(Poster from 2011)
St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national holiday, is not only celebrated in the emerald isle on March 17th, but has reached virtually all corners of the world as this fine tradition continues to follow Ireland’s many emigrating children who continue to seek new lives abroad. This year the Berlin version of the festival will take place in the Arena complex by the Spree, on Sunday March 16th.
In cities such as New York and Boston thousands of revelers join in parades, while in places such as Chicago, Latvia, Egypt and Jordan, they dye rivers and light up famous monuments like the Pyramids green. Even in places such as Bucharest, local bagpipers take part in their own version of the celebration, but what do we Paddies do here in Berlin? We improvise, put on a show, and party down, that’s what.
The phrase “Arm aber Sexy” can easily be borrowed from Berlin’s mayor and applied to the plight of the Irish in modern day Berlin. Gone are the days when the Ireland’s economy roared so loud and proud that funding for any event claiming to promote Irishness around the world was met with a blank cheque from embassies with a promise to ‘have fun and do us proud’. These days, with German-backed austerity measures, the governmental honey pot dried up and the money has long been guzzled, but since when has that stopped anyone having fun in Berlin? True to form, in 2011, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in Görlitzer Park when an enthusiastic group of 150 Irish, Germans, and their many international friends gathered together on a typically celtic, wet and windy day to eat, drink, sing and dance, and so a Berlin tradition was born. There wasn’t much in the way of corporate or national funding that year (apart from one famous Irish whiskey seeming to flow on tap!), but that didn’t stop over 1,500 returning to Spreewaldplatz in 2012 and finally with help from some fantastic sponsorship, a whopping 5,000 turning out last year in 2013.
One of the festival’s organizers, Dara O’Neill, kindly answered a few questions about the festival.
Why celebrate St. Patrick’s day in Berlin? Why does it matter?
It’s the perfect time, it’s the perfect place. Ireland and Germany have never been as intrinsically linked as we are today. We’re both facing in the same direction, holding hands and flirting. I’ve lived in Berlin for over seven years and the wonderful thing about being Irish in Germany is that there is common ground there. I’ve always felt a sense of love for the Irish from the Berliners that I’ve met and I’ve always appreciated that welcoming vibe. If St.Patrick’s Festival is anything it’s a celebration of that wonderful relationship that we share. There aren’t enough occasions to acknowledge that!
What can people who attend this year expect to experience, and what have been your fondest memories of years gone by?
The wonderful Irish tradition of hospitality, music, love and warmth. My fondest memory was meeting a 76 year old lady from Cavan in Ireland. She was standing over by the side of the stage last year looking out on the crowd. She was in Berlin visiting her grandchildren who had moved over earlier that year, like so many others. She came up to me with tears in her eyes asking if I was the organiser of the event. She gave me a big hug and said it was the best St.Patrick’s day she ever had in her long life. That she was so happy to be there with her son and her grandchildren and how they had said that day that they felt at home for the first time since moving. I guess that was a level of reach that I hadn’t contemplated until that moment but it really stuck with me and I’ve used the emotion it stirred in me to drive forward with plans for this year.
As a resident of Berlin for over 7 years now, what does it mean to be Irish on Paddy’s day, and how is it different to how Irish you feel all year round?
I think it’s great being Irish abroad on St.Patrick’s Day because far from the Irish status-quo you get a greater sense of what it means. I think that is why celebrating in Berlin is so memorable. You get a great new perspective on yourself and your nationality.
Will Berlin ever catch up with the huge St. Patrick’s day parade they organize in Munich?
I never really think about catching Munich. They’ve set the bar very high and have been doing an amazing job for so many years. I met with their organisers a couple of times and they really helped me to get Berlin’s St.Patrick’s Day organised. If we ever do catch up with Munich it would be with great thanks to them.
For all the details about this year’s festival go to FESTIVAL WEBSITE. Below is the route for this year’s St. Patrick’s day parade, which begins this year at Planterwald S-Bahn station on Sunday, March 16 at 13:45, and here is the EVENT PAGE for the party!