Berlin's giant annual street party, the Love Parade, was cancelled for the second year in a row when sponsorship fell flat. Does the death of Germany's ultimate rave mean techno music has run its course?
No rain fell on the last Love Parade, in 2003
They say music never dies. But techno, Germany's home-grown style of pulsing electronic dance music, may well have heard its death knell.
Sixteen years after its founding in Berlin, the Love Parade is no more -- no more neon hairstyles, no dancing in the streets, no bare-chested teenagers. The massive public dance party that once brought over a million youths together on the streets of Berlin was cancelled again this year amid internal quarrels and a lack of sponsors.
Ravers danced in front of the Brandenburg Gate at the parade in 2003
By throwing in the towel for the second year in a row, the folks behind the Love Parade seem to be signaling the death of the rave -- and the end of techno music as a mass phenomenon. Supporting this is the fact that some of Germany's biggest and best known techno dance clubs -- E-Werk and Tresor, for example -- have recently closed their doors.
Face lift for 2006?
But the Love Parade organizers haven't entirely given up hope. They told Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper that they hope to revive the happening with a facelift and a new concept by next year, in time to coincide with the World Cup soccer championship in Germany. But most onlookers view this plan as optimistic at best, given the financial setbacks and sponsorship debacles of the past few years.
DJ Dr. Motte
The Love Parade was entirely a Berlin phenomenon. In 1989 DJ Dr. Motte, aka Matthias Roeingh (photo), gathered some 150 techno fans on the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin's upscale shopping street. He mounted speakers on a rickety van, and the ravers danced to throbbing electronic music in the name of peace and love.
Symbol of youth culture
Over the course of the years, the parade developed into a worldwide symbol for peaceful -- and alternative -- youth culture. One weekend every summer, people from around the planet made pilgrimage to Berlin, turning it into the world's techno capital for the space of a few days. At its height in 1999, around 1.5 million people attended the Love Parade.
Techno and foam at the Love Parade in Tel Aviv, 2002
Today, the phrase "Love Parade" is trademarked, and love parades take place in San Francisco, Acapulco, Tel Aviv and Santiago, Chile. Yet, by the time the rave was moved from its Kurfürstendamm origins to Berlin's massive Tiergarten park neighborhood -- at the very latest -- its original "peace and love" feeling had been replaced by big business, with vendors selling licensed T-shirts and CDs.
After a few years, environmentalists and local government started to complain about the masses. The ravers damaged trees, trampled bushes and destroyed animal habitats in Berlin's largest inner-city park, they said. There were also repeated arguments about ancillary costs: The Love Parade was officially registered as a political demonstration, which required the city to pick up the tab for street cleaning after the partiers had all gone home.
Costly change in status
In 2001, German courts decided the Love Parade could no longer be considered a political demonstration, and it became a much costlier commercial event for its organizers. At the same time, the number of attendees plunged, down to around 650,000 fans in 2002.
A kiss at the 2003 Love Parade in Berlin
The party was cancelled for the first time last year, and was replaced by a demonstration of some 7,500 fans who assembled to demand the Love Parade be reinstated.
Since then, event organizers have been openly squabbling. Fabian Lenz stepped down as the head of the rave's business end, Love Parade GmbH, and no replacement was found. Finally, some hoped-for big sponsors, such as Samsung and T-Mobile, backed out on this year's event.
Now, to the extent that it is alive at all, techno music -- and its fans -- will have to go back to the roots -- the small clubs and dance parties where the movement got its start.