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  • Red Flag: A guide to May Day 2021


Red Flag: A guide to May Day 2021

The International Day of Workers' Struggle is this Saturday. Grab your FFP2 mask and head to one of the many demonstrations.

Image for Red Flag: A guide to May Day 2021

The International Day of Workers’ Struggle is this Saturday. Grab your FFP2 mask and check out Berlin’s different demonstrations. Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire / Sean Smuda

May Day is around the corner. For years, everyone in Berlin knew what to expect on May 1: demonstrations throughout the day, and at least a small riot in the evening. But now, in the second year of the pandemic, with Germany’s “emergency brake” in effect, no one really knows what will happen.  

Last year on May 1, Germany’s first lockdown was coming to an end. I attended a small rally at the Am Urban Hospital in Kreuzberg demanding better conditions for healthcare workers. An area was cordoned off with police tape and only 20 people were allowed inside — while at least a hundred milled about next to the Free-Speech Zone. It was still early in the pandemic and we knew so little about Covid. I recall that I was wearing gloves and a cloth mask that my mother-in-law had sewn. 

In the evening of May 1, 2020, thousands of people gathered in Kreuzberg for a traditional riot, as no official demonstrations were allowed. Miniature street battles went on late into the evening. I only read about them from my home. I was, and still am, very scared of the virus.

But over the last year, we’ve gathered a lot of data. After George Floyd was murdered on May 25, the United States saw the largest protest movement in history. Despite truly horrific numbers of infections across the country, studies shoed the Black Lives Matter demonstrations did not significantly spread the virus. Because people were outside, moving and masked, it was relatively safe.

In the last year, I have been to more demonstrations. The first ones were rather terrifying for me, and I stayed on the other side of the street. More recently, I have been marching alongside other people, like back in the bad old days.

So I am going to May Day this year. We need a workers’ day more than ever, as the pandemic has shown the whole world that the working class is essential. If all the world’s bankers and CEOs and politicians stay at home, though, it’s really not that bad.


Berlin’s May Day has always started with trade union demonstrations. The German Union Confederation (DGB) normally holds a demonstration at 10am, filled with beer, bratwurst and bad music. Why would they start their protest at 10am on a holiday? The only explanation I have ever found is that they don’t want anyone to show up. And they are quite successful at that: out of the millions of workers in the city, and hundreds of thousands of union members, only a few thousand show up. The reason for this goes beyond the musical choices. The demonstration is usually headed by Berlin’s social democratic mayor, Michael Müller.

Most of the demonstrators are public-sector workers fighting for better wages and conditions, and union leaders decree that they have to march behind their boss. The mayor will then give a speech promising improvements for wage labourers but, by May 2, everything is forgotten. I am not a big fan of the trade union demonstration, but I have been there every year for two decades.

This might be the only year we can protests in masks. Let’s enjoy the opportunity.

This year, the DGB was planning nothing. So a group of left-wing union activists called the Network for Fighting Unions (VKG) organised their own demonstration. It will start at the DGB headquarters at Hackescher Markt at 11am, and go to the Am Urban Hospital. This “class-struggle demonstration” will be calling for unions to go into the offensive, with demands to nationalise the pharmaceutical companies under workers’ control.

After this rank-and-file initiative had been announced, the union leaders decided they had to do something. Now the DGB is holding a rally at 10 am at Pariser Platz, but by invitation only, so please don’t show up. They are also calling for a bicycle demonstration at S-Bahnhof Ostkreuz at 11am, which will held to Tempelhofer Feld. The teachers’ union GEW, which is part of the DGB, is doing their own bicycle demonstration. They will meet at their headquarters at the Ahornstraße 5 at 10:30 and also head down to Tempelhof.


Berlin’s union demonstrations have always been important — but boring. The excitement is in the evening. The Revolutionary May Day demonstration has taken place every year since 1988, mostly in Kreuzberg. In fact, my very first article for Exberliner was about Revolutionary May Day — all of 11 years ago!

Since 2004, the police and the government have organised the MyFest in Kreuzberg. This is presented as an initiative of local residents, but in reality the idea has always been to fill the streets of Kreuzberg with drunken revelers and drown out the demonstration. Some years, that has been quite successful.

For the first time in years, May Day will see just a demonstration. A new group called the Migrantifa has organised a demonstration under an amazing motto: “Yallah Klassenkampf!” In just a few syllables, they connect protests against racism in Germany to the mass uprisings of the Arab spring to working-class struggle.

The demonstration will gather at 5pm at Hermannplatz, before marching through Neukölln and Kreuzberg to Oranienplatz. One of the big focusses is on gentrification, and there will be a block calling for the expropriation of big landlords. The official manifesto is in English too.

I am really looking forward to this demonstration. If you plan to go, you can expect plenty of police violence. Travel in a group and follow all the rules from 10 years ago. And since there are new dangers even deadlier than German police, keep an FFP2 mask on at all times.


Just like every year, there will be an anticapitalist demonstration in Wedding the night before May Day. They are meeting at Leopoldplatz at 5pm on April 30.

On the afternoon of May 1, there will be a bicycle demonstration to Grunewald where all the rich people have villas. Coming from different directions (Wedding, Lichtenberg, Neukölln), they will meet at the Siegessäule at 13:00 and reach the Johannaplatz in Grunewald at 15:30.

It is not quite clear but it seems likely there will be demonstrations by Querdenker and corona deniers. Keep your eyes open. In the 2000s, there were often big Nazi demonstrations on May 1 in Berlin, but it doesn’t look like anything is planned this year.

So May Day is almost back to normal. Since the 1980s, it has been illegal to demonstrate in a mask in Germany (unless, for some inexplicable reason, you’re a cop). So this might be the only year we can protests in masks. Let’s enjoy the opportunity.

Red Flag is a weekly political column by Nathaniel Flakin.