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Berlin’s Love Parade


Germany, summer 2000. All of the raves, parties and festivals in the world can’t prepare someone for the unbelievable scene that greets them during Berlin’s annual Love Parade festival.

For one weekend period, and especially on the Saturday when the parade is actually held, partiers the world-over can:

1) Have sex in open parks in front of thousands.

2) Consume obscene amounts of drugs and booze.

3) Wear whatever outlandish clothes they can find (or produce in the dark basements of their homes).

4) Move their body in whatever way they want down the crowded streets of Europe’s debauchery capitol.

The Love Parade started in 1988 when DJ (Doctor) Motte decided to celebrate his birthday with 150 of his closest friends. Blasting techno music from the back of a bus (before the techno scene became mainstream) they proceeded to parade down Ku’damm to the gawks and stares of the locals. In 1989 the Love Parade’s attendance was 2,000, and twelve years later those initial processions have ballooned to epic proportions.

While some of the early reasons for having the parade have blurred a little with the passage of time and the influx of so many people, the main reason remains: to have fun and enjoy life for one single, glorious day.

My brother and I could certainly feel the excitement in the air as we drove to Berlin Friday afternoon, July 7. Tens of thousands of cars and vans with ‘Love Parade 2000’ or this year’s theme – ‘One World, One Love Parade’ – emblazoned on their windows filled the six Autobahns leading into Berlin. I felt like a sperm headed for the egg.

July 8 dawned a bit chilly and overcast but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. Loaded with a backpack full of booze, whistles, glowsticks, condoms, drugs and other Love Parade essentials, my brother and I met up with our friend Flo (the brother of a German girl who was stationed in the U.S. Army with me) and a dozen of his Berliner buddies. We rode the Metro until the rhythmic ‘whump whump’ of techno music could be heard and felt inside the train. Party-time!

Now imagine this: 1.5 million people, most between the ages of 15 and 25, laughing, loving and dancing in the streets to the world’s best techno DJs. Huge tucks rolling up and down the streets with thousands dancing behind. If there’s a heaven then this was it. Topless girls by the hundreds. The list goes on and on.

The itinerary is pretty simple. Starting at 3 p.m. trucks from Berlin clubs (and now from other cities in Europe) start at opposite ends of Berlin’s main downtown thoroughfare, the Strasse des 17 Juni, and slowly began heading toward the Victory Column in the center. The route is so packed with partiers that the trucks can only go a few miles per hour, and are often forced to stop for minutes at a time. At midnight the trucks leave the Victory Column and set up shop in (and in front of) the dozens of clubs that sprinkle the city.

Sheer insanity greeted our group as we wound our way through the crowd. In the first half hour I spotted dozens of topless woman, a transvestite wearing 8-inch high heels, a 75-year old man with blue hair, an Elvis impersonator, and a man completely covered in gold paint. My group made several stops along the Tiergarten to catch our breaths, smoke out, drink liquor and talk to people. At several points during the evening a particular song came on that struck a chord and I found myself dancing, sometimes alone, but often with a complete stranger. By 9 p.m. I was so wasted that I actually felt sober.

Staying in a large group is almost impossible, so after a few hours our group began to break up and get separated. The first to get lost was Ryan, who thought he saw a friend from Nevada and wandered off to say hi. When he realized it was just a figment of his stoned imagination, the damage was done – we were already long gone. I forgot to give Ryan the phone number or the address of the friend in Berlin we were staying with, so he ended up sleeping at the Red Cross station. He couldn’t complain though – the Berliners were very friendly and sympathetic and the Red Cross gave him free food! We found out where he was the next morning after calling almost every police station, Red Cross shelter and hospital in town. When Flo’s older brother, Mike, went to pick Ryan up Sunday morning, he found him sitting in front of Berlin’s main police station, drunk as hell and taking to a Berliner who didn’t speak any English – and didn’t seem to care.

I ended up somewhere near the Brandenburn Gate, chugging Vodka and chatting with a pair of underage (ack!) Berlin girls who wanted to take me home. Fortunately, my friends rescued me in time. We went to a club in East Berlin called The Matrix and danced into the wee hours of the morning.

The beauty of Love Parade is there’s really no set thing to do. Some people spend most of the night in the Tiergarten chilling and smoking out. Others pick a favorite truck and dance behind it during the whole parade. Still others congregate at the Victory Column to listen to music and a speech from DJ (Doctor) Motte. Afterwards hundreds of thousands of people flock to any one of three-dozen Berlin clubs that continue to pound out techno until eight or nine the next morning.

The good thing is it doesn’t matter what you do – you’re going to have the time of your life regardless.

Drawbacks

Now this wouldn’t be a complete travel story without at least something about the Love Parade’s drawbacks. Pickpocketers come out in full force, as they do at all large gatherings, so keep your valuables tucked in somewhere safe.

Drugs are abundant but try not to overdose. Ambulances are standing by but the sheer number of people means it might be a while before the medics get to you or before it’s even noticed that you’re having a problem. Don’t get too unruly as out-of-hand people are dealt with swiftly.

There has always been the threat of ‘this year’s’ Love Parade being the last. The Tiergarten never really recovers from being trampled on and flooded with urine. The amount of trash generated (upwards of 250 tons) would fill several football stadiums and the notoriously cranky old folks complain more and more every year. Anything you can do to lessen the impact on nature (and the grumpy locals) is appreciated by all.

Aside from that, Love Parade is not something to miss. Party of the Month? Hell, this is the Party of the Year! This year’s parade is on the 14th July 2001. Just make sure you don’t judge other festivals by it – most couldn’t compare.

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