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Can You Love a Love Parade? 

Berlin's legendary -- but embattled -- Love Parade makes a San Francisco debut. But will thousands dance to its beat?

Wednesday, Jul 21 2004
This is about harmony. This represents no discrimination. The people of the world are coming together.

-- Yulius Euli, of Bali, Indonesia, interviewed by the Los Angeles Times at the 2003 Love Parade in Berlin

Hey, we're here to pick up girls.

-- Thomas Oppelt of the former East Germany, ibid.

I went to Berlin and hopped a float at the Love Parade to celebrate life. Half an hour later, I was pretty sure I was about to watch someone careen to his death.

That year, there were more than a million people in attendance at the annual, daylong, techno- and trance-fueled music parade, which honors peace and diversity and offers a goodly dose of sex and skin. For the moment, though, it was all about this one kid in his early 20s. The young gun was perched precariously atop a traffic signal, wearing bug-eyed sunglasses, a backpack, and jeans, with no shirt or shoes. Holding on with nothing but toes and what I hoped was some kind of invisible Ultra Bond, he blew a whistle strung around his neck and wiggled spastically as our float passed under him with a loud blast of soaring strings and insistent beats.

Holy shit, I screamed silently, what is this dude thinking?

Actually, though, bug-eyed sunglasses-boy was just one of many daredevil revelers on that July day in the year 2000; they were shaking lampposts and traffic lights, blowing whistles, shimmying to the musical rhythms roaring from the floats, and enjoying the best -- if, perhaps, most dangerous -- seats in the house (next to those of us lucky enough to scam our way onto one of the 50 floats). Although I bit a few nails off in anticipation of someone getting hurt, ultimately I saw only big, ear-to-ear grins and facial expressions of pure groove.

And ravers in gas masks.

And babies bouncing on shoulders.

And an old man with a giant condom on his head.

And a few people who requested that I flash my boobs, or that I view boobs being flashed at me.

This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife. And this sure as hell was not the stern German temperament I'd come to know and treat with kid gloves and a modicum of panic.

By the end of that evening, I'd fallen in love with a million men, women, and children (actually, the organizers put the body count at a generously estimated 1.3 million) who'd exchanged waves, pictures, smiles, and even air kisses (something I normally just don't do) with me. I returned in 2001, and there were slightly fewer attendants but almost as much positive energy. Both times, once back in San Francisco, I was thinking, Something like that could never happen here.

Joshua Smith was at those same Love Parades, and he thought differently. A past president of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade Committee, Smith had the experience needed to navigate the sea of regulations a local Love Parade would have to comply with. He also had a special knowledge of dance music, having had responsibility for the Pride Parade's dance-music stages. Tapped by the Berlin organizers, who had been dreaming of a San Francisco event for years, he began what would be a three-year process to create the first-ever Love Parade San Francisco, now slated to debut here on Oct. 2.

The exact route has yet to be secured, though Smith says his group will be requesting the use of Market Street on a jaunt that will eventually terminate south of SBC Park at Terry A. François Boulevard. The two-mile-long parade will feature floats carrying local and international DJs playing a wide variety of electronic music. Crowd size is anyone's guess; organizers say they hope for 5,000 to 10,000.

During its peak in Berlin, the Love Parade brought an estimated $60 million in tourism annually to the city, mainly through the booking of every hotel room, hostel bed, and car in the area, and the associated shopping, clubbing, and dining of visitors. Although the actual parade lasts just one day, club and event promoters plan at least seven days' worth of events -- sometimes up to 100 different parties -- around it, making up what's generally known in Berlin as "Love Week." Techno and trance dominate the Love Parade's musical policy, but one can hear almost any style of electronic music during Love Week.

San Francisco won't be the first city outside of Berlin to host a Love Parade; there have been successful Love Parades in Leeds, Vienna, Tel Aviv, Cape Town, and Mexico City (which will host another Love Parade this year).

But none of these other events has quite the same potential as a Love Parade in San Francisco, where, after all, the term "Summer of Love" was minted.

Whether a Love Parade S.F. grows over time will depend on how the event is formed and shapes itself here, and whether it will be deemed credible in the local electronic-music scene. If given a stamp of authenticity, the event could attract a huge and colorful influx of visitors from all over the world and give a visible boost not only to the economy of San Francisco, but also to the economy of the scene's nightclubs and music.

On the other hand, if the locals don't buy in, Love Parade San Francisco could be a terrific failure with the potential for international ridicule.

No one in Berlin is more excited to come out to San Francisco for the Love Parade than Matthias Roeingh (aka Dr. Motte), the bubbly, 44-year-old DJ/producer who sports giant spectacles and shaggy Monkees-era hair and is universally credited as being the founder of the Love Parade.

After leaving the semipopular Berlin-based punk band Tote Piloten, Dr. Motte began making electronic music in the mid-1980s. Recording for German electronic labels such as Low Spirit, Space Teddy, and Tresor, he made a few well-received trance anthems in the early '90s, but none became widely popular on stateside dance floors. He's since achieved enough fame in Germany via the Love Parade to warrant selection as an Olympic torch-carrier (alongside such sports luminaries as world figure skating champion Katarina Witt) when the flame passed through Berlin this year.

About The Author

Tamara Palmer


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