Interview with the Love Parade Crowd Manager 'Many More Visitors Came than We Expected'

Carsten Walter was charged with helping control the influx and outflow of visitors at the Love Parade. He tells SPIEGEL what went wrong and describes how he became a witness to catastrophe.

Carsten Walter's container on the day after the Love Parade disaster.
AP

Carsten Walter's container on the day after the Love Parade disaster.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Walter, you are one of the most important witnesses to the Love Parade disaster in Duisburg. As a crowd management expert, you were sitting in a container at the base of the entrance ramp not far from where many of the 21 deaths on that day took place. Your job was to regulate the crowds entering and exiting the party site. Have you already been questioned by prosecutors and investigators?

Carsten Walter: Given the sensitivity of the situation, I haven't yet consented to questioning. I have made use of my rights...

SPIEGEL: ...which allow you to remain silent to avoid incriminating yourself. But you have agreed to speak with us?

Walter: Yes, because I, like many others, have a moral responsibility. I can easily understand those who are now furious because no one has faced up to their responsibility. I would like to do that with this interview.

SPIEGEL: You have a Ph.D. in psychology. Do you have any experience with huge events such as the Love Parade?

Walter: I have 10 years of experience in crisis management. I have been involved in organizing marathons in both Cologne and Bonn as well as other events with several hundreds of thousands of visitors.

SPIEGEL: A crowd manager has to work closely with private security personnel but also with the police. Describe your first contact with event officials.

Walter: On May 6, the event organizer presented me with his security plan. Then, on June 22 we visited the event site prior to a July 14 meeting in the Duisburg police headquarters with all leading officials who were to take responsibility for the event. It was a gathering of about 30 people.

SPIEGEL: Did anyone voice criticism of the security plan -- for example that partygoers were to enter and exit the site using the same ramp, the ramp where the deadly crush ultimately developed?

Walter: No. At a second meeting, I brought up the entrance system using the two tunnels, one from the west and one from the east, and said it was problematic. I said that the entrance and the exit had to be separated -- you can't let people out the same way they came in. At some point -- at the time I was thinking of 9 or 10 p.m., however -- it would no longer work. Nobody in the group contradicted me.

SPIEGEL: On July 24, the day of the party, you were in a simple mobile office container at the base of the entrance ramp. What did it look like on the inside?

Walter: There was a small window and a computer with two monitors. I had access to all 16 observation cameras set up at the event site. Next to me was a policeman, a liaison to the police commander.

SPIEGEL: What rank did he have?

Walter: I don't know. But he wasn't authorized to issue orders.

SPIEGEL: How were you equipped?

Walter: I had two radios so that I could speak to event security headquarters and to my people. And I had a mobile phone. The officer also had a mobile phone.

SPIEGEL: So he didn't have a radio so he could talk to the police commander?

Walter: No radio.

SPIEGEL: The entrance to the Love Parade grounds were originally supposed to have been opened at 11 a.m. But it took until just after 12 to allow for some last-minute work on the site. What was the impact of the delay?

Walter: We were on stand-by as of 9:45 a.m. From 11 a.m. on, we repeatedly spoke with event security headquarters to get permission to open the access control facilities (eds. note: a facility made up of 16 turnstile-type gates to regulate pedestrian flow) at the entrance to each of the tunnels. On the west side, there was extreme congestion early on, and some visitors became aggressive. A lot was happening. After getting permission from security headquarters, I issued the order to open the access control facilities at 12:02 p.m. To reduce the initial crowd pressure, we kept access to the site wide open for an hour. At this point of the day, it was no problem to do so.

SPIEGEL: Were there police at the access control facilities?

Walter: Of course. There were units of 100 on each side.

SPIEGEL: What happened after 12:00?

Walter: Many more visitors came than we had been expecting. Around 1 p.m., I instructed the security personnel to close the access control facilities.

SPIEGEL: Completely?

Walter: No, just partially so that we could regulate the numbers of people coming through. At this point, we had six of 16 gates open at the entrance to each of the tunnels.

SPIEGEL: Did it work?

Walter: Yes. But then came, to my surprise, an order from a police commander to the personnel on the west side to keep all the gates open.

SPIEGEL: Even though you had just instructed them to partially close the gates in order to limit the flow of visitors entering the tunnels.

Walter: Exactly! And then the police commander said to open them up! He was higher up than me on the chain of command.

SPIEGEL: The police have said that party organizers were exclusively responsible for the access control facilities.

Walter: That is correct. The police were responsible for the public space. But congestion at the entrance to the west tunnel was already larger than expected at this time. Fences had been ripped down and there had been some scuffles between police and partygoers who wanted to get to the party site. It that sense, I can understand where the police commander was coming from.

SPIEGEL: When did you first have the feeling that something was going wrong?

Walter: It was a feeling that began at this point and soon became stronger. At 2 p.m., the police had a shift change. A new liaison officer joined me in the container.

SPIEGEL: How was he equipped?

Walter: He only had a mobile phone.

SPIEGEL: Still no radio?

Walter: No. Definitely not.

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