She was hoping for a phone call. By late evening on July 24, Stefanie M. had heard about the disaster that had befallen the Love Parade in Duisburg. She and her husband Klaus-Peter knew there had been deaths, they knew that hundreds had been injured. But they didn't know where their son Eike was. They had heard nothing.
Where was the phone call from Duisburg? All Stefanie could think about was that phone call. If it came, she knew, everything would be okay. But if the doorbell rang instead ...
At just after one in the morning, the doorbell rang. A police car was parked on the street out front. Eike M., 21 years old and just beginning his university degree in political science and history on his path toward a career in journalism, was dead. He passed away at 6:28 p.m. on that fateful day in Duisburg. Twenty others died as well.
The memorial service for the victims was held on Saturday, marked by a moving speech by North Rhine-Westphalia Governor Hannelore Kraft. She too had been consumed by worry on the evening of the Love Parade disaster as she waited hours to hear from her 17-year-old son, who was at the event.
Eventually, her son returned to her. But on Saturday, as she was speaking to the families of the victims, Kraft's voice wavered as she said "we cannot know the depth of your pain nor can we alleviate it. Still, I beseech you to open your heart to all those who would comfort you. ... You are not alone."
The Early Groundwork for Disaster
It was a powerful speech. But why did she have to hold it? Why did Eike M. and 20 others lose their lives at a mass event for which there are thousands of safety criteria that must be adhered to? Why were over 500 partygoers injured at an event that was intended to be a mass celebration of youth and joy?
Just over a week after the event, the answers are beginning to emerge in ever greater clarity. And it has become increasingly clear that the Duisburg catastrophe could easily have been avoided. Bad planning, inadequate communication, a disregard for the fundamentals of crowd control and an overwhelming desire for a successful party all played a role.
It was the latter point which laid the earliest groundwork for the catastrophe. Of all the gray, decrepit post-industrial cities in Germany's Ruhr Valley, Duisburg is among the grayest and most decrepit. It has little to offer and can't even boast of a successful football team like nearby Gelsenkirchen. Glamour is in short supply in Duisburg -- and hosting the Love Parade seemed the perfect opportunity to polish the city's image.
The Love Parade, which began as a political demonstration in 1989, had moved to the Ruhr Valley from Berlin in 2007 following a dispute with the German capital. The original founder of the techno party, a DJ known as Dr. Motte, had likewise turned his back on the event, with Rainer Schaller, the head of the McFit chain of fitness studios, stepping into the void. In 2007, the Love Parade took place in Essen; and in 2008, Dortmund staged the out-sized party.
In 2009, the parade was to take place in Bochum. But it never happened. That January, Thomas Wenner, then chief of police in Bochum, wrote an open letter in which he warned against what might happen should "panic break out among so many people." The last sentence in the letter read: "Survival is more important than fun." Bochum declined to authorize the Love Parade.
'Under No Circumstances'
Which unwittingly served to increase the pressure on Duisburg to hold the event. Just weeks after Bochum cancelled that year's event, Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland said "we want the Love Parade and will do everything in our power to host it." He added: "The party will not be cancelled by us."
Sauerland wasn't the only one. When asked about the possibility of Duisburg cancelling the Love Parade, Wolfgang Rabe, the city's top security official, said "under no circumstances" -- even though his office had, in 2007, come to the conclusion that Duisburg was not suitable for an event like the Love Parade.
Pressure came from further up the political ladder as well. Hans-Heinrich Grosse-Brockhoff, state secretary for culture in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said "I certainly hope that the 2010 Love Parade isn't cancelled as well. It simply has to take place." Even Hannelore Kraft, the current governor, played a role in upping the ante. "The Love Parade is a piece of youth culture which belongs in this year's European Capital of Culture." It was, in other words, to be part of the Ruhr Valley's breakout 2010.
The decision as to whether or not to hold the event in Duisburg should not have been difficult. State regulations clearly mandate that "the number of visitors is to be calculated as follows: for standing room: two visitors per square meter (10 square feet)." The math is easy. The old freight station in Duisburg, where the Love Parade was held, is 110,000 square meters according to documents sent by the municipality to event organizer Lopavent on July 16. Meaning that the permit granted by the city -- for 250,000 visitors -- was already in violation of state regulations. According to documents seen by SPIEGEL, however, Schaller's company Lopavent expected 485,000 to come -- and spoke publicly of many more than that.
The law also stipulates how wide the escape routes are to be for such an event: 1.2 meters (4 feet) for every 600 visitors. For 220,000 partygoers, the escape routes should thus have been 440 meters wide; for 250,000, 500 meters. At the Duisburg site, however, the escape routes were a mere 155 meters wide -- enough, argued Lopavent, given past experience, which has shown that only a third of visitors ever have to "flee." Some city officials were disturbed by Lopavent's calculation. Others, including security official Rabe, were not.
'Both the Entrance and the Exit'
"The event site is, for the most part, free of hazards," the security concept presented to the city by Lopavent, read. "Those areas that are potentially dangerous will be dealt with using appropriate measures." At most, the planners foresaw a high visitor density in "areas that are particularly attractive."
The Duisburg police and fire departments registered their discomfort with the plan. But at a July 15 meeting with all those involved in granting the permit, nobody spoke up. Five days later, however, the police voiced concern as to how access routes might be affected should the event site become full.
One particular danger area does not appear to have been adequately addressed prior to the event. "The broad, center access ramp will serve as both the entrance and the exit," the plan read. The ramp is 130 meters (425 feet) long, but just 26 meters (85 feet) wide. There was a second, smaller ramp not far away that was to be exclusively used as an exit, but it was poorly marked. Furthermore, both ramps led to the same tunnel. Lopavent calculated that, by mid-afternoon, thousands of visitors would begin leaving the site even as thousands more would be arriving. In order to control the flow of those arriving and those departing, they installed a crowd control expert in a container at the very base of the ramp. He had access to images from 16 cameras so he could monitor the crowd at all times. Next to him sat a liaison officer from the Duisburg police department.
It was a particularly adventurous plan, one which would have required the ramp to be periodically closed to arrivals so that those departing could leave. But that would have necessarily increased density in the tunnels as more partygoers arrived, thus making at exit virtually impossible for those wanting to get out. Nevertheless, the Love Parade received permission to go ahead on July 21 -- just three days prior to the event.
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