Disaster Plan Love Parade Documents Reveal a Series of Errors

The aftermath of the Love Parade disaster in Duisburg has degenerated into a farce as those involved in the tragedy seek to absolve themselves of guilt. But documents show just how sloppy event planning was -- and reveal the mistakes made by both the city and the police. By SPIEGEL Staff

AFP

There was still no one willing to step forward and take responsibility last Wednesday. The domestic affairs committee of the North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament was meeting to investigate responsibility for the Love Parade disaster late last month in Duisburg. But when it came to admitting shortcomings, nobody wanted to own up. Not the city of Duisburg -- and certainly not North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Ralf Jäger.

"I will not allow the police to be made into a scapegoat for the mistakes of others," said Jäger. His officers had done nothing wrong, he insisted, and there was absolutely no reason to point a finger at him, either. He briefly mentioned that he had made a personal appearance at the event, but the remark was so neatly made in passing that hardly anyone noticed.

This is what it looked like at the Love Parade when Jäger was briefly on site: Shortly after 4 p.m. on the day of the tragedy, the main entrance ramp leading to the party site was so jam-packed with people that no one could move. Police had formed a human barricade across the ramp in order to prevent dangerous overcrowding at the top. At the base of the ramp, however, crowds had nowhere to go and the situation slowly began to spin out of control.

Not far from there, at the operations center, Jäger was visiting with federal police. The interior minister received an update from the officer in charge -- no unusual incidents, everything was going smoothly.

No Reason for Concern

"Around 4:10 p.m. a conversation took place with the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia," reads a confidential report assembled by the federal police. The briefing, which lasted approximately five minutes, dealt with the "the close cooperation between the security agencies, both in the preparation and implementation phases." He was told that there was no reason for concern: "Interior Minister Jäger appeared satisfied."

The minister also found time to visit the VIP area and hobnob with celebrities like heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko and TV host Oliver Pocher -- and drop by the media room, where he met Love Parade organizer Rainer Schaller. At the time, Schaller was still something of a hero in western Germany's Ruhr region. The regional TV network WDR filmed the meeting and used the footage in a benign party report.

Towards 5 p.m. -- Jäger's police had already begun receiving reports of collapsing partygoers -- the interior minister had seen enough and decided to return home to attend his daughter's birthday party. Jäger managed to do what hardly any of the normal party guests could do: He safely left the site via a side entrance for VIP visitors. Meanwhile, on the ramp, his officers were growing increasingly desperate, people were suffocating, falling to the ground and being trampled to death.

Jäger, commander in chief of the state's police force, was on the scene, and yet he was totally unaware of the disaster that was unfolding just a few meters away. No one on duty felt it necessary to inform the minister of the alarming security situation that had been developing at least by 3:30 p.m. It is yet another detail showing the true face of the Love Parade: a chaotic event, both in the preparation and implementation phases.

The follow-up to this tragedy has been particularly chaotic. It's been two weeks since the mass crush of Love Parade visitors on July 24 left 21 people dead. It was a tragedy for the families of those who lost their lives, for the over 500 injured and for the traumatized party guests -- and it has been a disaster for Duisburg's image, that of the police and of Love Parade organizer Rainer Schaller, head of the Germany's largest chain of fitness studios, McFit.

A Farce

Now the aftermath has become a farce -- a shameful spectacle in which none of the main characters can find the right words, recognize mistakes or accept the consequences. Steadfastness has only been seen when the main players have sought to deflect blame from themselves, point fingers at their erstwhile planning partners and absolve themselves of all responsibility.

"Duisburg had no overriding responsibility for the security of the entire event … particularly not for controlling the flow of visitors," reads an interim report commissioned by Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland. The report claims that "third parties" violated the requirements.

Schaller, the Lamborghini-driving organizer, has affirmed that "all requirements were 100 percent fulfilled" and that a "fateful mistake" by the police was to blame for the tragedy.

And Jäger simply finds it "shabby" to call on the police for help and then "pass the buck" to them after the fact.

Their collective denial of responsibility is as obvious as it is futile. The interim report by the city of Duisburg is particularly misleading. In their 32-page analysis, the city's lawyers have primarily compiled arguments that exonerate Duisburg.

They initially kept their report's annex under wraps -- and with good reason. These 338 pages paint an entirely different picture. The documents reveal a city that apparently approved a highly questionable safety plan at the last minute. They depict a mayor who was better informed of the planning chaos surrounding the event than he publicly admits -- and an organizer who used reckless forecasts to play down the risks. All that really mattered was that the Love Parade took place -- as an image booster for the Ruhr region and a marketing coup for Schaller's McFit.

When the Police Lost Their Innocence

Even the police will not be able to dodge blame as easily as Jäger hopes. An internal report of the North Rhine-Westphalian Justice Ministry shows that the police officers were well informed of the questionable safety concepts -- yet they kept their concerns to themselves.

When did the police lose their innocence? No later than July 7. On that day, the Duisburg police had a preliminary meeting with their colleagues at the public prosecutor's office to show them a PowerPoint presentation with their latest preparations. Even public prosecutors were busy preparing themselves for the big event. According to an internal memo on the meeting, not on that day, nor during the period that followed, did "a member of the police express to the public prosecutor's office concerns of any sort regarding the safety of the event site or the access routes."

By the time of the meeting, the police had dealt with a wide range of planning details. The plan called for visitors to approach the main entrance ramp to the event site from two directions, both of which led through a series of underpasses which formed a kind of tunnel. The main entrance ramp was also to serve as the primary exit from the event. Prior to entering the tunnels, visitors would pass through access control facilities, which could be opened and closed to regulate the number of people entering the tunnel.

At the July 7 meeting, it was already clear to the police that having the entry ramp do double duty as the main exit could lead to problems. But they came to the wrong conclusions in their scenario. "Should large crowds of visitors continue to arrive while, at the same time, large numbers of people leave," they told the public prosecutors, "there are sufficient emergency exits in the side streets."

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