Case Study: Carnival
Questions 3 and 5: Origins, commodification, and significance of Berlin’s Love Parade
Carnival, as an ideal type identified by Cohen (1982a: 38), ‘is a season of festive popular events that are characterized by revelry, playfulness, and overindulgence in eating, drinking and sex, culminating in one or two days of massive street processions by masqued individuals and groups, playing or dancing ecstatically to the accompaniment of loud and cheerful music. Also, every carnival is a place in which ‘hegemonous and opposition political formations […], alliance and enmity, consensus and conflict are expressed like a grand joking relationship (ibid. 37). In the light of this it is worthwhile to examine contemporary carnivals as movements of cultural production and places of cultural policy and contestation. In this case study I like to focus on a very recent offspring of carnival culture, which has in a short period of time outnumbered the traditional carnivals in London’s Notting Hill district and Trinidad, and is now the biggest street dance event and youth meeting in the world. The Love Parade in Berlin, initially held as a birthday party for a Berlin DJ, Dr Motte (Mathias Roeingh) in 1989, has developed from an underground electronic dance music event (or better demonstration) and the voice of the (German) techno and rave scene, often referred to as ‘Generation X’ (as in Douglas Coupland’s (1992) first novel with the same title and in Bennet, 2001: 156, and Cannon, 1994), to a mass event with 1.5 million visitors1 in 1999 (geocities, 2002). Today, the parade, to which one of its initiators refers to as
‘Prussian carnival’ (Küchemann, 2001a) has been turned into a ‘global brand’ (Staunton,2000) with offshoot events held in Vienna, Mexico City (first introduced by the Goethe Institute which promotes German culture abroad), Leeds (in 2000), Tel Aviv and plans for parades in Cape Town and Hong Kong. In the following the origins, the increasing commodification and the cultural as well as political significance of the Love Parade are being examined.
Four months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dr Motte and some of his friends (around 150 in total) gather on Kurfürstendamm, a busy shopping street in the centre of West Berlin, to demonstrate with music playing from ‘three little trucks’ (Motte, 1995, see flyer in Appendix) as a key element. The music they played is acid-house which at that time is the music of a small sub-culture that has originated from clubs in ‘the urban centres of West Europe (London, Rome, Stockholm) and North America (Detroit, Chicago)’ (Redhead, 1998: 107). ‘The formal aspects of house music include a steady, repetitive beat between 120 and 140 bpm and the use of sequencers, synthesizers and samplers’ (ibid. 107) which makes it equally energetic as the music played by the steel bands at Caribbean carnivals and therefore predestined for street dance events.
However, the Love Parade is not being initiated as a carnival for the people in the first place but rather as a demonstration of the vibrant Berlin club culture scene of the early 90’s. Dr Motte’s idea is to demonstrate for rather than against something. Therefore, he chooses the motto Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen (peace, happiness, pancake), a German expression that suggests that everything is fine and everybody is happy (often used in an ironical way), to demonstrate for disarmament (peace), a better international understanding through music (happiness), and equal distribution of food (pancake) (welt.de, 2002a, my own translation). Apart from these associations with the motto and an exception in 1995, the Love Parade mottos are equally apolitical in the following years giving the parade the impression of a carnival parade rather than a political demonstration.
For the first time in 1991 party people and activists from different scenes all over Germany are taking part in the parade with the motto “My House Is Your House And Your House Is Mine”. Floats and dancers from ‘Munich, Cologne, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Nuremberg and Frankfurt- 6000 people and 10 trucks in total- come together and demonstrate that ‘techno is not only a one-city movement but rather a single spirit, a subculture sprouting in the whole country’ (loveparade.de, 2002). The British DJ and writer Dave Haslam (2001: 12) remembers that ‘Berlin was an amazing place to be at that time. The Wall had just come down and the annual Love Parade had helped galvanise a German house nation’. Often, this time is referred to by scene insiders as the one with the greatest unity among the movement (techno.de, 2002). Sven Väth, a German techno DJ since the early days, describes the atmosphere:
[…] in Berlin there was this kind of eager anticipation, everywhere there
was this feeling of community. We could all feel it. And the motto (“The future is ours”, 1990) was clearly our signal.
In 1992, about 15.000 people accompanied by 15 floats celebrate the 4th Love Parade, which gets ‘media coverage all over the world- from the Tagesschau (the German equivalent to the BBC News) to i-D Magazine’ (techno.de, 2002). One year later trucks from other countries are taking part for the first time and the parade’s first merchandising article is launched with a music compilation entitled “I Need Your Love- Love House Vol.1” (loveparade.de, 2002). Then, in 1994, the parade encounters the first problems with the Berlin senate not willing to authorize the parade as a demonstration. The senate is convinced that the main goal of the parade is in entertaining people and not expressing political ideas. The reasons behind the fight for the status of demonstration are mainly economical because the organisers would have to pay for cleaning up the streets, police and damages if the parade is not authorized as such. Finally, the parade can take place as a demonstration but since these days its status has always been controversial year after year.
With techno music gaining in popularity and even dominating the charts, also the Love Parade grows bigger and, in 1996, has to move from its birthplace on Kurfürstendamm to the Tiergarten park in the middle of the city. Since then the parade sets off from the Brandenburg Gate and Ernst-Reuter-Platz, moves along the Strasse des 17. Juni, where Hitler had held its military parades only some 50 years ago, and converges around the Siegessäule, the golden goddess of victory, for what has been called by the media theorist Scherfer, ‘the dance around the central phallus’ (Welt.de, 2002b, my own translation). In this year, Dr Motte addresses the revellers directly for the first time with a speech and has ever since at what has to become known as the Abschlusskundgebung. After the falling through to found a charitable organisation to support the event, the Love Parade GmbH, which is a commercial company holding all trademark rights for the parade name and its logo is being founded in the same year.
1 Inevitably the numbers attending such occasions can only be estimated. This is generally done by newspaper or radio correspondents, organisers and the police. The figures mentioned throughout the text are arrived at by collating various estimates.
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- ISBN (Book)
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- Institution / College
- University of Leeds – Cultural Studies department
- 1 (A)
- Love Parade Karneval Kulturpolitik Globalisierung Carnival Culture Globalization Globalisation