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Berlin Love Parade Turns 10

July 9, 1998

BERLIN (AP) _ It started out small: just 150 people dancing behind a VW van.

Ten years later, the Love Parade has become the world’s biggest open-air rave _ a colossal blowout in the heart of Berlin to the thumping, electronic beat of techno music.

Last year, 1 million exuberant techno lovers shimmied around the bass-booming megaspeakers, a turnout expected to be matched Saturday at Love Parade 98.

Hotels, restaurants, bars and dance clubs rejoice at the extra business, estimated at $100 million in 1997. City officials revel in the positive publicity and youthful image the psychedelic parade gives Berlin.

Organizers call it a paean to peace and tolerance.

But despite the mellow message _ this year’s theme is ``One World, One Future″ _ not everyone loves the Love Parade, which in 1996 was rerouted for safety reasons from a crowded commercial strip to a boulevard through the Tiergarten park.

Environmentalists trash it as a tree-killing, animal-scaring eco-disaster.

And local officials grouse about cleanup and repairs.

``With such a mass of people, plants are devastated and the ground is tramped down so much that the trees will eventually die,″ says Carmen Schultze of BUND, a national association of environmental watchdogs.

Even the birds and squirrels get stressed.

``They just withdraw from this area and hide,″ she says. ``Of course it disturbs them.″

Last year, city officials had to pick up 264 tons of trash, not to mention hosing down grass and bushes with 80,000 gallons of water to dilute the flood of urine and wash away layers of dust produced by the dancers.

Aerating trampled earth and replacing injured vegetation cost the equivalent of $144,000, says Horst Porath, a Tiergarten official who wants the parade out of his backyard.

And because the parade is registered as a political demonstration, rather than a commercial event, the city has to pick up the tab.

Legally speaking, the Love Parade has no official organizer, so it qualifies as a demonstration despite its moneymaking aspects, says Petra Reetz, spokeswoman for the city transportation department.

Besides, ``the city absolutely gets something out of it,″ she adds, namely tax revenues, an international spotlight and lots of free advertising.

Airlines are offering special Love Parade fares to Berlin. The German railway added 69 Love Parade trains. And the subway system is offering a weekend Love Parade ticket, an ``attractive and fluorescent″ armband.

Planetcom, the multimedia firm that runs the parade, has copyrighted the yellow sun Love Parade logo, which appears on T-shirts, caps and other items.

Sales are so brisk on Love Parade weekend they’ve even attracted counterfeiters. Last year police seized about 4,500 phony items worth about $56,000.

Planetcom also charges the 50 or so sound trucks $2,800 each to join the parade and even has negotiated a deal with a TV soap opera to film during the event.

All that raises about $833,000, which Planetcom manager Ralf Regitz insists is just enough to cover costs, although he declines to release a detailed accounting.

Techno purists, something of a counterculture bunch, complain the parade has become less about love and more about money.

Regitz, 34, insists it’s all about people expressing themselves and says the lack of violence proves the message is still getting through.

``Here’s a culture that’s open and peaceful,″ he says. ``That’s the vision of the Love Parade.″

For the masses, though, it’s more like a big party.

``Peace and happiness and a lot of harmony _ there’s nothing wrong with that,″ says Heiko Thedens, 25, a student from Hamburg who’ll be attending his fifth Love Parade this weekend.

``But I have to confess I never think a lot about it. I’m more there to have fun.″

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