Safety Rules Breached Maximum Capacity of Love Parade Site Was Just 250,000

Over 1 million people are thought to have attended Saturday's Love Parade in Duisburg, which ended in tragedy when 19 people died in a stampede. SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained an internal document which shows that the site was only approved for a maximum of 250,000 revelers.

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Positions of victims of the deadly stampede at the Love Parade are marked on the street in Duisburg.
REUTERS

Positions of victims of the deadly stampede at the Love Parade are marked on the street in Duisburg.


As authorities investigate the causes of the panic at Saturday's Love Parade music festival in Duisburg, which killed 19 people and injured over 340, SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that Duisburg authorities had stipulated that the maximum capacity of the festival site was just 250,000 people -- far lower than the total number of attendees reported by organizers.

"The maximum number of people who may be present on the event site at the same time is (...) limited to 250,000 people," reads the document from the Duisburg city administration giving approval for the event, which has been obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE. A few hours before the accident happened, the organizers of the festival had put the total number of partygoers at 1.4 million.

Freed from Safety Regulations

The two-page document, dated July 21, 2010, is addressed to the Berlin-based company Lopavent GmbH, the organizers of the Love Parade. It includes several passages that give cause for concern. For example, the authorities free the organizers from having to comply with the official width of emergency exits. "The width of the emergency exits on the east and south side of the site may not be less than 10 meters (33 feet) in any place," the text reads -- a width that is far less than that normally stipulated at such events. The officials also free the organizers from having to provide an emergency response plan for the fire department.

Photo Gallery

17  Photos
Photo Gallery: The Love Parade's Tragic End
The document also stipulates that the fence around the festival site "must be able to withstand a load of 2 kilonewtons per meter." The fences appeared unable to withstand such loads on Saturday, however. There are reports that people breaking through barriers helped to cause the panic.

The exact number of revelers at Saturday's Love Parade is a matter of ongoing debate. At a press conference on Sunday, Detlef von Schmeling from the Duisburg police said he could not confirm the total of 1.4 million given by organizers. He declined to give an estimate of the total, saying only that most of the festival-goers had come by train and that around 105,000 people were recorded as arriving between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday. "That is the only reliable number we have," he said.

That number seems unrealistically low, however, given the crowds shown in television footage of the event and the number of participants at the Love Parade in previous years. Around 1.2 million attended the 2007 party in Essen, while 1.6 million came to the 2008 Love Parade in Dortmund. Duisburg police have so far declined to give a number for this year's participants.

Police Safety Plan Rejected

SPIEGEL ONLINE has also learned from sources in the Duisburg police that the police and fire departments had drawn up their own safety plan for the Love Parade, which they were not, however, able to implement. According to sources, the officials wanted the festival-goers to approach the site via a "large area" in a bid to prevent bottlenecks. The plan required a large number of officers to be deployed, however, and was in the end rejected by city authorities.

On Sunday, Duisburg-based panic researcher Michael Schreckenberg defended the safety plan that was actually used, which he had helped to develop. The tunnel where the mass panic broke out was large enough to cope with the crowds, he said. According to Schreckenberg, shortly before the accident a number of young people had crossed a fence and ran up an unsecured staircase, with some of them falling off the steps. The organizers had not expected such a scenario, he said. "There are always people who don't play by the rules."

Photo Gallery

29  Photos
Photo Gallery: A Catastrophe at the Love Parade
That line of argument was rejected by some critics. "You can not rely on people at the Love Parade to behave sensibly," one experienced police officer told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It doesn't work like that."

On Sunday, one of the event's organizers, Rainer Schaller, stressed that all the authorities involved had agreed on the approach. "There was a safety plan that was put together with the city and the police and which raised no concerns," he said, adding that the measures in place were able to cope with the crowds. The site was "evacuated very quickly and smoothly after the accident," he said.

Cover-Up Allegations

There are allegations that police may have tried to cover up what happened. SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that one office of the Federal Police erased all its documents about the Love Parade -- including orders, reports from the scene and maps -- from the computers and e-mail accounts of its officers. "A big vacuum cleaner came round very quickly," said one officer, who believes it may have been part of a deliberate cover-up.

Such reports raise questions about whether the comprehensive investigation that German President Christian Wulff had earlier announced would really take place.

A spokesman for the Federal Police said late on Sunday there had been no instruction to remove data from computers. "All documents about the operation are available and can be requested and read," he said.

The deaths took place as partygoers were pushing through a highway underpass leading to the festival grounds, the only entrance to the party. According to some accounts, organizers at one point closed the entrance to the party venue, a former freight train station, for an hour but did not prevent more people from streaming into the tunnel. The resulting crush of people fueled both tempers and the resulting panic.

According to a police spokesman on Sunday, most of the deaths occurred when revelers broke through a barricade and began climbing up a steep staircase near the tunnel entrance in an effort to gain access to the party grounds. Many of them fell off, which triggered a panic in the masses down below.

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