Yesterday, Duisburg in my home region Northrine-Westfalia has suffered a tremendous tragedy. At the Love Parade, a fun and festive Techno event on a wonderful sunshiny Saturday afternoon, a stampede inside a tunnel at the entrance of the festival area killed 19 people and injured at least 340, and some sources even say 400. The deadly crush happened in an underpass between the main event site and the expansion area [See FAZ, SPIEGEL, SPIEGEL, WDR, Frankfurter Rundsschau (German), CNN, BBC, Guardian, Telegraph (English)].
This years’ Love Parade was part of the festival “Ruhr 2010” which features metropolitan culture in the former industrial Region “Ruhrgebiet” of Northrine-Westfalia. Only last week, our region had a fun event on A 40, a local Autobahn with more than 3 million participants celebrating together peacefully. For the first time in its history, Love Parade was held at an old industrial site of 230,000 square meters. The festival site is a former railway station originally used for transportation of industrial goods. This festival area is very large, but it could only be reached through a tunnel which leads to a ramp. This ramp functioned as the only official entrance and exit for the entire festival area. The festival ground was surrounded by a fence. The tunnel, 100 meters long and 16 meters wide, has no escape routes. Imagine more than a million people marching into this tunnel which only one exit in the middle of the tunnel that leads up to a ramp at the entrance of the festival ground over several hours. Some people want to leave the festival area, while others rush forward towards the entrance.
As I learned from TV and online media in the early evening, people pushed in huge crowds from both side into the middle of tunnel to get to the entrance of the festival site until the tunnel was dangerously overcrowded. A mass panic began as festival-goers began to faint and to break together as they were crushed against the concrete walls and each other, others fell about nine meters down from a ladder when they tried to find another route out of the grounds. At least 10 people had to be resuscitated. Nineteen died at the festival, grounds, and the other three in or on their way to hospital. There may be quite a few reasons why the music fans broke through fences and climbed up walls and other constructions – some might have sought a way to get to the festival site earlier, others might have panicked because they were stuck in the tunnel for hours. The website of the organizer went black after the tragic events.
One interesting aspect is the enormous differences in the numbers of attendees to the festival: German News channel NTV said some 1.4 million people showed up at the popular festival, which features dozens of DJs spinning techno music for hours. Other news sources (Express) speak of 1.4 million music fans at the festival sites and another 500,000 on their way to the festival area in the city of Duisburg. Officials and local organizers expected only 700,000 to 800,000. So they opened an additional event site accommodate more people. After the panic in the late afternoon, a line of emergency vehicles, including helicopters, could be seen parked on the adjacent highway A 59 which leads to Duisburg. The festival itself, however, was not interrupted, and music played until late in the evening. Officials obviously were afraid that ending the music altogether could cause even more panic among the massive crowd.
Today, after German prosecutors have launched a legal investigation, German public got to see one of the weirdest press conferences one can imagine, with four local officials including the city mayor Adolf Sauerland refusing to take responsibility. Instead, the officials defended their security concept, and they offered no clues as to what caused the tragedy except claiming the death toll was the result of individual fault of people breaking through barriers and climbing up constructions such as walls and containers. Consequently, the press conference took place in a heated atmosphere, and now the blame game begins. Meanwhile, police have seized various documents from officials. Moreover, prosecutors will have access to all statements, photo and video material that people have published online, and certainly take into account the detailed warnings of bloggers in advance of this years’ Loveparade and search for those who are responsible.
It is hard to estimate what this tragedy means for the future of Ruhrgebiet. This former industrial region has still to cope with the consequences of a tremendous structural change from an industrial region of coal, steel and related industries is still working on its own structural development toward a multifaceted third sector region with a vital social life and cultural scene. The Ruhrgebiet has still not overcome problems such as high unemployment, poverty in families, unequal unequal access to higher education and an aging population. The region makes enormous efforts to become a metropolitan region with better economic development and more vital social and cultural life than in past decades. The region still has to cope with above average unemployment, poverty and related social problems. This years’ “Ruhr 2010” festival should be a huge chance for the region to develop further economically, attract tourists and improve its reputation throughout Europe, but these events are sure to be a huge setback. In recent years, Essen and Dortmund had hosted the Loveparade, but Bochum refused to host the Loveparade in 2009 due to the fact the city did not find a festival site large enough to host a Techno music festival of more than a million people.
I am very very sad and my heart goes out to families and friends who have lost their loved ones in Duisburg and to all those who suffered such horrific experiences and feel with all the people who tried to help. Duisburg, today, experiences one of the darkest hours of its history, the rest of “Ruhr 2010” will be overshadowed – what a sad sad day in Duisburg.