Revisiting the magic of the Berlin Love Parade

Words by Simone Angel

‘’Music is the weapon we fight them with’’ 

Mr. C, The Shamen

‘Friede, freude und eierkuchen’ (peace, joy and pancakes) was the motto of the first Berlin Love Parade in 1989, the 30th anniversary of which is currently being commemorated at the Berlin Nineties Museum. At the initial license application for this ‘‘political protest’’, Matthias Roeingh a.k.a. Dr. Motte was asked what the protest would be against. He answered that it wasn’t against anything but for disarmament (peace), music (joy), and fair food distribution (pancakes). 

With the license granted, 150 wildly-dressed (and undressed) Berlin ravers danced through the Kurfürstendamm on three floats, one of which a flat-topped potato car and all playing the same pre-recorded mix-tape. The idea had been to bring the underground Berlin techno scene, which was so beloved by Dr. Motte and his then-girlfriend Danielle de Picciotto, out onto the streets, into the sunlight and to share the joy of it with the wider world.

Image may contain: 6 people, people standing, people walking, wedding and outdoor

The yearly Love Parades that followed expanded exponentially until, in 1996, the parade had morphed into a street rave for over half a million people. A large reason for this rapid growth was the fall of the Berlin Wall in December 1989, with techno music proving to be the greatest unifying force for the young East and West Berliners. 

The East Berlin industrial ruins after the fall of the Berlin Wall became a paradise for the techno scene. Party organizers would break into random cellars and warehouses to find possible locations. The East German police would simply stand by and watch, uncertain as to whether to interfere, unsure if the persons breaking into these buildings may have had some historical rights to them. Party organizers even faked official documents stating their ‘’pre-wall’’ existing rights. 

From the documentary Sub-Berlin (2008): ‘’There was no freedom, there was frustration. And when the wall came down, that freedom arrived with techno in ‘90, ‘91, ‘92. At that moment the authorities were not interested in what we were doing. That sense of freedom turned into an avalanche.’’

Techno events were held at deserted bunkers of the Russian Air Force and even at old silos of nuclear weapons, turning these historical places of war and suppression into musical havens of joy, love and unity. Young East and West Berliners were shaping their joined identity; the accompanying techno soundtrack provided them with the perfect mix of grittiness, melancholy, and a hopeful curiosity for their joined future. The post-Soviet ruins set the stage and techno rolled over it like a dark, hypnotic, nighttime mist. 

Image may contain: plant, sky, tree, outdoor and nature

There was a close and interesting link between the Detroit and the Berlin techno scenes which paralleled both cities’ post-apocalyptic landscapes; Detroit being post-industrial after the closures of so many of their car manufacturing plants and Berlin being post-communist and post-wall. Where Germany’s Kraftwerk had once influenced the early techno giants of Detroit, they, in turn, influenced the next generation of German DJs and producers, creating a beautiful loop of dance music genius. 

Layer on top of this techno and rich historical background the anarchy of the Love Parade and you have pure magic! And magical it was! The early Love Parades have taken on almost mythical dimensions. Those who were there talk about it as if they had visited Atlantis or Lemuria before they sank. I know I’m guilty of that as well. I had the privilege of reporting from the Love Parade several times, first at the  Kurfürstendamm and later by the Brandenburg Gate where the Parade was held after 1996, once it had become too big for the old location. I reported on the Love Parade for my MTV show the Partyzone and was, eventually, placed on a platform at the Victory Column, overlooking the million-or-so dancing people, with ravers climbing on top of lamp posts, blowing their foghorns or sitting on the overhanging traffic lights, creating a sight of unrestrained happiness that I will never forget.

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, crowd and outdoor

What I did once forget, however, was to actually film anything at the Love Parade. This was a time before MTV placed me on a safe stage away from the crowds. In 1994 I was sent over with Steve Blame (‘’Hi, I’m Steve Blame, and you’re watching MTV News’’) Steve and I were both rather wild back then and could not stop laughing when MTV told us that we were doing this shoot together – with Steve being told that he had to ‘’look after me’’. Well, he did! In his own unique way, though, which probably wasn’t the way MTV had had in mind. We were already in a rather jolly mood as the first Love Parade floats arrived and proceeded to jump on one of them, leaving our bewildered film crew behind. Our perfectly scheduled list of interviews never happened as the film crew pushed their way through the crowds, desperately looking for Steve and myself. By the time they finally found us, the Love Parade was over and Steve and I were dancing in a fountain with other ravers. We had managed to film just minutes of material, nowhere near enough for the Love Parade special that MTV had been announcing for weeks in their on-air promos.

At that moment, Steve and I were unfazed by it all and continued partying. First, we visited the late Mark Spoon (Markus Löffel, who passed away in 2006 ). His lavish hotel suite had a jacuzzi and sauna in it and was filled with dozens of beautiful party people all walking around in the hotel-issued bathrobes. I would have stayed in the jacuzzi forever had I not been hassled by everyone to come to Sven Väth’s SEZ swimming pool after-party. I reluctantly agreed but told Steve that I was not getting dressed again, so if he wanted me to come, I would simply come in the bathrobe. Others agreed that that was a great idea and so we all tried to get out of the hotel in nothing but these bathrobes and our footwear. It created a rather funny scene with young people dashing through the front lobby, trying to make it out of the building, chased by security guards who were shouting that no hotel bathrobes were allowed off the premises. Steve and I were among the only three who managed to jump in a taxi and drive off.

