Perfect Sound Forever

Love Parade

Text and photos by Robert Stevenson
(October 2000)

Back in the summer of 1989 a couple of hundred people danced along the KuDamm (the busiest shopping high street in the former city of West Berlin) under the motto, "Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen. (Peace, happiness, pancakes)." The Love Parade was born and it has grown more or less every year since. From those quirky, relaxed beginnings the parade - which at first was simply a publicity stunt/birthday celebration dreamt up by club DJ Dr. Motte - has grown into a happening which every year seems to break attendance records. This year most people believed that the numbers were down from last year. 1.3 million was the official count.

 I first came to the parade in '95. It was much smaller then but the 400,000 it attracted that year signalled that it had outgrown the Kudamm. The next year, it moved to the Tiergarten, Berlin's vast central park, where on Saturday it hosted over a million ravers for the fourth year in a row. I was there again in '97 and '98, as crowds gathered around the Victory Column, Tiergarten's centre piece, to wait for the floats full of dancers to arrive and to listen to a short speech by Dr. Motte. This year I went back to see it again.

 I arrived early in the afternoon before much had happened. Walking through the park towards the Victory column I got squirted with water cannons by the occasional raver and picked my way around many more still resting in the park after spending Friday night and Saturday morning in the clubs. I came out of the trees on the Street of June 17th, the expansive road along which the parade approaches the Victory Column simultaneously from Ernst Reuter Platz in the west and the Brandenburg gate in the east. The crowd along the route was ready for a party. They could see the floats approaching.

 Soon, as the ravers came out of the park and the road filled up, it became difficult to move. Each decision to cross the road, move to the side, or take two steps forward came to involve clinging to a passing line of slowly moving people and pressing your way through the malleable but solid mass in front of you. The floats started to pass, the dancers sometimes naked, sometimes outlandishly costumed, and everybody started to dance to the music coming from each truck.

 All along the road, lamp posts were occupied. Around the Victory Column itself the design of the lights had been changed, presumably to prevent ravers from hanging off them for the duration of the parade. This precaution wasn't in evidence along the Street of June 17th. As the music became more constant the lights were in constant motion as four, sometimes five, people swung on the poles in time to the music. This was to be a source of much of the work that attendant ambulances had to do over the course of the day. While the overall workload of the rescue services was much smaller than last year, that had much to do with the cool, overcast weather reducing the threat of dehydration. Over 2000 ravers were carried unconscious from the proceedings, mostly victims of drug and/or alcohol abuse. Many of them had fallen from those lights.

 That a large number of drugs are taken here is not even a question. A hundred or so alleged dealers or users were picked up by undercover police on Saturday, a number which doesn't scratch the surface. As I walked around the Victory Column before the floats arrived, a kid handed a small plastic bag of white powder with a marijuana leaf printed on the side to his friend. I took a few more steps and almost tripped over a girl snorting something out of the hem of her friend's shirt. Kids arrive in Berlin from far away and party all through Friday night until the Parade starts the next day. Then they go clubbing, some until early Monday. Often what sleep they get is confined to an hour or two crashed under a tree or behind a bush in the Tiergarten. The parade went on as a succession of floats and dancers until six in the evening. Then the DJs took centre stage. Dr. Motte and the parade organisers see the Love Parade as an expression of the "movement of the current club culture" world wide, and as a chance to share ideas and inspirations. The first DJ on was Takkyu Ishino of Japan, reflecting the wide "DJ exchange" co-operation currently being enjoyed by Berlin and Tokyo. Other international acts to grace the turntables during the night came from Austria, Argentina, Great Britain and Israel.

 The increasingly international flavour of the parade may have been further reflected in the fact that this appears to be the first year that the Love Parade has not grown. This seems a paradox until you realise that copy Love Parades have been sanctioned in Leeds and Vienna. Ravers from all over the world still arrived in Berlin en masse for the annual party but they didn't have to; they could have partied closer to home. Still more parades seem set to rise in years to come as negotiations to bring the festival to Hong Kong, Buenos Aries, and Tel Aviv are in various stages of advancement.

 As the DJs played on, the music took over centre stage completely. The crowd, which had been strewn along the Street of June 17th, closed around the Victory Column and the dancer filled trucks circled like wagons in a western waiting for the Indians to attack. It became even more difficult to move around, so that most people gave up the idea completely and danced where they were, embracing the electronic monotony. And it was monotonous; as the Love Parade has grown commercially, the techno played has become increasingly mellow, increasingly mainstream.

 (Not far away a much smaller but still formidable gathering was holding it's own parade. The Fuck Parade is a protest against the commercialisation that has in part been responsible for the toning down of the Love Parade's musical image. At the Fuck Parade they play 'gabba', or techno characterised by harder, quicker changes. This is what the Love Parade used to be like, but there wouldn't be any returning to these roots now even if that was what the Love Parade wanted to do.)

 The Love Parade is happy to be what it is. It has brought the music of Motte's "current club culture" to the streets of the world. When you have well over a million people packed so closely together it's probably not a good idea to play gabba anyway. In such close quarters, the furious dancing it would facilitate could well provoke the sort of trouble that the Love Parade has so far managed largely to avoid. One person was stabbed to death last year, another seriously injured last week, but these must be considered isolated incidents coming as they did amidst two parades which together attracted almost three million people.

 As the evening crept on and it began to get dark, and as the last DJs played, I left the dancing masses at the Victory Column and walked back into the park. Some parade goers were winding down, sleeping on the grass or talking quietly in groups. Others were bundling belongings together and getting ready for the club scene in the neighbouring districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte.

The Tiergarten itself appeared to have survived another parade. Community groups are up in arms each year about the damage done to the park by visiting ravers. Since the Love Parade moved from the KuDamm in '96, the park has become, for one weekend each July, a combination kitchen, bedroom, dance floor, and toilet used by hundreds of thousands. The damage done is enough to bring dire warnings from ecology authorities about what the long term effects on plant and animal life might be. Though organisers made progress this year in reducing the 300 tons of waste that last year's crowd left behind, the problem is a long way from being resolved.

 But while the parade might move on within Berlin when a suitable, alternate location is found, it doesn't appear to be going far. With rave music at the height of its popularity, Berlin is only too pleased with the cash flow into its coffers that the party generates. Hardly a bed is to be had in the city when the parade rolls around. That other, imitation parades will rise around the world seems a done deal, but that's what the original parade wants. As it becomes nearly impossible for it to expand anymore within Berlin, the parade continues to grow globally, a never ending rave.

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