On This Day | 1 May 1890: Germany’s First May Day

1 May Demonstration 1987
Demonstration on Berlin’s Karl-Marx-Allee, 1987. | Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0501-019 | Zimmermann, Peter | CC-BY-SA 3.0

1 May 1890: On this day in Berlin history, an estimated 100,000 people took part in the first official May Day in Germany.

Along with many other European countries, Germany recognises the first day in May as our national labour day. The founding is believed to date back to a worker’s strike which began on May 1, 1886 across the United States. One city in the US where workers gathered in protest was Chicago. In the days following, protests there escalated into a deadly stand-off between police and protestors and resulted in the death of 8 people.

In 1889, at the 2nd International Labour Congress in Paris, it was decided that in memory of the victims of the Chicago workers’ protests, an international protest would be held to honour their memories on May 1st, 1889. The main goals of this international protest echoed those of the 1886 strikes: the implementation of an 8-hour workday, higher wages and better working conditions.

One year later, it was estimated that 100,000 people took part in the first worker’s protest in Germany on May 1st. From that day on, the 1st of May became an annual day of strikes and demonstrations for German workers and became a symbol of the class struggle of the Industrial Era.

! May in Kreuzberg 1987
Spontaneous Demonstration in Kreuzberg on 1 May 1987 | Source: Montagsdemo.net | CC BY-SA 2.0

Soon after the Nazi party came to power in 1933, they saw an opportunity to use May 1st to both gain support among the working class and reduce the influence of trade unions. Therefore, May 1st was quickly established as a recognized national holiday for marches and parades.

To this day, May 1st is a day of protests. In Berlin, the district of Kreuzberg is the epicentre of free-spirited, open-air parties with a touch of anarchy every year, in keeping with the May Day riots which came to a head around Görlitzer Bahnhof, Oranienstraße and Lausitzer Platz in 1987.

Lizzy Mason
This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was contributed by Berlin Guides Association member, Elizabeth Mason. It’s one of four events she has chosen to remember this month. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.