Once we had danced the night away, and the sun had risen, I found myself sitting in a park with my now grubby-looking bathrobe and lots of other ravers, but none that I knew. I had lost Steve. Not only that, I had lost my credit card and all of MTV’s cash. I decided to walk to my hotel but had no idea which hotel that was or where it was located. I just hoped that I would recognize it once I saw it. Whilst walking down the Berlin streets, I was occasionally recognized ‘’Schau mal, das ist die Simone von MTV!’’ 

Lucky enough, a car eventually pulled over with some people that I knew. 

‘’Simone, what are doing?’’

‘’I’m trying to find my hotel but I don’t know what hotel I am in’’

‘’It’s printed on your bathrobe’’

‘’Oh yes, so it is’’

You can imagine the looks that the fancy business travelers gave me as I walked up to reception in my messy bathrobe to check back in. Steve and the crew had flown back to London already. But even though I had no show to broadcast and had just cost MTV an additional flight ticket and overnight at a swanky hotel (on top of what they had spent already), I was never reprimanded. MTV was as anarchic as the Love Parade was in those days. 

Image result for simone laurent garnier berlin love parade

There were other parallels between the Love Parade, MTV Europe, Berlin and the rise of the rave scene in general. We were all in our infancies back in the nineties and were pretty much left to our own devices. Viacom, MTV’s big corporate owner, showed little interest in its European offshoot, causing us to be the edgier, lower-budget version of MTV. We were a  DIY project, just like the rave scene was, just like Berlin was, just like the Love Parade was. We all shared that sense of rebellion and optimism about the future. We threw off all restraints and were allowed to creatively soar. Karl Marx used to talk about giving the workers the means of production and that that would somehow result in true empowerment for them. I wonder if he fully grasped, though, that the corporations and the wealthy would simply stand by, let the workers/creatives work their magic, and then grab the biggest piece of the pie when the commodity was at its highest price. 

The Love Parade lost the right to classify itself as a political protest in 2001 by Germany’s Constitutional Court as they ruled that it ‘’lacked a clear political message’’, which meant that it could now no longer pass on the expenses for the policing and clean-up to the local authorities. Which meant that money had to be made and in swooped the corporations to turn it into a commercial enterprise. Dr. Motte cut ties completely with the Love Parade in 2003 after it had become, in his own words ‘’nothing more than an infommercial’’.

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd and outdoor

MTV Europe grew, just like the Love Parade, exponentially in the nineties as the former Soviet Union crumbled and many young Eastern Europeans wanted to become part of European youth culture movement. MTV gave that culture and sense of belonging to them. We were all keenly aware of the political importance of that time and felt thrilled to be a beacon of hope and change for that new generation of Europeans. Over time however the stranglehold of the Viacom corporation (in my mind) destroyed the creativity at MTV Europe. The rough-around-the-edges, but true-music-loving VJs were slowly being replaced by Barbie doll versions of themselves (who, generally, couldn’t care less about music) and, eventually, MTV left music behind altogether. 

Berlin is currently experiencing the same destruction of creativity. The old industrial estates were first overtaken by young creatives who transformed them into wonderful oases of art, music, food, and inspiration for the city, making these formerly unwanted areas trendy and sought-after. Now they are being bulldozed to make way for high-priced accommodations. Once again, the corporate world allowed ‘’the workers’’ to use ‘’the means of production’’ by letting them do the groundwork; creating value for an area or a product, and then pushing them aside and taking over. It happened to rave, it happened to the Love Parade, it happened to Berlin and it happened to MTV Europe. And we are all left to reminisce. 

It is sad to accept that those times are over. Atlantis and Lemuria did sink into the sea. The Love Parade eventually ended in tragedy in Duisberg 2010 with the horrendous crowd crush where 21 people lost their lives and more than 500 got injured. What started as gathering of love and peace, ended in death. 

Berlin, like so many other cities, is slowly evolving into a bland, sanitized version of its formerly rugged self. Music television has now stopped playing music. The ravers have hung up their floppy hats and have become responsible parents. The party is over! Even reminiscing won’t bring it back.

‘’Out of respect for the victims, the Love Parade will never take place again’’ final Love Parade statement

Today, young people are once again breaking the rules and are finding their rebellious voices, but this time in a desperate attempt to save our planet. I applaud them and my heart breaks for them. I just wish that we could bring back a world where all they’d have to think about is dancing, expressing their creativity and protesting for Peace, Love and Pancakes.

30 Jahre Love Parade runs until the 31st of December at the Nineties Museum at the Alte Münze, Molkenmarkt 2, Berlin-Mitte

Copyright: nineties berlin, Berlin 2019