Pulsating and gyrating to the bass beat of techno music, a seething mass of more than a million people today danced down the boulevards of Germany's renascent capital, projecting an image of peace and frivolity that seemed to overwhelm the historic shadow of goose-stepping soldiers.
From the Brandenburg Gate to the 200-foot Victory Column built to celebrate Germany's 19th-century military victories over France, Austria-Hungary and Denmark, Berlin's broad avenues were swarming with young people from all over the world who rallied to the siren call of the world's biggest street party, known as Love Parade.
As countless high-powered sound trucks pounded out monotonic rhythms and dozens of garishly decorated floats snaked through the sun-baked city, the teeming masses of stripped-down partygoers transformed the city into a riotous kaleidoscope of colors and music--in stark contrast to its reputation for Prussian and Nazi militarism.
"There have been lots of rallies here in the past with a very different character," said disc jockey Matthias Roenigh, who created the Love Parade 10 years ago, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. "This city is known too much for its misery, so we thought it was time to do something just for fun."
Roenigh, who goes by the nickname of Dr. Moth, said he launched the event to bring techno music "out of dark clubs and into the sunny streets where more people could enjoy it." But he admits he never expected that so many Germans--the first concert attracted fewer than 200 people--and so many other nationalities, would make it a post-modern Woodstock.
"It's a unifying experience for European youth," said Seth Hepner, 20, a Berliner who is a student at St. John's College in Maryland. "It's our chance to go out and own the city."
At the central Zoo station, fast food vendors selling Turkish kebabs and soft drinks were doing a roaring business as huge throngs of young people, with hair dyed in bright colors and wearing all sorts of costumes, poured out of hundreds of extra trains laid on for the event. "We hear about this scene everywhere," said Polish student Mikolaj Bekasiak, 20. "I just had to come here and check it out."
Doris Troester, a 26-year-old Berliner, says the Love Parade has become a special ritual. She and her friends gather on a Friday evening, stay up all night and have breakfast in the park before joining the parade. "It stands for love and peace. What could be better?"
As they bemoaned mountains of refuse left by an estimated 1.4 million people, police authorities expressed relief that the record-breaking crowd behaved in a peaceful manner. Despite some minor vandalism, officials said there was almost no serious violence and that only 600 people required medical attention.
For the million-plus celebrants, Berlin's annual "lost weekend" provided an opportunity to shed inhibitions and find new channels of self-expression. "It's a chance to let yourself go in ways we never get to do at home or at school," said Ariana, 19, who was dressed up in a silver-tinted Statue of Liberty motif. "We can go crazy, paint our hair wild colors and just freak out without any excuses."
The remarkable ascendancy of the Love Parade as a social phenomenon seems to have taken the Germans themselves by surprise. In a culture not known for its spontaneity or ironic humor, the annual rite has contributed to the resurrection of Berlin as a boisterous haven for young "ravers" that draws upon its legacy as the decadent Cabaret scene of the 1920s and the pacifist hippie haven of the 1970s.
But not everybody is pleased. Berlin's politicians deplore the cost of cleaning up 200 tons of garbage left by Love Parade devotees. The environmentalist Green League is troubled by "unecological mass frenzy" that frightens birds with high-decibel music and poisons trees with human urine. And the city's hospitals complain about coping with a heavy influx of patients suffering from dehydration or abuse of the drug Ecstasy, which is popular among techno enthusiasts.
When local authorities insisted on taking over the food concessions this year, the organizers threatened they would move the event to another city--perhaps Paris--unless there was a change of heart. Fearful that they might lose a mammoth tourist attraction, Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen and the ruling city Senate said today they were ready to sit down with the organizers to sort out their differences.
"The Love Parade belongs in Berlin because this is where it started," declared DJ Zodiac, as he exhorted supporters from a sound truck blasting along Unter den Linden boulevard. "Germany is the birthplace of techno, and Berlin is the only place for this kind of event."
In the meantime, revelers just wanted to soak up the good vibes and warm sunshine that suffused the street festivities. Public service groups handed out "love bags" containing condoms and ear plugs, while a local water utility set up a two-story high Shower of Love to cool off overheated partygoers. To assist in the massive cleanup tasks, local businesses chipped in nearly $100,000.
"This is the best party scene I can imagine," said Axel Strohmeier, who described himself as a leader of Austria's radical Free Street Party.
"Berlin has become kind of like the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Francisco must have been 30 years ago--at least for a weekend."
Special correspondent Adam Nagorski contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Left, a couple gets into the techno music at the Love Parade. Below, a view from above shows Berlin's Victory Column--a 19th-century symbol of German military might--and some of the estimated 1.4 million partygoers. Fewer than 200 came to the parade 10 years ago.