Duisburg Mayor on Love Parade Catastrophe 'Something Went Wrong -- With Terrible Consequences'
In an interview with SPIEGEL, Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland, 55, discusses the death threats he has received since the Love Parade disaster, his city government's responsibility and his decision to remain in office following the deadly catastrophe.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Sauerland, you chose not to attend the memorial service following the Love Parade in an effort to avoid causing offense. Have you since sent your condolences to the victims' families?
Sauerland: You know, in my situation you face a mountain of questions you can't answer. No matter what you do, it's guaranteed to be wrong. That made the meeting with a mother whose daughter died here in Duisburg a very important one for me.
SPIEGEL: Was she accusatory?
Sauerland: We talked through what the mother was feeling, and I too wanted to express my feelings to her and offer her my help. The meeting also gave me a certain measure of hope. I told her that none of us ever wanted something like this to happen. And she accepted that. That was very important to me.
SPIEGEL: The mother of another victim would like to know why no one has apologized to her. The only letter she has received so far from Duisburg was a request for payment of a 10 ($13) medical fee from the city clinic where her son died of his injuries.
Sauerland: I'm sorry something like that happened. We would like to apologize. We wrote letters of condolence, but they weren't forwarded. We don't have the addresses and if we don't receive them from the state authorities, for whatever reasons, we can't establish contact. I'm so infinitely sorry for the entire tragic disaster. It's still inconceivable to me today.
SPIEGEL: What have the past three weeks been like for you?
Sauerland: Since the disaster I've been a hunted man. I've been followed in every aspect of my life, observed. I've received multiple death threats.
SPIEGEL: What were they like?
Sauerland: One person wrote to say that someone else had paid him 5,000 to kill me. Another wrote saying I should resign immediately or they would blow up a preschool.
SPIEGEL: How did you react?
Sauerland: We file complaints against persons unknown for each threat. I've been provided personal security guards. And I have removed my family from the city as a precaution.
SPIEGEL: Directly after the catastrophe, you were accused of being as one of the main parties responsible. How do you remember the day of the Love Parade?
Sauerland: I first arrived back from a one-week vacation in Austria the night before. Still in the car (on the drive back), I received an e-mail, saying that preparations were going well. I rode my scooter to the festival site early on Saturday afternoon. Many people were there, walking around the city and enjoying themselves.
SPIEGEL: When did you find out there were serious problems?
Sauerland: That was around 5:30 p.m. I had just given a brief press conference. I was on my way to the situation center ... when someone told me there were problems in the tunnel.
SPIEGEL: Did you experience any of the overcrowding first hand?
Sauerland: For those of us who weren't able to see into the ramp or the tunnel, the situation never seemed threatening.
SPIEGEL: Then came reports of deaths. How did you react?
Sauerland: First we heard there was mass panic in the tunnel. Then that it wasn't panic, but there were 10 deaths, on the stairs. If there is a feeling beyond desperation, that is what I felt.
SPIEGEL: Did you take over command?
Sauerland: No. There was a crisis team for that. Everyone there had a precisely defined and practiced role. The entire proceedings have been documented and are being passed on to the public prosecutor's office. A mayor should be careful not to take on something for which he hasn't been trained. But I was there the whole time and followed the decision-making process.
SPIEGEL: Fritz Pleitgen, who was in charge of organizing the Ruhr region's year as European Capital of Culture in 2010, said you just sat there far too passively, the picture of misery.
Sauerland: Since the mayor doesn't have a role in the crisis team, he can't intervene either. I can't act as the "local hero" in a situation like that. Anyone who demands such a thing is asking for the impossible.
SPIEGEL: Your appearances before the press directly after the catastrophe had a disastrous effect. You explained that people had climbed over barriers and fallen, as though the deaths were the result of individuals' own mistakes.
Sauerland: That was the first assessment the medical teams conveyed to us.
- Part 1: 'Something Went Wrong -- With Terrible Consequences'
- Part 2: 'Everyone Wanted This -- The City, the Region, the Country'
- Part 3: 'What We Did Was Plausible and Consistent'