Blind Leading the Blind Testimony Reveals Police Role in Love Parade Disaster

One year after the Love Parade disaster in Duisburg left 21 people dead, new testimony has revealed a catastrophic lack of police communication. A key police adviser has said he knew nothing of the developing crush until it was much too late.

An image taken last week of the tunnel and entry ramp where the deadly Love Parade crush developed one year ago.
Getty Images

An image taken last week of the tunnel and entry ramp where the deadly Love Parade crush developed one year ago.

By Georg Bönisch, Andrea Brandt and

Certainly, he could have refused to testify, citing Section 55 of the German Code of Criminal Procedure, which protects witnesses from being forced to incriminate themselves.

But Jörg Schalk answered all questions over the course of five days -- the last time on April 8. The transcript of his testimony is 138 pages long. It is the latest document to emerge concerning the Love Parade disaster, which claimed the lives of 21 party-goers almost exactly one year ago.

Schalk has a lot to answer for. On July 24, 2010, he was the chief adviser to the police deployment at the Love Parade in Duisburg. At the age of 48, Schalk is an officer with many years of experience on the force. Colleagues describe him as someone who considers things from all angles and remains calm and collected at all times. And yet Schalk, who played a key role at the scene as the right-hand man to the director of police operations, could not prevent the disaster.

For several long minutes, Schalk saw nothing of the party-goers' torment as the crowd pushed and shoved and generated an enormous crush. On that day, at around 4:45 p.m., he was dealing with other matters while "obviously life-threatening images," as he later described them, flickered across the screens. Shortly thereafter, people began dying. He said that nobody had expected this could happen and that everyone on his team was "completely stunned."

Prosecutors in Duisburg have heard from over 3,050 witnesses in this case. But Schalk is a special witness. He is the first high-ranking police officer who has not tried to sugarcoat the role of the police but, instead, has engaged in brutal self-criticism as he spelled out how law-enforcement officials contributed to the disaster. In addition to revealing errors in the planning and implementation of safety measures at the Love Parade, he has divulged how blind his command team was to the deadly perils of this massive party.

Nobody Had Informed Him

After the disaster had occurred and the first radio messages had come in reporting deaths on the access ramp to the venue, Schalk rushed into a conference call. He asked his fire department colleague if he too had heard reports of deaths. The fireman responded very matter-of-factly that the problem was the police barrier on the ramp.

Police barrier? Schalk later went on record as saying that he knew nothing about this police line. Nobody had informed him, the chief adviser, the man who should have been kept abreast of all important information.

According to his testimony, even the planning stages for this major operation were plagued by in-fighting and bureaucratic hurdles. Schalk and director of police operations Kuno S. argued fiercely over who should occupy key positions at the scene. In late May, S. went on vacation for three weeks.

Officials from the North Rhine-Westphalia state Interior Ministry in Düsseldorf then threw a spanner in the works following a complaint filed by a trade union concerning working hours. The organization said that police officers could not work longer than 12 hours per shift, including traveling times to and from the scene.

This bureaucratic decision caused more practically minded officials to voice their extreme displeasure over the "ministry's guidelines" at a meeting on June 17. Schalk also felt that it was bad idea to change personnel at a time when the crowd numbers would first begin to peak.

Surprising Yet Banal

As a result, Schalk decided to move the mandated shift change forward by two hours, to 2:00 p.m. But this was impossible for the 15th police squad, the very unit that was later assigned to help out on the ramp.

The reason was surprising yet banal: According to Schalk, this unit would have required overnight accommodation if it had started its shift earlier and thereby worked longer hours. However, lodging could not be arranged so quickly. A later shift change was thus the "only solution" that complied with the ministry's prescribed working specifications. The reduced shift hours made it unnecessary to organize overnight accommodation.

This turned out to be a fateful decision. The 15th squad immediately came under pressure when it began its shift, as the crowds were reaching their peak, at 3:30 pm. Cell phones did not work, and radio contact was patchy. Squad leader Thorsten M. was forced to make decisions on the ramp, although neither he nor his officers had had time to get a full picture of the situation "on the ground," as he later said in his testimony.

In the midst of this chaos, the police made an additional error, which was captured by surveillance camera 13: A convoy of five police vehicles, which was parked along the eastern concrete wall of the ramp and facing the event grounds, rolled out at 3:27 p.m.

Who Gave the Command?

The vehicles looped around, slowly worked their way through the dense crowd and disappeared into the eastern tunnel entrance. Earlier, other police vehicles had emerged from the tunnel. The awkward maneuver increased the overcrowding on the ramp -- and probably in the tunnel as well.

Schalk acknowledges that "exchanges of vehicles" on the ramp should "not have occurred." In fact, he says, during a June 22 on-site inspection with firefighters and event organizers, an agreement was reached to avoid just such a vehicle maneuver. According to Schalk, only the crews should have been exchanged -- on foot -- which he says would have created less additional pressure than a vehicle convoy.

Schalk doesn't say who gave the command to move out the vehicles -- and perhaps he doesn't know. His testimony documented the astounding lack of information among the commanding police officers. For instance, Schalk maintains that he had no knowledge that police officers had already called for reinforcements at the top of the ramp at around 2 p.m. The extra helping hands were intended to prevent backups, but the tangled crowd continued to grow.

Meanwhile, in a container at the bottom of the ramp, Carsten Walter, the organizer's crowd manager, was struggling with personnel problems of another sort. According to Walter's testimony, around 2 p.m., he had to pull two event stewards from the ramp -- to look after a camera team from German TV broadcaster WDR.


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