Berlin is one of the rare western capitals whose residents do not pretend that history has stopped being written. The big questions of war, justice, equality and environment are still fiercely litigated on the streets and in bars and cafes. It’s only fitting for the city where Engels lived and Marx studied and a plaque still stands by the Landwehr Canal where Rosa Luxemburg’s martyred body was thrown into the water.
All this history finds new life each May Day in Berlin. The worker’s holiday used to anchor the East German calendar year, when the wan despots who ran East Berlin would march their missiles down Karl-Marx-Allee. In the western sectors, radicals lit the Görlitzer station on fire and forced the police to retreat entirely from parts of Kreuzberg in 1987. Those traditions of east and west have melded now into a fractious array of competing agendas and tactics, red rallies and electronic music festivals. We sent photographer Eduardo Leal to catch it all from the street level. May Day 2015 wasn’t particularly violent or momentous, and it’s not likely to shake the sleep off the bureaucrats in their renovated chancelleries, or to rebalance the power of Germany in Europe or the power of Europe in the world. But justice can’t elude the world forever, and when it comes, Berlin might just join the party.