Pubdate: Tue, 26 Aug 1997 German Hemp Partisans Long to Inhale by Sheryl Oring 12:09pm 25.Aug.97.PDT Last year, Petra Namyslo and a few friends tossed around an idea: They wanted to organize a demonstration for the legalization of marijuana. "We met each other at the Hemp Museum [in Berlin]," said Namyslo, a 42yearold former secretary. "We built the museum up together and we decided to try this too, to try to join people together from all over Germany." Last week, in a oneroom office in a workingclass neighborhood of eastern Berlin, Namyslo and three others hammered out final logistics for an event they called the Hemp Parade. No one knew quite what to expect. More than 100 market spaces had been leased, Namyslo said with a bit of surprise. But who knew how many people would show? The answer Saturday was thousands and thousands police estimated 15,000, journalists who have covered Berlin events guessed 30,000. They traveled to Berlin by bus, car, train, bicycle, and on foot to parade down one of the city's grand, treelined boulevards in Germany's first mass demonstration for drug law reform. "The Love Parade is out, the Hemp Parade is in," said Sylvia Stuerzl, referring to Berlin's annual techno music parade. The 23yearold Bavarian student was festooned with a garland of synthetic marijuana leaves in her hair, and she carried a real leaf tossed out by one of the passing floats. Like many others, Stuerzl was at the parade because "I like smoking hemp and I think it should be legalized." Marijuana and other drugs are illegal throughout Europe, though some countries are more tolerant than others. In Germany, a federal republic where each of the 16 states has a fair amount of power, tolerance for possession of marijuana varies from a couple grams in the southern state of Bavaria to 100 grams in the northern state of SchleswigHolstein, drug activists say. Germany opened up the market for products made with THCfree hemp last year. But that's not enough, say parade organizers and supporters. Intense opposition from the ruling party will make reform difficult, if not impossible. Dieter Hapel, Berlin spokesman for the dominant Christian Democrats, said druglaw reform doesn't stand a chance. "We are completely against legalization," he said. Furthermore, said Hapel, the people marching at the Hemp Parade "represent a minority in our society." The only party to come out wholeheartedly in favor of drug legalization is the Green coalition, whose representation varies from 10 percent to 15 percent in different parts of Germany. "Cannabis should be like cigarettes or alcohol," said Tibor Harrach, a member of the Green's council on drug policy. Harrach acknowledged that the chances for such reform are slim. "The only hope is that the government will change next year and we will get a new majority in this country," he said. But Saturday, politics were not the only thing on the minds of people at the Hemp Parade: They were also there for a good time. Most were young, dressed in everything from '60s tiedye to camouflage or leather, some with their hair dyed intense pink, green, blue, orange, or purple. Floats provided music, either the incessant beat of techno or a brass band that played everything from Copacabana and The Candy Man to polkas. Many brought their own props or banners and, of course, smoke was everywhere. Swen Buenger, a 23yearold warehouse worker from Berlin, carried a giant joint made out of newspaper. "I like smoking," said Buenger. "But I only smoke pot, I don't use other drugs. I want to show people that it's possible to only smoke pot." While young people were clearly the majority at the parade, they weren't the only ones. "You've heard of Woodstock? It's a little bit of the same," said Peter John, a 57yearold unemployed aerospace worker from Berlin. "I feel connected to these people." Demonstrators walked more than two miles past the Siegessaeule, a column topped with a golden angellike figure commemorating Prussia's 1871 victory in the war against France, down the Strasse des 17 Juni, whose name recalls the day in 1953 when eastern workers rebelled against the government for its wage policy, to the finale in front of the Brandenburger Tor. There, under an overcast sky and in muggy heat, the party began. Organizers dubbed the commercial area at the end of the parade the "Market of Possibilities." And among the bongs, pipes, buttons and Tshirts there was an astounding array of products made with hemp oil, hemp fiber, hemp flour, hemp seeds, flowers and extract. Bread and cookies made with hemp flour. Soap, massage oil, shampoo, pasta, socks, jackets, shirts, laundry detergent, stain remover, furniture oil, and beer. Beer? Yes, and it tastes better than regular beer, said 30yearold Torsten Weiss. "You can taste the herb." Many of the products were made by small, entrepreneurial firms and have yet to be sold outside of Germany. Such is the case with the laundry detergent made with hemp oil and other natural plant extracts by Max Olschewski, who spent 25 years working as a chemist in East Germany and then, after the wall came down, suddenly found himself without a job at age 50. "I was too old to get another job, so I started my own business," said the founder of Cycloclean BO Umweltchemie GmbH. Olschewski began experimenting with plant oils in an attempt to make an effective laundry detergent that wouldn't harm the environment. Plant after plant provided similar results. Then Olschewski met some people who were active in the hemp campaign and they suggested he try it. And hemp, he found, had the best cleansing power of all. "It was an invention by trial and error," he said. So far, Olschewski hasn't had the money to launch a marketing campaign, so the detergent is only available at a few stores in Germany. But he has high hopes: several Japanese firms have expressed an interest in the product. As curious demonstrators checked out Olschewski's laundry detergent and other goods, sipped hemp beer, and ate bratwurst, parade organizers looked out on the crowd with satisfaction. "It's important that so many people came because it's the first demonstration of this sort," said parade spokesman Juergen Barth. "The politicians who are against hemp must consider it now." The world is watching.