Kate Connolly in Berlin
Sun, 1 May 2022, 8:02 pm
Women’s safety campaigners among thousands on Germany’s streets in annual labour day marches.
A feminist march on the eve of May Day, known as Walpurgnisnacht, when witches traditionally meet, kicked off May Day demonstrations in Berlin, with a group of around 2,500 ”Take back the night”.
The demonstration, described as lively and initially peaceful, was aimed at reconquering the night for women, lesbians, intersex and transgender people, according to the organisers. Accompanied by a large police presence, it concentrated on the northern and central Prenzlauerberg and Mitte districts of Berlin. But police intervened to stop the march after some participants set fire to coloured flares and bottles were thrown.
Later in the evening, protesters apparently acting independently of organisers threw paint at shop windows and several panes of glass were broken, leading to three arrests. Charges were brought for breaching the peace, violent assault, bodily harm and criminal damage, police spokesperson Anja Dierschke told broadcaster rbb24.
Walpurgisnacht is an event in German folklore when witches meet to hold revels with the devil, traditionally in the region of north central Germany on the Brocken mountain.
Tens of thousands of others took to the streets elsewhere across the country too, drawing attention to a wide range of issues dominated by the war in Ukraine, the rising cost of living, workers’ rights, rental controls and plans to invest heavily in the German military.
A separate demonstration around an election campaign event in the northern state of Schleswig Holstein saw foreign minister Annalena Baerbock face accusations of warmongering for her support of providing arms to Ukraine.
A later event in the day in which she was due to participate had to be called off after protesters sprayed the stage with butyric acid.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaking to a May Day rally in Düsseldorf, said he respected the values of pacifists but defended his decision to send arms to Ukraine, and said that equipment and aid would keep on coming to the country. He said with a looming food crisis expected to hit Africa in particular, because of wheat and other basic food supplies unable to be shipped from Ukraine, he pledged Germany’s support to help countries in need.
“I respect all pacifism, I respect all values,” said Scholz. “But it would be cynical to tell a citizen of Ukraine he must defend himself against Putin’s aggression if he has no weapons.”.
Frank Werneke, leader of Europe’s largest trade union, Verdi, speaking at a rally in Mainz, warned against a new arms race following Scholz’s recent announcement that he would provide €100bn (£840m) to update Germany’s military. Werneke said the injection of such large amounts of money also from the United States and elsewhere, was in danger of disadvantaging poorer sections of society in particular.
“What we don’t want is a new arms race that comes at the expense of badly needed investments in social welfare, education and climate protection,” he said.
In Dortmund police intervened to break up protests involving leftwing demonstrators. But a spokesperson for the anti-fascist group Autonome Antifa 170 accused police of violence and said several of its members had been injured. The group had gathered to prevent a march of more than 200 rightwing extremists.
In Berlin the far-left Linke party called on the government to introduce a new law ensuring that if federal holidays, such as this year’s May Day, fall on a weekend, workers are given a weekday off to compensate.