There are some events that you feel like you have to experience at least once in your life. Like Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Or Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland. And then there’s Berlin’s Love Parade, the electronic dance music and three day rave that, for almost 15 years, brought every Ecstasy-dropping Euro-techno freak to Berlin for a non-stop dance party.
I hate techno music and I hate big crowds. But I had to go. Just once. So in July of 2000, I wrangled an assignment with National Geographic Traveler to report on der Neue Berlin as a way to get me to the Love Parade, a sort of Woodstock for the Echo Boomers of Gen Y, founded by a Berlin radical known as Dr Motte (real name Matthias Roeingh) and his girlfriend, Danielle de Picciotto, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Originally conceived as a sort of political demonstration for peace through music (the original motto Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen—Peace, Joy, Pancakes—stood for disarmament (peace), music (joy), and a fair food production/distribution (pancakes)—it ended up being an alcohol and drug fueled rave that got so commercialized that Dr Motte disassociated himself from the parade in 2006.
But back in July of 2000, when I attended, it was still pretty innocent and benign, if not a little crazy. As hundreds of thousands of ravers entered the city (it was later estimated that over a million people attended), you’d find Love Parade babies everywhere—sleeping in the parks, huddled in vacant lots drinking beer and dancing around camp fires made of broken crates and poster boards, peeing in the bushes of the Tiergarten.
Hardy came over from London to join me. We walked from our digs at the Adlon through the Brandenburg Gate, where the parade would make a U-turn after slowly bumping along for two miles down Strasse des 17. Clustered around the Gate were women wearing giant red foam valentine hearts, like sandwich signboards, and vendors hawking squirt guns, violet wigs, and extra-long green fake eyelashes (for about $15) or distributing free passes to dance clubs all around the city. There was also an army of volunteers passing out free condoms.
By the time we snaked our way into the surging crowd following the flatbed trucks that acted as portable discos, it was a full on zoo. A bit of nudity, lots of drinking, and everyone jumping up and down, waving their arms, stomping their Buffalo boots, and blasting on whistles as the black loudspeakers on the back of the flatbeds, tall and thick as bears, pumped out a universal dance beat with no lyrics, no rhythm, only an omnipresent thump. Like a thundering heart beat.
After a couple of hours, Hardy and I retreated. We were the old men of the festival and we knew it (a number of ravers wanted to have their picture taken with us because they thought it was so cute that the old guys were partying). Cutting through the Tiergarten to escape the crowd, we searched for a pharmacy to buy Ibuprofen (we both had pounding headaches), and then for a café to sit and enjoy a pilsner. But even here, a mile or more from the parade, the beat rumbled over the city like a violent summer thunder storm. And the incessant pounding continued non-stop for the next 24 hours. We got no sleep that night. But at least we could say we’d done the Love Parade.
After that year, attendance at the Love Parade dropped and funding became such a problem that the event was cancelled in 2004. It came back in 2006 and then was moved to the Ruhr Area for the next few years. Last year the Parade was re-organized in Duisburg where 21 people were killed during a crushing stampede into the festival area. After that, the event organizer, Rainer Schaller, declared an end to the festival. “The Love Parade has always been a peaceful party, but it will forever be overshadowed by the accident, so out of respect for the victims, the Love Parade will never take place again,” Schaller said.
Peace, Joy, and Pancakes.