The World from Berlin Love Parade Stampede 'Was a Tragedy Waiting to Happen'

The official investigation into the death of 19 people at the Love Parade on Saturday has only just begun. But on Monday media commentators were already blaming the organizers and Duisburg city officials for the disaster, saying it could have been avoided.

AP

The deaths of 19 people at the Love Parade in Duisburg on Saturday was an accident waiting to happen, German newspaper commentators wrote on Monday. They ask why there was only one entrance -- via a railway tunnel -- for the mass event, and say the festival area was far too small for the estimated 1.4 million people crammed into it on Saturday.

German prosecutors have opened an investigation into the tragedy. As well as the deaths, a total of 342 people were injured. The dead, aged between 20 and 40, included six foreigners, from Spain, Bosnia, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and China. They were killed when panic broke out as thousands of people were pushing through a tunnel that led onto a ramp into the techno festival grounds.

It is still unclear exactly how the accident happened. According to a police spokesman on Sunday, most of the deaths occurred when revellers, trying to escape from the crush at the bottom of the ramp, 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. Some of them fell off, which triggered a panic in the masses down below.

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Photo Gallery: A Catastrophe at the Love Parade
According to some accounts, organizers at one point closed the entrance to the party venue 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.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained an internal document which shows that the site was only approved for a maximum of 250,000 revelers, a far lower figure than the 1.4 million people that organizers reported.

'There Were Dead People Beneath Us'

Newspapers were full of chilling eyewitness accounts of the panic and the horror of seeing friends trampled and crushed to death. Hanna Simon, 22, a nurse who was visiting the Love Parade, told Bild newspaper: "When we came out of the tunnel, it got tight. People started crying or lost consciousness. Others fell and we fell on them. All I saw was a mass of people. I fought to survive. My leg was squashed. Everyone was screaming in panic: 'We're dying! We're dying!'"

Simon told the newspaper how she saw an unconscious man fall on her friend's face. "I took her hand and kept biting into it to make her regain consciousness. I though she was dead. Police and security guards pulled bodies out of the mass. I saw I was lying on dead people. There were dead people beneath us with blue lips and blue eyes. I won't be able to forget these faces for the rest of my life."

Commenting on the tragedy on Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "The young people came to celebrate and instead there are dead and injured. I am horrified by the suffering and the pain." Pope Benedict XVI also expressed his sadness over the deaths. The event's organizers announced on Sunday that there would be no future Love Parade events.

While some media commentators say there should be no premature verdicts on who should be held responsible, many editorials in Monday's newspapers say the organizers made fatal errors that could have been avoided.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Even at this early stage we can talk about several simple truths. For example: The organizers of Germany's biggest event overextended themselves. Those responsible succumbed to their craving for status. Warnings from participants were ignored, and lives were recklessly endangered.

"The organizers had even considered the effects of an explosion in the tunnel (in their safety planning). Why then, was it so difficult to consider the possibility that, in a worst-case scenario, boisterous young people might fall into the crowd from a place where they were not supposed to be and trigger a panic? Couldn't a similar thing have happened if there had been a thunderstorm?"

"This is no tragedy, at least not in the sense we have been asked to believe that it is. It is not the case that innocent parties are being blamed for something that is not their fault. ... Nobody ran into this blindly. And that is why this catastrophe is also such a scandal. The city, the police, the organizers and the scientific advisers were all forewarned."

"Ten years ago at a music festival in the Danish city of Roskilde, nine people died. A year ago in Bochum, the Love Parade was called off -- courageously -- because the infrastructure in the city could not handle the event. ... Two years ago in Dortmund, 1.6 million people came to the event."

"In the future, the decisions that the local government makes about these sorts of mass events must be more closely reviewed. Safety must come first -- absolutely. This is what we have learned from the catastrophe in Duisburg."

The mass-circulation tabloid Bild writes:

"After a catastrophe like the one in Duisburg, one question is always asked: Could this have been prevented? And often the answer is: No, the organizers could never have foreseen this."

"But in Duisburg the situation is completely different. Seldom have so many experts warned so clearly of the risks of holding such a mass event on a site that was completely unsuitable. Why didn't someone do something? Because those responsible in the cash-strapped industrial city of Duisburg thought that a couple of positive headlines were more important than the safety of the participants?

"Yesterday the mayor, the heads of police, crisis teams and the Love Parade wanted to answer questions at a press conference. But they said nothing -- other than making it abundantly clear that they were not to blame."

"This makes a mockery of the deaths of 19 young people. If you fail in your duties, then the least you can do is take responsibility and resign!"

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Those responsible for this Love Parade failed blatantly. The claim by Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland that the security plan was 'cogent' has been chillingly refuted. It was a tragedy waiting to happen. It was clear ahead of the event that the festival area in Duisburg would never be able to accommodate 1 million people or even more."

"It is incomprehensible to have just one entrance for such a mass event, this one fatal tunnel. No municipal meeting hall, no football stadium would get approval for such a plan to have only one entrance -- and such venues accommodate far fewer visitors than the Love Parade."

"If the accusation is confirmed that the city ignored the warnings of the fire brigade and the police because it wanted to avoid spending more on security in light of its high debts, that would be a further scandal."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"The organizers' decision never to hold a Love Parade again is the only right one. Would better organization and more careful preparation have prevented the disaster? One is always wiser with hindsight."

"Panic isn't foreseeable or predictable. It's a fundamentally irrational mass psychological phenomenon. Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland is totally right to appeal to people not to rush to premature judgment. But his authorities and the organizers will have to face many uncomfortable questions. Was the site too small for the more than 1 million people who attended the event? Was it irresponsible to have an entrance that led through a single-lane tunnel? Is it true that visitors who wanted to escape to a highway embankment were sent back into the tunnel by police? ... One should give the investigating authorities time to probe this."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The Love Parade started in 1989 as a free parade through Berlin and was open to all comers through to the end of the 1990s. It was a long weekend that was split between countless clubs and a street parade in a spacious area in Berlin's central Tiergarten park. In Duisburg, on the other hand, the Love Parade took place on one day and in a well fenced-off area. You could only enter by traveling from the train station along the barriers to the festival area.

"This was already a perversion of the original philosophy of rave culture that says that, in order to dance, you must have plenty of space, time and freedom, especially when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. None of this was available in Duisburg.

"If there was a safety plan that was actually worthy of the name, then it failed on Saturday. The organizers and those responsible in the Duisburg city administration should be made responsible for that failure."

-- Cathrin Schaer, David Crossland

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