God, sometimes I think I spent my entire childhood at demos. We demonstrated against everything in our family. It was my mum’s idea of the perfect Saturday afternoon activity. Placards in the rain, whistles at the ready. Cagoules. We were always wearing cagoules, man. We protested against things closing: mines, for example, and Seven Kings Library. We protested against nuclear power. Against the Falklands War. And, of course, against the Poll Tax.
Actually, I have to admit, that was pretty exciting, that bit. The Poll Tax riots and that. There was me, my pregnant mum, my little sister and my stepdad, all hiding behind a counter in this baker’s shop up in town. My stepdad wanted to go out and fight – or at least, see what was happening – but the shop owner wouldn’t let him out.
“Stay behind the counter!” He yelled. “Think of your children! Think of your wife! Think of your family!”
I was 20 when I moved to Berlin. I only went to the Love Parade once, that first year. It was brilliant. People kept on giving me presents. Some of these presents – a scrunchie, for example, or a bottle of water – were totally legal, and some were, well, slightly less legal, but God, I liked getting them. I remember hugging the girl who gave me the scrunchie and thinking I actually loved her.
“You know what this is?” I said to her. “This is actually a demonstration for love. Like, most demonstrations are against stuff, but this one is just for love. This is a demonstration for love.”
But it wasn’t really. It wasn’t a demonstration at all. Really it was just a massive techno party in the street. That’s not to say that it was like this big, filthy, wild orgy of drug-taking excess. It was, literally, a massive techno party in the street. One which went wrong this year. Really horribly wrong. That’s all.
So, my stepdad phoned me up on Monday.
“Just ringing up to check you’re okay,” he said.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” I asked him blankly.
“Well, you know,” he said, a bit embarrassed. “I thought you might be. You know. A bit dead.”
“At the Love Parade.”
“Oh,” I said, relieved. “I don’t listen to techno music anymore. I can’t think of anything worse than going to the Love Parade, actually.”
“I can’t either,” he said, “even without getting crushed. Well. I’m glad you’re still alive, anyway.”
“I don’t even know where it is,” I said to him. “Duisberg. I don’t even know where that is. It’s, like, West Germany somewhere. I’ve never even been there.”
And then I remembered: there but for the grace of God go I. I hope they get that Burgermeister, man. And I really, really hope that all those kids who died, will, as tacky as it sounds, rest in peace.