MESCHEDE, Calle, Germany –
Every country has its fill of national holidays. Some
come and go and only make themselves noticeable by granting a day off from
school and work. Others, however, have much more appeal.
A 'Bollerwagen' for May Day
In Germany, May 1st is
one of those special days.
May 1st is
traditionally known as “Day of Work” – similar to Labor Day in the United
States. It first became a national holiday in 1933 under the Nazi Regime and the
Allied Control Council decided to allow the defeated Germans to keep this
national holiday after the World War II.
The evening before,
April 30, is traditionally called “Walpurgisnacht.”
In many cities,
towns and villages across Germany, there are private and public “Tanz in den
Mai” – “Dance into May” celebrations.
These nights of
dancing, singing and drinking have only little to do with the original
festivities. In the past, these involved fires to drive away “bad ghosts” and it
was the custom that lovers joined hands and jumped over the fires together,
something that is no longer done today.
There are huge
demonstrations throughout Germany, especially in the Berlin, the capital, where
every year the police have to fight to control both left and right extremists.
Gewerkschaftsbund” – the “German Confederation
of Trade Unions” hold annual rallies. This year, their motto was “We move
Although May 1st has
a very political meaning in Germany, the region I live in tends to be more
focused on the social aspects of the holiday.
In the Sauerland, it
is tradition to go hiking on the first of May. Early in the morning, you can see
families set out with their children, either alone or in big groups.
The hikers pull
“Bollerwagen” – little wagons – behind them, filled with food, drinks, picnic
blankets and more often than not, young children too tired to walk. Sometimes
the fire brigades or police departments will organize huge group hikes and have
a party in the evening.
In Meschede, the
town where I live, teenagers usually don’t accompany their parents on these
annual hikes. Instead, they meet at the Hennesee, a dam right on the outskirts
of Meschede, which has vast spaces of grass for the hundreds of hikers to spread
parents, the teenagers usually don’t come to picnic, but rather to drink and
mingle with their friends. Although at the end of the day the city is faced with
the task of cleaning up immense amounts of litter – everything from empty
bottles to half-filled chip bags – most of the youths can keep themselves under
However, every year
there are incidents that remind the town of the dangers May 1st can
There are the
comparatively harmless cases of theft, for it is somewhat of a tradition to try
to steal carts from local stores to wheel the cases of beer and bottles of
Schnapps up to the Hennesee.
Then there are the
far more serious moments when ambulances have to try to drive through the masses
in order to reach oftentimes young teenagers who have drunken too much and as a
result either passed out or fallen down and hurt themselves. Pieces of broken
glass that fill the walkways along the lake are dangerous to all those running
around barefoot, or to those that lose their balance and fall down to the
As with many
holidays and public festivities, there are people who manage to have a good time
without sad and tragic incidents.
children, teenagers and grown-ups spend their day in the sunshine listening to
music, singing together, enjoying good food and good company and taking delight
in an extra day off from work and school. Others, however, are not so fortunate
and either on account of their own irresponsibility or that of others, end the
day in the hospital, getting stitches from a fight, having their stomachs pumped
out, or getting their various wounds bandaged.
Luckily, the number
of those who have a good time outweighs the number of those who don’t, so May 1st remains
to Germans a holiday worth looking forward to every year, regardless of whether
in the historical, political or social sense.