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Reflections on the Love Parade (1995)

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“You can't compare the German scene to the English one,” insists Jurgen Laarman, editor of the techno magazine Frontpage (which has a nationwide distribution of 100,000) and one of the five co-owners of the Love Parade name. “Something like the Criminal Justice Act wouldn't be possible here. All parties here have been tolerated by the state – there have been no illegal raves. In Germany there are now some politicians who like the rave scene; the Green Party tries to support the Love Parade to get new voters. We have problems with drugs – one week ago we had the first Ecstasy death in Berlin – but not the same as in England.” The Love Parade has, however, had its problems with the local authorities. When numbers doubled again to 120,000 last year, some conservative members of the Berlin senate became displeased at the rising cost of policing and cleaning up after what they saw not as a political demonstration, but a schnickschnack – a bit of fun.

Until the beginning of May this year, the authorities stood firm: the Love Parade would not take place unless the organisers paid up. But the media rallied round: the Love Parade was good for Berlin and its international image. Motte met the authorities, adopting a new slogan for the parade to re-emphasise what he insists is its political nature – “Peace on Earth” – and carried the day.

“It's great for the city of Berlin, but it's also great for the whole world because there is so much hate on planet Earth,” he told them as he now tells me. “We kill so many trees, so many animals and so many people that we need a sign. Not against all that, but for something. A sign for love.”

6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm. . . lost amid 250,000 bobbing heads, the techno-hippie cliché that dance culture is a link to ancient trance rituals seems to gain credibility. Tomorrow the local press, high on a new feeling of optimism in the city after Christo's wrapping of the Reichstag the week before, will find no bad word to say about the parade, even though some collapsed from heatstroke in the sun and proceedings ran hours behind schedule. The last of the 34 floats crawled back into Wittenbergplatz at around 11pm. A couple of years ago, the heavens opened as the parade reached its climax; an awe-inspiring, thunderous endorsement from above.

Today we cheer the lorries in, jumping and clapping, while I begin to wonder whether Motte's dreams have any basis in reality. Peace protest? Pop phenomenon? Or just a brilliant party? Is the Love Parade still an embodiment of the spirit of reunification? Dave Rimmer, a journalist who has written guidebooks to the city, believes the parade has a more pressing function: upholding the countercultural heritage of Berlin – traditionally a place of squatters, anarchists, draft-dodgers, punks and freaks – as 1998 approaches. That is the year when the German parliament returns to the city and the social sanitisation involved in the reconstruction process is presumably complete. “They're already a bit worried about how near the parliament is to Kreuzberg (the anarchist/immigrant quarter),” says Rimmer. “And they're maybe going to construct a maximum security zone around the district, with security cameras everywhere so they can clear everybody out at a moment's notice.”

Today we seemed to stretch the limits of what is possible. It's hard to see how the parade can continue to grow in this confined space. Is the Ku'damm still big enough for what has become one of the world's great street parties, on a par with Rio, Gay Pride, the Notting Hill Carnival or Sydney's Mardi Gras? Jurgen Laarman is in expansive mood: “Maybe next year there will be one million people,” he speculates. “The number of people on the Love Parade doubles every year, so naturally in a few years we will have world peace!” Then Laarman laughs at his own hyperbole, but after seven hours immersed in the fervour of rhythm, wild optimism seems perfectly sensible.

Next morning, someone has affixed a placard to the Zoo U-Bahn station: “Mehr Techno!” it demands. Spot on, I think. Mehr energie, Scotty, mehr techno. Mehr freude.

Source: Matthew Collin, “Berlin Cabaret, Old Chum,” The Observer, August 20, 1995, p. 46. Copyright Guardian News & Media Ltd 1995.

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