In the USA, Canada and many other places throughout the world, the 20th of April has become a sacred cannabis-Holiday. In Germany, however, 420 remains symbolic of a much different culture.
The date “420” has been a code among cannabis consumers over the past 50 years for pretty much everything that has to do with their passion. In Vancouver, Toronto and Seattle, tens of thousand of people gather in mass to call for the legalization of cannabis on April 20th. Over the years, the Hempfest in Seattle has become one of the largest and most important cannabis event in the world, and is thus an important economic factor for Washington’s metropolis. It is highly probable that the term 420 really goes back to the “Waldos,” a few stereotypical stoner-students from San Rafael, California who had chosen 4:20 — the time of day — as a code word for their hobby. High Times Magazine researched this case in 1998 and proved other, rather obscure theories to be wrong. Regardless of its origins, the “4/20 Day” has become a worldwide phenomenon, as countless articles, videos and pictures prove.
420 – Nearly a Blank Spot for Cannabis in Germany
The day when lots cannabis events take place worldwide is hardly noticed in Germany outside the cannabis scene. The Führergeburtstag — also the birthday of the Führer or the Fuhrer’s birthday — was an April 20th holiday in Germany under Nazi rule. Neo-Nazis regularly celebrate this day, which is embarrassing for the great majority of German citizens who have worked for generations to build Germany’s reputation as an enlightened and cosmopolitan nation. So in Germany, the date is more known for brown marches than for cannabis demonstrations or public smoke-ins.
On this date, literally everything that is symbolic is considered to be improper within Germany. On Hitler’s birthday, political events or even celebrations are perceived as politically incorrect. German culture struggles to eradicate the historically problematic date from our collective memory. Even the former minister-president of the state of Baden-Württemberg, Günter Oettinger, did not want to be sworn into office on this day, Oettinger wanted to avoid any proximity to the right political boundary.
In 2016, print media and internet reports covered far more events that misused 420 for right-wing propaganda and marches than stories about cannabis. In Berlin, the cannabis metropolis of the country, there was not one single cannabis event on April 20th. The only organized event was in Hanover, where the cannabis activists from “Chillen or Grillen” (Chill or BBQ) held a 420 Smoke-In. In order to prevent the police from interfering, only “Fake Joints with THC-poor hemp,” which are available in German health food stores, were smoked.
In contrast to torch marches like this one here in Jena on April 20, 2016, traditional smoke-ins, which were the most popular way to express opposition to current cannabis laws in the 1970s and ‘80s, are no longer tolerated in Germany. Even in Berlin, where smoking a joint in public is no big deal, the police regularly intervene when cannabis activists consume ostentatiously during a pro-cannabis event. Smoke-ins that are not just about symbolism, but the burning off of real joints, still take place regularly, but anonymously and without registration as an official demonstration.
A 420-Culture Import May Help
Perhaps on April 20th, Germany should be able to look over the large pond and learn. What hinders enlightened people in 2017 from smoking out Neo-Nazis with big cannabis clouds, instead of leaving them walk the streets? Recently, a media scandal was made up because the symbolism of an advertising spot was misunderstood. In that spot, which takes place in a large supermarket, a license plate showing “MU-SS 420” could be seen for a second or two. “MU-SS” means “must” and was the name of the title song in the video. So the message was “Must 420,”and not “SS” or Hitler’s birthday. Although the producing media company had already made several advertising videos with hidden pro-cannabis messages recently, this time they were suspected of deliberately propagating Nazi propaganda. Only a very few cannabis-focused media outlets recognized the license plate as a hidden pro-cannabis message, most media outlets wrote about a Nazi-scandal.
If Hamburg, Munich and Berlin could look like Seattle, Vancouver or Toronto on 420, Nazi marches would disappear from the news, and maybe, the “Führergeburtstag” could finally be removed from our collective memory.
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