Berlin braces for Paddy’s Day invasion

Berlin braces for Paddy's Day invasion
People celebrating St Patrick's Day 2014 in Berlin. Photo: DPA
On Sunday March 15th at 2 pm, the streets of Berlin's Kreuzberg district will turn green as the city's Irish community invites one and all to become their honorary countrymen for St Patrick's Day.

“It's a very unique thing, to actually see the uniqueness of having the Germans and a whole group of other nationalities all joining into something you grew up with, sharing that culture,” festival organizer Dara O'Neill told The Local.

Sunday, two days before St Patrick's Day itself on March 17th, will see a packed programme for Ireland-loving Berliners.

O'Neill and his friends at the German-Irish Society of Berlin will hold a green-wigged “People's Parade”, led by pipers, from Kreuzberg's Oranienplatz, past Görlitzer park to a beer garden where they will lay on music and activities for all ages.

This year 5,000 people are expected to join the march and the festivities afterwards – expected to last well into the evening and make for more than a few tough Monday mornings.

But it wasn't always this way, O'Neill remembers.

“I'd been in Berlin for almost four years before we started it,” he said. “We weren't quite linked with the different Irish bars and there wasn't any big concert or parades, there never had been in Berlin ever before.”

He and his friends realized that it was time to start something new when they found themselves sitting on a bench in the park on Saint Patrick's Day drinking whisky in the rain.

“We were thinking, it's gotta be better than this,” O'Neill said. “The next year we came back and marched through the park with about 100 people.”

A uniquely German Paddy's Day

Berlin's St Patrick's Day is something special, drawing as it does not just the city's Irish expats and their friends, but even visitors from the old country looking for a new twist on the day.

“Loads of people fly over,” O'Neill says, with families coming to visit their young offspring who left Ireland in the face of economic hardship.

“During the economic downturn lots of Irish have emigrated to Berlin, since I've been here there's been a huge growth in numbers.”

Although there's still only around 1,500 Irish people registered with the Berlin authorities, their friends, friends-of-friends, and visiting family are expected to swell the numbers again this year.

And the character of the event is different too, he argues – although he wouldn't go so far as to call the day an “alternative” Paddy's Day event.

“The Germans keep us on a nice equilibrium, with a nice modern feel,” he said.

"There's always been a mutual friendship between Ireland and Germany, but when it takes off during the day – a little bit of music, dancing and drinking helps – you see Germans being brought into the spirit and it's a very unique thing."

Helping Ireland punch above its weight

The Berlin parade fits into a wider push to highlight the impact Ireland and its 80-million-strong diaspora have worldwide, including by “greening” some of Germany's most famous landmarks.

Buildings from the Munich Allianz Arena to Berlin's TV Tower have joined other structures worldwide in being flooded with green light.

The concert on Paddy's Day will be doing its part by including Dublin-based band Skipper's Alley, an award-winning traditional Irish group.

And an Irish film festival is already running at the Moviemento cinema in Kreuzberg.

Across Germany, there are St Patrick's Day parades in Munich – now in its 20th year – and at the US Ramstein air base, as well as dozens of smaller events and parties all over the country.

But for organizers like O'Neill, it all comes down to giving anyone and everyone who shows up a taste of the Emerald Isle.

“It's always a unique opportunity to be welcomed in and to share in Irish culture and be able to pretend to be in Ireland for a day.,” he said.

“If you ever wanted to see what it was like to be Irish… who hasn't ever wondered about that?”

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