The cold passion for truth hunts in no packs.
– Robinson Jeffers, Be Angry At the Sun
First, the whistles
Imagine half a million whistles blowing in brain-piercing, unsyncopated
rhythm to the fillibrating beat of hardcore techno music. Although to call
techno music is to insult not only music but technology as well. The
whistles, the thumps, the beats, the scratches, the pops and static and
samples add up to an assault on the ears not unlike the banshee wail I
imagine demons make while roasting on the spits of hell. But here on
Earth it’s all in the name of Love and Peace.
One World, One Love Parade
The Love Parade is held each year in July in the city-in-progress called
Berlin. First held in 1989 on the Ku’damm with around 20 000 spectators,
the Millennium Edition in the Tiergarten – under the motto “One World, One
Love Parade” – is expected to draw over 1 500 000. The actual figure turns
out to be a little less than that.
The Love Parade is the offspring of one Dr. Motte, a DJ who wanted to
stage a demonstration of “tolerance, respect and understanding between nations”
using music instead of speeches. The techno community converges at the
Siegessäule on Strasse des 17 Juni in the center of the Tiergarten and
drinks, dances, drugs, urinates and fucks the time away while huge “Love
Trucks” slowly force their way through the crowd, towing dancing fools and
DJs blasting their techno creations to the heavens. This demonstration
has morphed into a full-fledged cartoon fashion extravaganza, the whole
spectacle shown on German TV, adding further incentive for outrageous
attire and foolish acts of behavior.
Part Mardi Gras, part Fiesta of San Fermin, part Gay Pride parade, part
European summer festival, the Love Parade is laboratory proof of
Nietzsche’s herd philosophy. Although demonstration, not festival, is the correct
term, since the city of Berlin will pick up the cost of cleaning up after a
demonstration, but not a festival. Clever guy, that Dr. Motte.
The Code of The Herdsman
From Nietzsche to Henry Miller to Erich Fromm to Charles Bukowski to Don
DeLillo, modern philosophers and writers have mapped the terrain of mass
behavior. Order, conformity and control take precedence over chaos,
spontaneity and individuality, because of the desire for safety and
security from the risks and hazards of the world. Human beings, it seems, have a
natural disposition to belong to the herd. Christianity, Islam,
Capitalism, Communism, Fascism, even Popular Culture would not exist otherwise.
Neither would the contemporary curse of media-manipulated marketing and
That is, unless you really are your khakis.
I’m tightly packed into a group of people about 100 yards from ground
zero, the Siegessäule, spruced up with video screens and advertising for
Deutsche Telekom’s TD1 ISDN internet service. Four young Fraus stand around me,
each wearing the same bucket hat, the same shade of chromium red hair dropping
like a curtain onto the same thin shoulders, the same dark shades, the
same lip piercing in the triangle below the lower lip, the same tongue piercing
visible during laughter and gum chewing, the same bocknobel piercing and
the same jeans. I’m reminded of the scene in “Life of Brian” where Brian of
Nazareth stands on the balcony overlooking the crowd of his followers and
shouts: “But don’t you understand? You’re all individuals!” And the
crowd shouts back: “We’re all individuals!”
This is the dynamic of mass herd behavior. It’s just a short jump from
hundreds of thousands of people chanting “One World, One Love Parade,” to
“Deutschland Über Alles” and “Heil Hitler,” or the mass hysteria in the
USA masquerading as political correctness and cultural diversity. The untamed
energy of mass crowds is easy to tame and manipulate, as the propagandists
of fascism, communism, mass marketing and this techno celebration
understand only too well. It’s controlling the individual that’s the hard part.
Have You Heard the One About Five Guys in Kilts?
When several of my German friends heard I planned on going to this year’s
Love Parade they responded with sordid tales of naked dancers, public sex
in the bushes of the Tiergarten and Love Trucks decorated with fornicating
couples from a German porn production company. “You’ve seen all of these
things?” I asked. “Not actually,” they responded, “we’ve never been.”
The truth? The Love Parade is not exactly the pagan Dionysian orgy that
Christianity sought to banish by transforming sex into a shameful act that
should be hidden in the privacy of the conjugal bedroom. Cavorting
couples on the Love Trucks? An occasional topless woman being fondled by her
boyfriend, perhaps. Sex in the bushes? Under cover of darkness, perhaps,
but not in the light of day. Actually, there’s more urinating in the
bushes…and the trees…and the leaf-strewn groundpaths of the Tiergarden
than anything else. Five guys in red plaid kilts stomp through the
lacework of light filtering through the canopy of leaves, encircle a tree like a
pack of wild dogs and – as if they’ve choreographed the move like a dance
routine they’ll use later that night at a disco – flip up their kilts and, penises
in hand, water the tree like a human sprinkler system. One of them, his
T-shirt reading “Bier Rein (arrow pointing up) Bier Raus (arrow pointing
down)” accomplishes the not unimpressive feat of drinking one beer while
Growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I remember all too well the
televised images of the Berlin Wall and the machine- gunning of those
brave or desperate or stupid enough to try to escape from the Communist East
across no man’s land to the Democratic West. In one of those turns of
phrase only George Orwell could delight in, the East was then called the
Democratic Republic of Germany.
