The madness of crowds, herd behavior, and a gone generation
Berlin, July 2000
Imagine half a million whistles blowing in brain-piercing, haphazard rhythm to the defibrillating beat of hardcore techno music. The whistles, the thumps, the beats, the scratches, the pops, the static and samples add up to an assault on the ears like a wailing banshee no doubt makes while warning of hell to come. But here on Planet Blue it’s all in the name of Love and Peace.
Welcome to One World, One Love Parade.
The Love Parade is held each year in July in the city-in-progress called Berlin. First staged 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” — has around 1,000,000 members of the techno community doing the collective Love thing. Or 1,000,001 if you count a certain American expatriate with dreams of joining the literary cult of Hemingway, Miller and Fitzgerald dancing in his head like sugar plum fairies. As he would discover, those dreams were about as real as sugar plum fairies.
The Love Parade is the brainchild of one Dr. Motte, a DJ who originally wanted to stage a demonstration of “tolerance, respect and understanding between nations,” by focusing on music instead of public speaking and political posturing. Each July the techno community converges at the Siegessäule on Strasse des 17 Juni in the center of Berlin’s Tiergarten and drinks, dances, drugs, and pisses the time away while huge Love Trucks slowly force their way through the crowd, towing Dancing Fools and DJs alike, blasting brain aching techno creations to the very heavens. The original demonstration of 1989 has morphed into a full-fledged pop culture cartoon fashion extravaganza, the whole spectacle shown live on German, Austrian and Swiss TV, adding further incentive — as if any further incentive were needed — for dressing up in outrageous attire and demonstrating foolish acts of adolescent behavior.
Blend Mardi Gras, the Fiesta of San Fermin, a Gay Pride parade, your pick of European summer festivals, and a Nazi Nuremburg rally together and you have the Love Parade, a rhetorical induction supporting Nietzsche’s concept of the herd mentality. Although demonstration is still the correct term used for the Love Parade, 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 herd mentality. Order, control and conformity will always succeed over chaos, spontaneity and individuality because of the human desire/need for safety and security. Most people we can safely assume desire/need freedom from the risks and hazards of an unpredictable and ultimately uncontrollable world — not the risks and hazards of basic reality. The illusion of safety and security make us feel in control of what becomes a predictable life; as if life is ever really predictable. Follow the right diet, live by the right rules, avoid excess of any kind, deny desires outside the corral of approved behavior and nothing out of the ordinary will ever happen in this illusion of permanence, security, and safety really ruled over by the Lord of Misrule.
As Nietzsche showed, we have a natural disposition to follow the herd, to be and act like everyone else, in order to avoid the disorder that, paradoxically, can rejuvenate our lives through the freedom to experience the extraordinary.
It is ironic that Nietzsche, the greatest of German philosophers, the warrior against illusion, the poet of free spirits and individuality, should have come from a country so defined by mass movements and herd behavior. In his “memoir” Ecce Homo, he declared himself “de-Germanized,” the descendant of Polish nobles and not what he often called the idiotic oxen of German culture.
Nietzsche thought of Germany as the shallows of Europe, a country filled with muddleheaded misfits, cabbage-heads, and anti-Semites. He definitely did not consider himself one of them: “My formula is well known, ‘to be a good German means to de-Germanize oneself;’ or he is — no small distinction among Germans — of Jewish descent. Jews among Germans are always the higher race — more refined, spiritual, kind.” He also considered the heavy German diet and weather to be sufficient enough “to turn a genius into something mediocre, something ‘German.’” For this free spirit, “genius depends on dry air, on clear skies” — and on Italian food.
The reason people embrace systems of safety is cowardice: “error (faith in the ideal) is not blindness, error is cowardice.”
I’m tightly packed into a herd of people about a hundred meters from ground zero, the Siegessäule, the victory monument covered with video screens and advertisements for Deutsche Telecom’s T-Online high-speed internet access. Four young women stand around me, each wearing the same bucket hat, the same shade of chromium red hair dropping like a stage curtain onto the same thin shoulders, the same dark sunglasses, the same lip piercing in the triangle below the lower lip, the same tongue piercing visible during gum chewing, the same naval piercing, and the same brand of designer 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 in unison: “We’re all individuals!”
It’s just a short jump from hundreds of thousands of people chanting “One World, One Love Parade,” to the totalitarian tag phrase of the day. The untamed energy of mass crowds is easy to tame and manipulate, as the propagandists of Fascism, Communism, mass marketing, popular culture, religion, and characters in Don DeLillo novels understand only too well. As DeLillo wrote in Mao II, “the future belongs to crowds.”
Becoming an individual — well, if it was easy, everyone would do it.
When some of my German acquaintances heard I was going to the Love Parade, they responded with sordid tales of naked dancers, public sex in the bushes of the Tiergarten, and Love Trucks populated with promiscuous couples on loan from German porn production companies. “You’ve seen all of these things?” I asked. “No, not actually,” they responded, “we’ve never been.”
In truth, the Love Parade is not exactly a Dionysian orgy. Cavorting couples on the Love Trucks? An occasional topless woman being fondled by her boyfriend, perhaps. Sex in the bushes? Perhaps under cover of darkness but not in the bright, voyeuristic light of day. Actually, there’s more urinating in the bushes, on the trees, and on the leaf-strewn ground paths of the Tiergarden than any other activity.
