How To Celebrate St. Patrick's Day In Berlin

Mar 16, 2012
Originally published on March 16, 2012 12:23 am

Just three short years ago, if you wanted to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Berlin, you were faced with a few measly options: head to the closest Irish pub, throw on some green clothes, or grab a couple of Guinness at the store and enjoy them at home.

It wasn't until last year that Berlin finally got a St. Patrick's Day parade, and like everything else in this city, it's original, quirky, and growing.

It's hard to believe that it took Berlin this long to get a parade. It's especially confusing to those of us from North America; on March 17th, there's a parade or two in every major city. The day is a huge event.

New York boasts the largest St. Patrick's Day parade with over 150,000 participants and 3 million spectators. Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, everyone wears green, and everyone drinks a couple (or more) green beers.

So why did it take Berlin so long to get its own parade? It's not as though there aren't any Irish people here. The Irish Embassy in Berlin estimates the numbers are between 1,500 - 1,700 people, and they've noticed an influx of Irish immigration to the city, and to Germany in general, over the last couple of years.

The majority of the Irish move to southern Germany in search of work to escape the dire economic situation in Ireland, but many others head to Berlin, due to its artistic, independent, and alternative vibe.

The large number of Irish in the south partly explains why Munich has the largest St. Patrick's Day parade in Germany - and they say, one of the largest in Europe.

It started in 1996 and now has an average of 20,000 spectators. The parade has a more religious tone than here in Berlin. The day begins with an Irish mass, and the parade is ordained by a priest. Everything is wrapped up at 6 PM so as to not disturb the neighbors and interrupt the church services next door.

Last year, Dara Drea O'Neill and a small group of Irish entrepreneurs from Kleine Reise and Loftus Hall started the Deutsch-Irische Gesellschaft Berlin and decided it was time Berlin had its own parade and celebration.

O'Neill has been living in Berlin for five years and has witnessed more and more young Irish people moving to Berlin.

"Before now, there hasn't been a want or a need for an Irish community (in Berlin)," O'Neill says. "But now, we're the new generation of expats. The Irish economy is in ribbons (awful), and we have to stick together. We're stronger together."

Berlin's St. Patrick's Day parade is very different from its counterpart in Munich. O'Neill describes it as a day of Irish pride that's not associated with religion.

"It's a fresh take on the Irish parade," O'Neill says. It's relaxed, open to everyone, and still utilizes the fun Irish things that everyone has come to love, like dressing up like St. Patrick and hitting fake snakes over the head with a stick (legend has it that St. Patrick rid all the snakes from Ireland).

"This is my first year celebrating in Berlin, and I'm really looking forward to it," Irish expat, Emma Griffin, says. She's been in Berlin for almost a year now and would always celebrate the holiday back home in Ireland by wearing green and heading to the pub with friends.

When she was younger, she would attend mass in the morning. This year, Griffin will be heading to the parade.

"I love all things Irish," she says. "[and] St. Patrick's Day is a celebration of my Irish-ness."

Fellow NPR Berlin contributor and Irish expat, Jennifer Collins, watched the parade last year. When she arrived, she was told, unexpectedly, that she was the parade, and was handed some green material and Irish flags.

"I was a bit surprised, but I didn't mind. It was actually good craic (fun). Especially as when I was a kid, I always wanted to be in the parade."

Collins and the other spectators joined in with those dressed like St. Patrick and leprechauns and marched together from Spreewaldplatz into Görlitzer Park and back again.

It'll be the same idea this year, albeit a little bigger and better. O'Neill and the rest of the organizers will have costumes on hand. The Irish Ambassador will kick off the parade before everyone marches together down the same route as last year.

In the middle of Görlitzer Park, there will be a performance from The Berlin Pipe Band. From there, the party will head to Morena Bar for a free buffet-style feast of Irish cuisine consisting of beef stew (yes, there will be a vegetarian option), mashed potatoes, and tarts. For sports fans, the Ireland vs. England rugby game will be playing in the background. Musicians and dancers will also be on hand to ring in the evening and spread the Irish cheer. After everyone's had their fill, the party moves to Loftus Hall with some Irish DJ's performing and continues well into the night.

If the noise of the pub is too much, another option is to head out to any part of town with a view of the TV Tower and watch as it turns green at 6:45 PM as part of Tourism Ireland's Global Greening Initiative. It is one of the many famous landmarks taking part in the worldwide celebration of Ireland, the largest of which is Niagara Falls, which will be lit up in green on both the Canadian and American sides.

So if you don't want to sit at home with a pack of Guinness this year, head out to Spreewaldplatz on Saturday, March 17th at 4 PM and join in the Irish fun. Although, I'm sad to say, the weather is supposed to be beautiful this weekend, unlike last year when it was cold and rained, and according to Collins "was just like being at home."

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