Walk through the Brandenburger Tor, across the Pariser Platz and down
Unter den Linden, into the heart of what was once East Berlin. Even though
there’s now a McDonalds, a Burger King, a TGIFridays and a Häagen Dazs
shop, it’s still an eerie feeling. So much history and so much horror. Now the
eastern part of Berlin is truly a city-in-progress: construction sites,
scaffolded buildings, tall cranes, fences and old, broken sewer pipes are
everywhere. The Potsdamer Platz, once a deserted wasteland flanked by the
Wall, is now a pedestrian shopping extravaganza, its centerpiece the
gleaming silver Sony Center and IMAX theater. The
revolution – architecturally and culturally at least – has been won by the
forces of consumer capitalism, their new temple a monument not to some
charismatic leader but to mass consumption, Sony-style.
As the construction crews and politicians go about the business of erasing
the history of Berlin, there are still pockets of memory to be found.
Several buildings in the former East are still pock-marked with bullet
holes from the fierce fighting in the last days of WWII. Past the Lustgarten,
site of mass Nazi rallies in 1935 and now front yard to the Altes Museum
and the Pergamon Museum, across the Spass River is a tiny street called
Rosenstrasse. The remaining buildings are undergoing renovation into
flats but a red column at both ends of the street documents the story of the
Gestapo deportation of the hundreds of Jews of Rosenstrasse to Auschwitz
in 1943. Another photo plaque marks the site where the oldest synagogue in
Berlin once stood (“Hinter dem Gebäude befand sich in der Heidereutegasse
die älteste Synagoge Berlins“). As I’m pondering this, a young man walks
up and asks for directions to the Pergamon museum in accented English. I ask
him where he’s from. “Poland,” he answers. “Katowice.” He studies the
column for a moment. “Near Auschwitz.” He smiles sadly and walks off.
The Velvet Revolution in Fashion
This year’s fashion statement at the Love Parade is angora-like leg
Shorts with leg warmers. Mini skirts with leg warmers. Bathing suits
with leg warmers. Red or green or yellow or silver or pink dyed hair with
leg warmers. If I were postmodern posterboy David Foster Wallace I would
spout some nonsense about this being a self-reflexive ironic comment on
the Flashdance generation, irony being for postmodernists what daffodils were
for Wordsworth. But let’s not give credit where credit isn’t due. In
truth, the Love Parade is as monotonous and tiring as the thumping techno
beat jump-starting the hearts, hormones and adrenaline of the youthful
community gathered together in the Tiergarten. As are David Foster
Wallace and postmodernism in general.
While the Love Parade is supposed to be a non-commercial enterprise, a
demonstration of Love and peaceful togetherness, it’s not. Deutsche
Telekom is a major presence, both as a source of advertising and of free condoms.
Other Handy companies are present as well (Handy being the German term for
cell phones), passing out promotional gimmicks. The Love Trucks are also
just massive moving advertisements for DJ’s and record companies. This
year Yahoo! and eBay have also sponsored trucks. You can buy the commemorative
T-shirt for only 50 marks. You can also order the special edition Love
Parade 2000 compilation CD. The revolution is over. Long live the
There’s something pathetic about the decline of the revolutionary impulse
in our time, a steady spiral downwards from Dada to the Wobblies to the Beats
to rock and roll, through the 60’s to the punks, deconstruction, grunge
and rap. A new revolution in art, music, literature or politics? Forget
about it. The great reifying power of capitalism transforms all revolutionary
ideas into marketable products. Now hair color, body piercings, tattoos,
fashions and mass dance movements synched to the antics of a DJ and
dancers on a Love Truck contain the cultural and sexual revolutionary impulses of
youth. Or perhaps it’s just a self-reflexive ironic commentary on
revolution itself. One thing’s for certain: no one will be wearing their
green shorts, pink hair and fuzzy yellow leg warmers when they all stumble
back into work on Monday morning. Even though German workplaces are for
the most part as casual as those in the USA, they’re not that casual.
And the Winner Is…?
The Love Parade represents nothing more than the triumph of the capitalist
revolution and its largest export, popular culture. In these late
capitalist, post-postmodern times of ours, content has become irrelevant.
Content is no longer a valuable attribute formed by a single, conscious
artistic genius but is constructed through the collaboration of marketing
and media. How else do we explain Britney Spears and “Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire?” The goal of this revolution is to produce the highest
profit level possible; any aesthetic value the products of this culture may
contain is purely incidental and irrelevant to an audience trained through the
manipulations of advertising to accept the mediocre, or in Alexander
Pope’s great phrase, the bathetic.
And the Love Parade is a celebration of the Bathos: in music, fashion,
thought and alas, revolution.
By 6am, after the all-night dancing and drinking and raving have
dissipated into another cool, cloudy Berlin summer morning, the 250 truckloads of
city work crews have nearly finished cleaning up the streets and pathways
surrounding the Tiergarten. The revolution ends at dawn on a Sunday
morning. Two people have died from drug overdoses and a couple of hundred
more have been arrested. A few shell-shocked revelers stumble around the
Brandenburger Tor, one lone whistle tooting in the distance to an unheard,
non-existent electronic beat, sounding more like the clipped whistle of a
policeman controlling rush-hour traffic than a member of the new Love
Too bad Dr. Motte cannot come up with something else to jump-start their
Copyright © Bruce Gatenby 2000
This essay may not be archived or distributed further without
the author’s express permission. Please read the license.
This electronic version of The Revolution Ends at Dawn is published by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.
Bruce Gatenby is an American writer living in Germany. He is currently
finishing his third unpublished novel, An Anthology of Misfortune. He
can be reached at [email protected] and his home page is at http://www.geocities.com/bgatenby/