Photographers' Blog

May Day, the same procedure every year

By Fabrizio Bensch

Every year I know how my Labour day will end in Berlin. May day concludes in Kreuzberg with riots between radical leftists, the so-called “Autonomen” (autonomists), masked and wearing mostly black clothes and the police.

Since 1987, May Day has become known for very violent riots in Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Prenzlauerberg districts. This annual ritual is repeated but with less violence in recent years. Three years before the Berlin wall came down, violent riots broke out in West Berlin by radical leftists during a demonstration in Kreuzberg, where protesters set cars on fire, built barricades and looted a supermarket.

After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the riots moved to the eastern district of Prenzlauerberg. Riots often broke out during Walpurgis night, on the eve of May Day. That’s the history of the 25-year-old bad tradition in Berlin.

To work in such an environment requires good planning and experience in how to cover riots. In the old days when we shot on film, one of the photographers left the scene as soon we had our first riot pictures, to develop the film, print or later scan the negatives and then send on the wire.

After we changed our technology in 1998 to digital, we were able to stay longer on the spot. One photographer collected the memory cards of his colleagues and would start editing and filing from one of the Turkish Kebab restaurants in Kreuzberg.

Strange… what us?


On first impression it’s enough to put a nesting Robin off its stride for good and liable to bring other garden creepers into disrepute - but it’s just the English celebrating Spring.

The caption to Toby Melville’s picture informs us, “A costumed festival participant marches in the Jack In The Green procession in Hastings in southern England May 5, 2008. The traditional annual May Day festival has origins at least as far back as the 17th century, with hundreds of costume-clad dancers and musicians – many dressed in green foliage – marching through the coastal town and symbolically slaying a giant Jack at the finale.”.

Some are more ‘out’ than others.


Elsewhere other revellers cover themselves in the remains of dead animals and 

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