Remembering a Tragedy The Long Search for a Love Parade Memorial

The search to find a suitable memorial to the 21 people who died in the 2010 Love Parade disaster lasted for months. Now a jury, including members of the victims' families, has finally chosen a monument. But for one woman who lost her 23-year-old daughter, the design brought up too many emotions at first.

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By Jochen-Martin Gutsch


A few days ago, the jury met one last time. After it had sat together for several hours, even Sabine Siebenlist finally said: "OK."

In the end, it was a unanimous decision. But Siebenlist says that the design "would also have won without my vote." Saying this somehow reassures her and relieves her of some of the pressure.

Siebenlist is sitting in a café with a few sheets of paper lying in front of her on the table. The papers are the winning design for the memorial that will commemorate the catastrophe of July 24, 2010, when 21 people died and more than 500 were injured at the Love Parade techno festival in the western German city of Duisburg. On that day, Siebenlist began what would be a 19-hour wait. She was waiting for a call, for good news, for salvation. They were 19 hours of uncertainty. But the salvation never came.

A week later, Siebenlist's 23-year-old daughter Fenja was buried. The autopsy report listed asphyxiation as the cause of death. For the next six months, Siebenlist couldn't work, and she allowed her old life to fade away.

During that time, someone came up with the idea for a book. In it, the victims' surviving family members could describe their experiences on the day of the catastrophe. Siebenlist thought it wasn't a bad idea -- it might help her come to grips with her own experience. Still, she couldn't write anything. "I couldn't find the right words," she says. The nice thing about a memorial is that it doesn't need a lot of words to be effective.

Choosing an Appropriate Memorial

Last September, a man from a group called Initiative Spendentrauermarsch ("funeral march donation campaign") introduced himself to Siebenlist at a meeting of the victims' families. He told her that the citizens of Duisburg had collected €26,000 ($35,000) for a memorial and that a jury would decide on what to do with the money. He also told her that the jury would include some of the victims' family members.

Siebenlist, 45, who works as a museum administrator, eventually found a place for herself on that jury. "I felt that this work was part of my job as a mother," she says. "Maybe my daughter is watching from somewhere, and is saying: 'Good job.'"

Local artists in Duisburg had submitted 39 designs for the memorial. But the jury's members weren't even sure how to go about choosing a suitable memorial. They didn't know if the monument's main focus should be on the victims, the emotions of their family members or the city.

In fact, even the choice of a name wasn't easy. Since Duisburg is already planning its own monument to the Love Parade disaster, the jury's selection couldn't also be called a "monument." Calling it a "memorial stele" was also not an option because a stele requires a certain architectural form, something taller than it is wide. This left the word "memorial," which sounds heavy, like something made of stone -- something commemorating a war, say, rather than a young people's festival. But, Siebenlist says: "I've gotten used to it by now."

Of the 39 designs, those that included photos of the 21 victims were eliminated because the surviving families didn't want pictures of their children on a memorial. Over the next several months, Siebenlist kept searching for something that "generates emotions" -- something that had the right gut feeling.

In December 2010, the jury seemed to have come to an agreement. It chose a design that it felt most effectively combined a zest for life with a sense of the tragedy. But only a few hours after the design had been selected, suspicions arose that it had been plagiarised. The design had apparently been copied from a stock image on the Internet, one that had already been used in beer advertising, on shopping bags and at "over-30" club nights.

"It was irreverent, and so insulting," Siebenlist says. So everything started over again.

The Winning Design

In early February, at the last jury meeting, there were only four designs left in the running. Siebenlist says it took her a while to come to terms with the winning design.

It is a memorial made of concrete and steel, about 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) tall, simple and classic. The date of the tragedy and the names of its 21 victims are engraved on its back. Depending on the wishes of family members, some of the names will be illegible and only recognizable as writing. On the front, there are 21 beams crashing into each other, meant to symbolize chaos.

"I found a YouTube video that has a scene with my daughter in it," says Siebenlist. "It shows Fenja being pulled out. She's already dead. That's why the design with the beams touched me so much. Too much, at first."

The memorial is expected to be completed before July 24, the first anniversary of the accident. The exact location for the memorial has yet to be determined, but it will probably be somewhere near the tunnel where the tragedy occurred.

Getting Beyond the Blaming

The public prosecutor's office is still trying to determine who was responsible for the accident. It's a question of who is to blame. But Siebenlist says that she no longer cares whose fault it was. "My daughter is dead, and she'll stay dead," she says. "You can't let yourself become bitter."

Weeks after the accident, Siebenlist was sitting in the office of Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland. She wanted to know if it was his fault. With tears in his eyes, Sauerland said it wasn't.

Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. Siebenlist doesn't want to make that decision. Instead, she is just trying to continue living her life, which is already difficult enough. Leaving the café, she looks up at the winter sun and squints.

When asked if she will ever visit the memorial, she says: "I don't know. Maybe. For now, I've found a different place where I encounter my daughter."

When asked where that might be, she answers: "Music."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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