On This Day | 1 July 1989: The first Love Parade

Love Parade 1996
Love Parade 1996, am Großen Stern | Photo by Gerd Danigel CC BY-SA 4.0

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.

Love Parade 2001
Love Parade 2001 | Photo by Arne Müseler | CC-BY-SA-3.0

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.

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
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.

On This Day in Berlin History | 16 October 1906: The Captain of Köpenick

 

The “Captain’s” uniform

16th October 1906: On this day in Berlin history, a man dressed as a Captain of the Prussian Guards entered the town hall of Köpenick outside of Berlin. The moustachioed “Hauptmann” briskly ordered the eleven soldiers accompanying him, as well as the gendarmerie officials present, to cordon off the area. He then gave the police chief leave, who subsequently took the chance to head home for a bath.

Placing the town secretary and Mayor under arrest, the uniformed man seized the town’s treasury of almost 4,000 mark “for inspection” stating “irregularities in connection with the public sewage works”. Ordering his soldiers to guard the town hall for a further half an hour, he then left with the funds (about the equivalent of 22,000 euro today). After reportedly downing a glass of beer “in one go”, he boarded the train back to Berlin and disappeared.

 

Voigt’s arrest sheet

 

The man’s name was Wilhelm Voigt, and actually he was not a Captain at all. In truth he was a shoemaker and ex-convict who had found the uniform in a second-hand store. Noticing the authority his new garb endowed him with, he had seized the opportunity to undertake this caper. Exploiting Prussian society’s tendency to blindly obey anyone in uniform, his plan had succeeded without a hitch.

 

 

Voigt's grave bears the inscription 'The Captain of Koepenick'
Voigt’s grave bears the inscription ‘The Captain of Koepenick’ | Stefan Kuehn, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Unfortunately for Voigt, his run of luck soon came to an end when police were tipped off by a former cellmate of his who knew of the plan. He was sentenced to four years in prison but incredibly was later pardoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II who seemed to admire the ingenuity of the heist.

The “Captain of Köpenick” became somewhat of a celebrity in Germany and beyond and his legacy continues to be celebrated as an example of an individual getting the better of the establishment.

 

 

 

 

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This slice 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 October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day in Berlin History | 8 October 1923: Tempelhof Airport opens

Tempelhofer Feld from the air
Tempelhofer Feld from the air | CC BY-SA 3.0

8th October 1923: On this day in Berlin History, Berlin’s Tempelhof airport opened its gates for the very first time. From that time until its closure in 2008, Tempelhof was to be centre stage for the German capital’s aviation history.

 

C47 planes at Tempelhof Airport, 1948

The original layout was dramatically changed in 1935 when, two years after Adolf Hitler took control of Germany, construction began on what British architect Sir Norman Foster was to call “the mother of all airports”. The 1.2 km long main terminal building (designed by Ernst Sagebiel to resemble an eagle with wings spread) is still one of the largest buildings in the world.

During cold war division the airport was marooned West Berlin’s window to the world, a vital connection during Stalin’s blockade of the city in 1948/49. The subsequent airlift, in which U.S., British and commonwealth air forces flew in almost 2,500,000 tonnes of vital cargo, ensured the pilots as well as the airfield a special place in the hearts of the embattled locals.

 

Visitors to Tempelhofer Feld in May 2010 | CC BY-SA 3.0

After reunification, plans were made to replace the three existing commercial airports with one. Despite the construction running around four times over budget and ten years behind schedule, the last flight left Tempelhof in November 2008.

In 2010, the space (an area larger than Monaco) was given over to the public. The Tempelhofer Feld has since become one of the inhabitants’ favourite green spaces and encapsulates that unique blend of history, re-invention and freedom which is quintessentially Berlin.

 

 

 

 

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This slice 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 October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

 

On This Day in Berlin History | 3 October 1990: German Reunification

Fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate for German Reunification
Fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate for German Reunification | Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-1003-008 / Uhlemann, Thomas / CC-BY-SA 3.0

3rd October 1990: At the stroke of midnight on this day in Berlin history, the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany was hoisted above Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The ceremony marked the moment or German Reunification. After half a century divided, East and West Germany became a single country once more.

There were fireworks and champagne, revellers embraced. There was certainly reason to celebrate. The Berlin Wall, which had been breached so dramatically a year prior, had become nothing more than an increasingly tattered canvas for graffiti artists. The 1,500 km inner German border which for decades had divided the country so brutally was all but gone. It was an exciting new beginning for a nation which had experienced so much trauma over the previous century.

Revellers in front of the Bundestag 3 October 1990 | Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-1003-400 / Grimm, Peer / CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

But the jubilation that night belied an undercurrent of uncertainty. Especially for those millions of East Germans who suddenly found the country they grew up in no longer existed. German Reunification was achieved by the accession of the German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

In other words, the five East German states were simply absorbed into West Germany. This sudden merging of two very different countries caused serious complications. In the East, factories closed down, young people left and unemployment soared, problems which three decades later still persist. In 1991 a “Solidarity Tax” was introduced which has since funnelled billions of Euro from western states to eastern, a cost bemoaned by many in the west.

The Berlin Wall by the Brandenburg Gate | SSGT F. Lee Corkran – DoD photo, USA

 

People speak of the “Mauer im Kopf” or the “wall in their head” to describe the very real cultural divide between “Ossis” and ”Wessis”. Clearly, although the first German Unity Day was celebrated on this date thirty years ago, the actual reunification continues to be a work in progress.

 

 

 

 

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This slice 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 October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.