For example, 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 as a dance routine they’ll use later that night at a club in Kreuzberg, flip up their kilts and members 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 impressive feat of drinking one beer while recycling another.
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 foolish enough to try to escape from the Communist East across No Man’s Land to the Democratic West.
Now you can walk through the Brandenburger Tor, across the Pariser Platz, and down Unter den Linden, right into the heart of what was once East Berlin. Even though there’s a McDonalds, a Burger King, a TGIFridays and a Häagen Däaz shop, it’s still an eerie feeling. So much history and so much horror. The eastern part of Berlin is now full of construction sites, scaffolded buildings, tall cranes, fences, and there are old broken sewer pipes 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 consumerism, their new temple a monument not to some charismatic Austrian corporal or furry-browed Russian bureaucrat, but to mass consumption, Sony-style.
As the construction crews and politicians go about the business of erasing the last historical horrors of Berlin, there are still pockets of memory to be found. Several buildings in the former East are still pockmarked 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 and the Pergamon Museums, across the Spass River, is a tiny street called Rosenstrasse. The remaining buildings are undergoing renovation into flats, but red
columns at both ends of the street document 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), before being destroyed during Kristallnacht. As I’m pondering all of this, a young man walks up and asks for directions, in heavily accented English, to the Pergamon.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“Poland,” he answers. “Katowice.” He studies the column for a moment. “Near Auschwitz.” He shakes his head and walks off.
The millennial fashion statement at the Love Parade is angora-like leg warmers. 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. Thousands and thousands of pairs of leg warmers. If I were an academic theorist (and I used to be — more later), 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 or deprivation was for Larkin. But as the hours drag on and on, no amount of theorizing can disguise the fact that the Love Parade is as monotonous and tiring as the thumping techno beat jump-starting the hearts and hormones of the techno “community” gathered together here in the Tiergarten.
While the Love Parade is supposed to be a non-commercial enterprise, a demonstration of Love and Peaceful Togetherness, it’s not. Deutsche Telecom is a major presence, both as a source of advertising revenue and free condoms. Other mobile phone companies are present as well, passing out promotional gimmicks. he Love Trucks themselves are also just massive moving advertisements for DJs and record companies, as well as Yahoo! and E-Bay. You can buy the commemorative T-shirt and order the special edition Love Parade 2000 compilation CD for 30. The revolution is over. Long live the revolution.
There’s something about the decline of the revolutionary impulse in our culture, a steady spiral downwards from Dada to the Wobblies to the Beats to rock and roll, out of the 60’s to the punks, grunge, and rap. A new revolution in art, music, literature, or even politics? The great reifying power of capitalism transforms all revolutionary ideas into marketable products. This is what happens to the cultural and sexual revolutionary impulses of youth. Or perhaps it’s all just a self-reflexive, ironic comment on revolution itself. One thing’s for certain: no one here will be wearing their green shorts, pink hair, and fuzzy yellow leg warmers when they stumble back into carefully-regulated, managed, and controlled German workspaces first thing Monday morning. There they will perform the ultimate masquerade: normal people leading normal, ordinary lives.
The Love Parade represents nothing more than the triumph of American-style capitalism and its largest export, popular culture. In these post-postmodern times, content is irrelevant, something no longer created by an individual artistic genius but manufactured through the collaborative synergy of marketing and the media. How else do we explain Jennifer Lopez, reality TV, and post-mortem Robert Ludlum novels? Any aesthetic value these products may contain is purely incidental and irrelevant to an audience manipulated by advertising to celebrate the mediocre, the bathetic, the herd.
By 6am, after the all-night dancing, drinking, and drugging 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, perhaps hallucinatory electronic beat, sounding more like the clipped whistle of a policeman controlling morning traffic than a member of the new Love Generation.
Che Guevara T-shirt, anyone?
 Although the Love Parade was a significant source of tourist revenue for Berlin, in 2002 the city finally had enough and changed the designation to festival. Dr. Motte was responsible for the cost of cleaning up after the Dancing Fools and DJs. At the July 2010 Love Parade in Duisburg (“The Art of Love”), 21 people suffocated to death and another 500 were injured. The Love Parade is now kaput.
 In William Gaddis’ JR, Mr. Gibbs instructs his class, “since you’re not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of the knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from outside. In fact it’s exactly the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos…”
 “If you had any aesthetic leanings you wouldn’t be able to go through the stupid routine year in and year out. Art makes you restless, dissatisfied. Our industrial system can’t afford to let that happen — so they offer you soothing little substitutes to make you forget that you’re a human being.” Henry Miller, Sexus
 “Beer In, Beer Out.”
 That would now be Apple style.
 Watch Margarethe von Trotta’s 2003 film Rosenstrasse, which dramatizes the protest by Aryan wives of Jewish husbands against the deportation, a momentary bright spot in the darkness of almost complete lack of resistance to the Nazis by Hitler’s willing executioners.
 “Behind this building, on Heidereutegasse, could be found Berlin’s oldest Synagogue.”