first of May is a public holiday. It is celebrated for two reasons: to welcome the first official day of summer here in the northern hemisphere, and to commemorate International Labour Day.


Tanz in den MaiDancing into May  

Expats from the UK are familiar with the tradition of dancing around the maypole on the First of May. This tradition originated in the British Isles where maypoles first appeared in the 14th century and then became common in German speaking areas in the 16th century.

The maypole known in German as Maibaum, (literally May Tree) is a decorated tall wooden pole made from a tree trunk (pine or birch). In small German villages it is usually erected in the village green. Festivities are held, bier (beer) and wurst (sausages) consumed, and the May Dance is held. This is known as Tanz in den Mai (Dance into May).

In Bavaria, the Maibaum is often painted in the traditional colours of blue and white and decorated with symbols of the local crafts and trades. In the Rhineland on the eve of 1 May, unmarried men put decorated birch trees in front of their sweetheart’s houses. During May, these Maibaum can be seen in many front gardens.


The Night of the Witches (Walpurgisnacht)

On the eve of May 1, many Germans celebrate Walpurgisnacht, based on the legend of Saint Walpurga, an English nun who came to Germany in the late 8th century to convert the pagan Saxons to Christianity. Her intention was to wipe out disease and witchcraft.

Traditionally, on the eve of May 1, many Germans gathered around bonfires to ward off witches, singing, dancing and making loud noises to push away the evil. This became known as Witches Night (Hexennacht). In Berlin, you can celebrate around a bonfire at Mauerpark, in the hip area of Prenzlauer Berg. (More details below).


International Labour Day

In 1889, May 1st was declared International Labour Day, an official public holiday in over eighty countries. This was to commemorate the struggle for an eight-hour working day.

In the US, Labour Day is celebrated on September 1 but in most of the world, including Europe, it is celebrated on May 1st.


Labour Day In Germany

In 1933, the First of May was declared a national public holiday by the Weimar Republic. It became known as Tag der Arbeit. Labour Day in Germany has historically become a focus for demonstrations by socialist, communist, and anarchist groups. Many political parties and unions, such as the German Trade Union Confederation, host activities and demonstrations related to work and employment.

Labour Day in Berlin

In Berlin, this day became associated with riots. On May 1, 1987, severe rioting broke out during a street festival in the Kreuzberg district. Most revellers continued to enjoy the street party unaware of the disturbance. The Berlin police withdrew from the area, returning several hours, to break up the entire festival using batons and tear gas. This event became known worldwide by the international press.

For several years after this, similar rioting occurred during these demonstrations. Since 2007, registered Revolutionary 1st of May Demonstrations have continued with tens of thousands of participants. As a response to this, MyFest was introduced.


Myfest in Berlin

Since 2003, the introduction of Myfest in the Kreuzberg district attempted to shift the May Day demonstration from violence to a peaceful celebration. Street festivals, parties and concerts are held in the Kreuzberg neighbourhoods of Kottbusser Tor, Oranienstraβe, and Heinrichplatz. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, Myfest has been cancelled for 2022 but May Day will still be celebrated throughout Berlin, with events for the whole family.


What to do in Berlin on May Day

What’s your scene? Street parties? Dancing? Open air raves? Festivals? Food, fun and family activities? Catching up with friends and family? Making new friends? Berlin has it all.

Walpurgis Night in Mauerpark: This peaceful celebration in the district of Prenzlauer Berg, on the site of the former border between East and West Berlin, is the host of Walpurgis Night. In Mauerpark, bonfires, fire artistry and eclectic music, can inspire you to dance peacefully into May.

All night dancing: If clubs are more your scene, you can dance into May at many clubs around the city. On the eve of May 1, the former brewery KulturBrauerei hosts a long party night on nine floors. At Quasimodo, the Disco Inferno starts at 10.30 pm. Astra Kulturhaus in Friedrichshain hosts Berlin Indie Night starting at 11pm, and SO36 in Kreuzberg invites you to the Electric Ballroom also from 11pm.

Day activities: If you are feeling politically inclined, visit the May Day rally on Straße des 17. Juni. On this historic boulevard, the German Trade Union Confederation holds their classic May Day rally at 10am, followed by a children’s and family festival at the famous Brandenburg Gate, with food, drinks, games, and a giant bouncy castle.

If you just want to have fun with your family, May 1 launches the Neukölln Maientage at Volkspark Hasenheide. Here you will find rides and carousels, food stalls and many shows and attractions. It is open daily from 3pm and continues for the whole of May, with fireworks every Saturday at 10pm. At Domäne Dahlem, an open air museum in the city’s south west, the market season is officially opened with their spring festival on 30 April and 1 May.

Flea Markets: If flea markets are your thing, on the first of May you might like to visit the flea markets at Mauerpark, Rathaus Schöneberg or the huge market at Berlin’s Ostbahnhof. With 700 stands over 25,000 m², you can dig through the piles of goods: art, antiques, art, design interiors as well as vintage and second-hand goods to find  a special treasure.

Out in the Sunshine: Many Berliners use this day to relax, spend time with their families, enjoy good food and company, and celebrate the warmer weather. So, if busy May Day events aren’t inspiring you, and you prefer a quieter celebration, why not gather your people, and visit one of the many parks or lakes scattered around the city. Cycle around the Tiergarten, picnic in Viktoria Park, hang out in Gleisdreieck, or stroll through the magnificent gardens of the Schloss Charlottenburg.

Gallery Weekend: If art is more your style, Gallery Weekend begins on May Day weekend. Around fifty galleries in Berlin open their exhibitions to young and established artists. These high-quality exhibitions give visitors a unique experience of the artistic side of Berlin.

Please check all websites for their opening hours and directions in how to get there.

How will you celebrate the First of May?

As we emerge from the corona crisis, we imagine there will be many Berliners out enjoying the sunshine and celebrating May Day with smiles on their (maskless) faces. When making your plans, do factor in that that it is a public holiday, so banks, post offices and many businesses and shops will be closed.

We wish you a happy May Day!


Archer Relocation has been providing relocation services to families, individuals and companies in Berlin since early 2015.  Managing Director, Emily Archer, founded the company desiring to use her first-hand experience as an expat to make the relocation process as smooth as possible for others moving to Berlin.  Read other useful information about moving to and living in Berlin, such as ‘How to Find a Berlin Apartment’, on our Berlin Blog.  


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