Not in Germany, no way, that wouldn’t happen in Germany. No, it wasn’t the fact that 21 people were dead and hundreds more injured by a crush outside the Love Parade festival in Duisberg. It was the fact that even as the death toll was climbing the blame game had already begun.
The authorities pointed the finger at the festival organisers, who pointed their own at the authorities and it seemed everyone blamed the city’s Mayor. I guess it was naïve to think that Germans were better than that. For the record, no one has yet claimed responsibility for the tragic events of July 24.
Of course what was shocking to most of us was that such an awful thing could happen in Germany, a place we often ridicule for it’s extraordinary levels of efficiency and organisation.
They too had become so accustomed to proficiency that many have been dumbfounded by the chaos at Love Parade and media reports that Duisberg officials and organisers did not heed warnings about the city’s inability to hold the event.
German magazine, Der Spiegel reported that an alternative safety plan developed by local police and emergency services had been rejected by the city’s beleaguered Mayor Adolf Sauerland. And he only approved the event and security planning on the morning of July 24 after much debate the night before.
When you have such levels of indecisiveness concerning something as big as a music festival, trouble is brewing. No wonder they’re calling for Mayor Sauerland’s head.
It’s a natural reaction, anger being the second of the oft-mentioned five stages of grief and there’s no doubt that not only are the friends and family of those who perished grieving, but so too is the entire nation.
There will be a lengthy investigation, there will be recriminations, resignations and maybe even prosecutions but there will be no more Love Parade.
Founder Rainer Schaller said in the aftermath, “The Love Parade has always been a peaceful party, but it will forever be overshadowed by the accident, so out of respect for the victims, the Love Parade will never take place again.”
Love Parade began as a peace demonstration in 1989, just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over the years, it became a massive open-air, dance-music festival featuring flamboyant outfits, and top international DJs who played trance, house, techno, and schranz (whatever that is).
People flocked from all over the world to take part as evidenced by some of the victims being from Spain, Bosnia, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and China.
Ironically just three weeks prior to this year’s ill-fated event, in Roskilde, Denmark they remembered the nine people who died at that festival a decade ago, lost forever as the crowd rushed towards the stage during a Pearl Jam performance.
In the aftermath of that tragedy, safety procedures for most festivals were reviewed. Glastonbury even cancelled their 2001 event in order to improve their organisation. They hoped to learn the lessons of Roskilde and improve safety.
In 2002, organiser Michael Eavis wrote to festival-goers, “In order for the festival to continue, we have to keep the numbers within limits that can be shown to be safe…No-one wants to allow a tragedy like Roskilde to happen here.”
Numbers clearly played a part in Duisberg. The venue, an old freight railway station, was said to hold around 300,000 and yet it is estimated that between 500,000 and a million may have shown up. That’s the nature of free concerts. Previous Love Parades had played host to over a million people so there should have been the expectation that such numbers would arrive.
And yet all sense of organisation and procedure appeared to break down and chaos ensued. We will not know the full facts of what happened until the inquiry finishes, even then there may be more questions.
But people who go to festivals go for the music, the love, the alcohol, and maybe the odd illegal substance. They should not go in fear of their safety or their lives. It should be all about living life.
Lessons were learned from Roskilde, but clearly there’s more to do. If something like this can happen in Germany, it can happen anywhere.