“Happy New Year!” shouted an alcohol-slurred voice among the multitude of faces.
This was the greeting my friends and I met as we got off the U-Bahn and into the crowd that consumed the middle of Berlin. The first of May is a national holiday in Germany, in which almost everyone has a day off from work and celebrates that fact. Arguably the most notorious celebration for May Day is Myfest, an annual event where entire streets of Kreutzberg (a.k.a. the Hipster capital of Berlin) are filled to the brim with all kinds of people, live music venues and a multitude of grills and beer tents. It is also famous for every so often breaking out into full-scale riots at night—a fact that our program booklets specifically cautioned us about. So naturally, we had to check it out.
We soon found ourselves in the overwhelming waves of people ebbing and flowing between the streets. One thing some of us were amazed by was just the sheer variety of people walking around together. There was your average Joe, your flamboyant bohemian and everything in-between; t-shirts and jeans moshing with rainbows of hair and jackets bedecked in enough expressive patches to make my own trademark leather look remarkably tame by comparison. And of course there were several policemen covered in full riot-gear scattered throughout, although they all just directed traffic with an expression of obligated boredom rather than cautiously patrol.
Looking beyond the crowds, one could see the occasional raised tent hosting a band or DJ, sometimes not even too far apart from one another. There was one instance in which trap music was blasting just down the street from a German punk band. One could also see large clouds of smoke rising into the air—mostly from people setting up makeshift food stands to sell to the hungry crowd but also from many cigarettes and spliffs. And then there were every so often balloons carried around or let into the sky, many of which were of Patrick Star from “Spongebob Squarepants” for some reason I never really figured out.
Now that I’ve been to music festivals and the like, the sheer amount of people was not a surprise or discomfort to me. But what really caught me off guard was the fact that 90 percent of all the people there were constantly moving and drinking, with everyone clutching onto their precious plastic cups lest their sweet contents get lost in the motion. And then of course, it would take only two seconds for one to completely disappear, with our group constantly breaking up and re-converging amongst the sea of heads and voices.
We walked for about an hour, but felt it like an eternity of shoulder-shoving and people saying “excuse me.” We would stop for beer, or for food or to just stop and dance for a moment, but for the most part it was an event entirely in motion. The longest break we took was in a small park, in which children were playing soccer. In the bushes behind them, both men and women agreed that it was to be the spot to relieve themselves. Nobody should blame them though, all the bathrooms set up by the event were charging a two Euro entry and extra 20 cents for washing one’s hands.
But then we decided that we should probably leave if we wanted to find a bar to watch the Champions League game of Bayern versus Barcelona. I discovered that when I was trying to leave the crowd as opposed to move with it, moving amongst that many people wasn’t as fun. By the time we reached the station again, I had at least two different drinks spilled across my left leg, I had been nudged and pushed countless times and I was one more cigarette-cloud-lazily-spewed-into-my-face away from snapping. In such moments, it became clear to me why this event was known for occasionally turning to violence.
We finally arrived at the train station only to see ours depart and leave us waiting for the next one. We were then stuck in the mob at the station that trying to leave instead of the mob that was trying to party. A few minutes went by of listening to the ambient beats still pulsing from an electronic music tent nearby. My friend Yoshi, as if sensing my slight irritation in that moment, simply turned to me and said, “You know, they use this sort of music as a form of torture.”
Then the next train rolled in like sweet salvation and we all promptly crammed ourselves into the already over-capacity train cars. However, everyone aboard seemed to be more amused than alarmed at their sacrifice of personal space for the luxury of faster transportation. The next stop brought even more people on board, including a man whose entry left us crotch to crotch and pinned to the wall. The two of us then spent the entirety of the ride trying to not make eye contact and make the position any more awkward.
But finally, we arrived at our desired stop. After spending the day at Myfest, it felt oddly alien to walk out into a street that didn’t have a person standing on every square inch of it. And then, at one of the only Mexican bars/restaurants I’ve seen over here, we finally unwinded and enjoyed a great victory for Bayern. The little devil in me was disappointed that I didn’t get to see a full-scale riot, but for the most part, I was entirely content to sit back, enjoy a beer and overpriced nachos, watch the game and call it another eventful day in Deutschland.