May 1, the day when comrades used to march in solidarity in Europe’s streets, has come and gone. And in many European cities this past weekend, visitors were possibly surprised to find just how seriously local folk still take their demonstrations. From Paris to Athens, from Moscow to Milan, the streets were thronged with protesters reminding their governments and fellow citizens that all is not well in their lives.
Mayday across Europe
This year more than 140,000 well-behaved protesters marched in the streets of Istanbul, while over a million marched in Russian cities. While many protesters highlighted grievances over wages and working conditions, traditional Communists were out in force too, reminding the world that peace and socialism still deserve a place in the global agenda.
Mayday in Berlin
Our home city of Berlin has a fine history of Mayday protests on both sides of the old Wall. Participants represent the full gamut of the political spectrum—and many are of no fixed political opinions but merely enjoy the opportunity to taunt the police, burn a few cars and drink copious quantities of alcohol.
“But it is not like the old days,” said one of our neighbors, recalling the mighty Mayday parades in Berlin of yesteryear. “Then the streets of Berlin’s central district were full of the party faithful, and I was proud to be there.”
Scratch the surface of Berlin life, and you’ll still run across outbreaks of nostalgia for the good old days of the German Democratic Republic. A time when life was altogether simpler. For many older Berliners who grew up in East Germany, the new order is associated with uncertainty in the labor market, consumerism and rising prices, and many look back with evident affection on some aspects of life in East Germany. Not all of course, and films like Das Leben der Anderen (“The Lives of Others”) act as a sharp reminder that life wasn’t always quite so rosy in East Germany.
The German word for this phenomenon—”Ostalgie” (“EASTalgia”)—nicely captures this peculiarly eastern fad, in which some folk look back wistfully on their lives in a country that had fabulous gherkins, no bananas, some of the most ghastly wallpaper in the world and lots of engagingly old-fashioned trains. Berlin even has a hotel that picks up the EASTalgia theme. Perhaps East Germany just disappeared too quickly for its citizens to mourn its passing.
Susanne and Nicky run a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. You can read more of their writing in their regular e-brief and in the Notes section on their website.