136 – Freut Euch des Lebens

By Peter Fraenkel

I write this on May 1st – early, but remembering another May morning even earlier. I was very young, perhaps no more than five, when my mother roused me and helped me to get dressed. It was still dark outside. We descended from our second-floor apartment to the street – not silently as one would normally do at such an hour but singing loudly. In the street we found some girls or young women – friends of my mother – waiting for us. We locked arms. They joined us in singing “Freut Euch des Lebens” – Have Joy of Life. Together, singing, we proceeded to the nearby park.

In England it is the March Hare that brings madness. Or so they say.  In Germany, where I was born, such madness occurs a little later in the year.

Where was my father? In bed. He had resolutely refused to come. “You be mad all by yourselves” he had said as he pulled the duvet over his face.

In the park we were joined by other young people, most of them strangers. Arm in arm we crossed the park, singing and entered the adjoining forest. Birds rose from the trees to protest our intrusion. A few traders’ stalls were open – unusual at so early an hour. I grumbled I hadn’t had my breakfast. Mother bought me a cone of ice cream. It kept me silent – for a little.

These were hard times in Germany. The Nazis were on the rise. Street clashes between gangs of Nazis and Communists were frequent. But all that seemed forgotten, that early morning in 1931 or ’32.

Someone threw confetti at us, followed by streamers of coloured paper. I twisted one round my neck – that Mayday, long, long ago.