A Year after the Crush The Difficult Burden of Love Parade Guilt

Wolfgang L. believes he accidentally trampled someone to death during the Love Parade crush almost one year ago. Since then the trauma has torn his life apart. Still, he is hoping for a new beginning.  

A man at a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Love Parade in a photo taken last September.
REUTERS

A man at a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Love Parade in a photo taken last September.

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For 39 years, Wolfgang L. installed kitchens and lived a modest life in the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Düren. He avoided debt and enjoyed strolling through the city market with his wife. But on July 24, 2010, he spontaneously decided to drive his car to Duisburg and attend the Love Parade.

Then 54 years old, L. did not exactly belong to the techno music event's target demographic. But the weather was lovely that Saturday, and he was curious, he says today. His wife stayed home with their dog. It was meant to be just a short weekend jaunt, nothing more.

But L. came back a different man.

That day the carpenter ended up right in the center of the crush that killed 21 and injured hundreds more. He is convinced that he himself accidentally trampled someone to death beneath him. Since then nothing has been as it once was.

The uncertainty plagues him, while the feelings of guilt rob him of sleep, and sometimes even his breath. He often re-experiences the feeling of being pushed from all sides, along with a frightening phantom pain.

If he falls asleep, nightmares wake him. And panic attacks follow him along his way to the market and into his apartment building's elevator.

Since March L. has been officially "disabled," declared by doctors to be unfit for work. His was diagnosed with severe traumatization, and several weeks of treatment caused him to lose his job. He's been living on welfare benefits since May 1. To continue receiving benefits, he and his wife will have to move to a smaller apartment. He readily admits that he's incapacitated. He can't even go take a walk to the market any longer.

The Blame Game

But who is to blame for the fact that Wolfgang L. can't live normally as he did just 10 months ago? According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the police committed grave errors during the Love Parade. A report more than 400 pages long by the Duisburg state prosecutor's office shows that officers' attempts to stop the deadly disaster were limited because of an unscheduled shift change, along with faulty radio units and a lack of sufficient priority circuits that were meant to maintain police communication even if the network became overloaded.

The investigation shows that only two groups of 100 officers were meant to provide security at the two tunnels leading into the main event area, but these officers ended up leaving the site in the afternoon because the state Interior Ministry for North Rhine-Westphalia had limited officers' working hours.

The crowd situation at the techno music festival entrance had already begun to escalate by the time the shift change occurred, but police allegedly didn't stop the unhampered flow of human traffic until more than an hour later. By then Wolfgang L. was already stuck inside one of the tunnels leading to the event grounds, fearing for his life.

The state prosecutor's investigation also reveals that law enforcement communication problems were much greater than previously known. Individual officers reported in interviews that their radios repeatedly failed to function and the mobile phone network was also problematic. Just a "tiny percentage" of police mobile phones were registered ahead of time for use on the priority circuit, one document says. Meanwhile the state Interior Ministry in Düsseldorf has yet to comment on this report, some of which directly addresses experiences that Wolfgang L. had that day.

The 'Catastrophe After the Catastrophe'

It also supports the opinion of Julius Reiter, a lawyer representing more than 70 victims of the disaster, who says everyone involved in running the event was at fault in some way. "Organizers, the city and the state all carry responsibility," he says. "The state can no longer disavow its share of the blame. There is no monocausal course of events, and there is no single person who caused the catastrophe. More than that, it was a failure of these three participants."

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how much each party is to blame, the lawyer says. "It could still take years because it's hard to foresee just when the undignified wrangling over guilt and fobbing off blame will end," he adds, calling the behavior a "catastrophe after the catastrophe."

For this reason damages paid to victims must be separate from legal guilt, Reiter says, calling for all sides to quickly agree on "binding rules for damage payments" and to start a public foundation for victims.

While Wolfgang L. says he won't be able to buy his old life back with that money, he hopes it will at least ease some of the burden. But so far these hopes have been disappointed. In late April the now 54-year-old, along with another victim from Hamburg and a married couple from Duisburg, met with the Rainer Schaller, owner of Love Parade event company Lopavent. It was a frustrating meeting, Wolfgang L. says.

Emergency bereavement counsellors arranged the secret meeting with Schaller, who wanted to speak with victims without lawyers or journalists. But he provided no clear answers to their questions, according to Wolfgang L. "He said he was sorry, but otherwise he talked his way out of it and pushed responsibility on others," he says. "This man has no idea what each of us is going through and into what kind of hole we fall into when we aren't told who is responsible for what."

Longing for His Old Life

He can't forget how the mass of people pushed him through the tunnel; how he tried to help a girl who was screaming for more air; how he was pushed over mounds of people. He believes that he stepped on some of the victims.

In good moments Wolfgang L. maintains hope that it could have been a rucksack, blanket or sleeping bag underfoot. But according to his own research of that day, at the place in the tunnel where he believes he stepped on something, someone died, trampled to death by the mass of festival-goers.

Though he completed five weeks of therapy in a Düren psychiatric clinic, and six weeks of therapy at another in Krefeld, the "mind carnival," as he calls it, continues.

Wolfgang L. hopes that victims will see damages paid out soon, but he'd rather just feel better. "Even better would be taking a pill that made me as I once was -- a kitchen installer who enjoyed just walking through the city market," he says.

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