1 July 1989: On this day in Berlin history, a crowd of around 150 people gathered on west Berlin’s Wittenbergplatz to take part in the very first Love Parade.
Unperturbed by the drizzle, the brightly dressed rabble set off down Kurfürstendamm. Among the writhing crowd rolled three flatbed trucks, their trays loaded with giant sound systems filling the surrounding streets with the rhythmic bleeps and beats of techno. The bemused onlookers, suddenly distracted from their coffee and cake, surely didn’t know what to make of this peculiar procession with its strange pounding music invading the city’s most expensive shopping district. For the police accompanying the demonstration, the peaceful demeanour of the attendees must have come as a relief. Far from the violent protests of Kreuzberg, these youngsters were marching in the name of “Friede, Freude und Eierkuchen” (“Peace, Happiness and Pancakes”). Clearly there would be no need for batons or tear gas today. What no-one could suspect, neither those watching nor those taking part, was that this ragtag procession would grow to become the largest techno party in the world.
The Love Parade was the brainchild of locals DJ Matthias Roeingh known as Dr Motte, and artist Danielle de Picciotto. The creative couple wanted to coax the magic which they had discovered in the underground clubs and parties of West Berlin into the open. Techno had arrived in the embattled city via England and had already begun to captivate its young citizens. It was an exciting new sound which seemed a perfect fit for the abandoned spaces of war ruined Berlin and one which de Picciotto and Roeingh felt could unite the disenchanted masses of their marooned city in a positive movement. According to all involved the first Love Parade was a resounding success. When, unexpectedly, the Berlin wall fell a few months later, it was the driving bass beat of Techno that would come to define the wild cultural revolution which followed.
Over the next decade, the Love Parade would boom, reaching a reported 1.5 million attendees in 1999. With this massive increase in scale, organisers sought out a new stomping ground in the four lane causeway of Straße des 17 Juni. Built during the nazi regime as part of Adolf Hitler’s planned transformation of the city, the boulevard, originally intended for Nazi military parades, now became the centre of an annual celebration of unity, acceptance and freedom.
As the Love Parade grew though, so too did its opposers. Many bemoaned the growing commercialisation of the event, pointing at floats like that provided by Lego and claiming it had merely become a PR vehicle for corporations. The state government of Berlin, tired of footing the growing bill for security, medical staff, and the clean up, revoked the parade’s status as a political demonstration. Now organisers would have to cover those expenses on their own. Disillusioned by these issues, Dr Motte decided to sell ownership of the Love Parade in 2006 to Rainer Schaller, owner of Germany’s largest fitness centre chain McFit.
Under new ownership, the Love Parade departed for the heavily industrialised Ruhr area of Western Germany. Over the next four years it would be held in Dortmund, Essen and Bochum before reaching a tragic conclusion in Duisburg in 2010. During the event, the first to be held in a fenced off area, overcrowding of a particularly confined space led to the deaths of 21 people with a further 600 injured and many more traumatised. Despite glaring oversights during the planning procedure, courts rejected the legal case against the organisers stating there was no evidence of negligence, a decision which remains fiercely controversial to this day. The Love Parade disaster of 2010 was a horrific end to an event which had begun with such optimism in the summer of ‘89.
What began with three trucks, homemade costumes and a smattering of free spirited Berliners, grew into one of the largest parties on the planet. For many, the grim fate of the Love Parade exemplifies the damaging effects of commercialisation and greed. In spite of this, plans are reportedly afoot to revive the iconic dance party in Berlin in the summer of 2022, with Dr Motte again at the helm. Although this may seem unimaginable in today’s society of social distancing and isolation bubbles, perhaps, under the right management, a Love Parade is exactly what the world needs now to recover from months of fear and isolation.
This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this summer. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.