Love Parade (1)
Second or third Saturday in July
Every year, over a million people head for the steaming techno music fest that is Berlin’s Love Parade, which has grown to become one of the world’s largest free music festivals. Everything about the event is of epic proportions. It thumps to the beat of over €15 million worth of sound systems, creates more than 260 tons of rubbish, and must surely hold the world record for the most people simultaneously shagging in a public park. In short, it’s an absolute ball. Everywhere you look there’s loved-up people on the streets and pavements, in phone boxes, bus shelters and mobile toilets, hanging from traffic lights – and, much to the annoyance of the city’s authorities and horticulturists all over the shrubbery of Berlin’s sprawling Hergarten park.
It all started modestly enough. In July 1989, a local DJ, Dr Motte, gathered a hundred raver friends to celebrate his birthday. A couple of VW buses blasted out techno to a few shoppers on the Kurfurstendamm, who stood bemused at the motley group dancing under the banner “Friede, Freude, Eirkuchen” (“Peace, Joy, Pancakes”). It was good timing – just four months later the Berlin Wall came down, reuniting East and West Berlin after forty years of separation, and waking the city from its Cold War malaise. In July 1990, two thousand people assembled under the Love Parade flag, marginally outnumbering the Saturday shoppers this time and dancing all day and all night under the banner, “The Future is Ours!”. After the formal reunification a few months later, the event was declared an official demonstration, allowing the six thousand ravers to parade through the city under the motto “Worldwide Party People Weekend”.
By 1995, attendance was up to three hundred thousand, and, in temperatures soaring above 30°C, the small streets around Kurfurstendam were gridlocked for 48 hours. The organizers negotiated a different route for the following year, passing by the Brandenburg Gate and ending up in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s largest park, where the 750,000-strong crowd turned the immaculate lawns and shrubberies into a Glastonbury-style mud heap – and the Love Parade into the largest free assembly of young people worldwide. From 2001, however, things have got trickier. The Love Parade lost its status as a demonstration, which meant the organizers had to find a way to cover the costs of preparing for, staging and cleaning up after the booze ‘n’ beats-fuelled love-in each year. Cue the search for sponsors and corporate backing, which began to change the event and move it away from the original spirit of an impromptu party, and which – according to many – has spoiled the event for good. (Dr Motte himself didn’t attend in 2006 in protest at its commercialization.)
The Love Parade was cancelled in 2004 and 2005, and pretty much every year starts with the rumour that it’ll be called off again. Indeed, the Berlin authorities have been trying to ban it almost since its inception – and if you look at the devastation it leaves in its wake, you can understand why. The organizers have worked hard to minimize the impact the event has on the Tiergarten, resulting in large sections of it now being fenced off, as well as a ban on unlicensed vendors in the park. So long as it can attract sponsors, however, the Berlin event should blast on. But whatever your take is on selling out to the corporate euro, when you’re in the middle of the Tiergarten, wired out of your box and dancing like a maniac, none of this seems to matter.
Love Parade “activities” take place across the city from Friday night right through to Monday morning. Imagine you can do whatever you want for the weekend and you won’t go far wrong. First off, there are the hottest, most banging tunes on the planet, played at supersonic volume; then there’s a lot of drinking and pill-popping; and finally, very generous helpings of sexual activity. Weather permitting, people are generally scantily dressed and the further you penetrate into the Tiergarten, the wilder the action gets. Away from the Parade, there’s really no set thing to do, so if you’re there for the dancing and the drugs, you might want to pick a float and a stay with it for the whole day. If you want to be in the centre of the action, head to the Siegessaule (Victory Column), the focal point for the full-on Party crowd, where a huge number congregate to lose it to the tunes. The majestic Brandenburg Gate on the eastern edge of the park serves as a popular entry and gawping point for those who have accidentally stumbled upon the party, while the Englischer Garten in the northern part of the park is the must beautiful and relatively axed spot. In 2006, several fixed stages were strung along the western end of Strasse de 17 Juni, with a variety of acts (some very loosely dance-related) performing throughout the day, but the sheer size of the crowds will curtail any plans for hopping between here and the moving floats.