This year's edition of Love Parade, the world's largest dance music festival, ended in tragedy as 19 people died and hundreds more were injured due to overcrowding at the event's single entrance and exit.
The trouble began on Saturday evening around 17:00 when organizers decided to stop letting people into the festival site, which was already badly overcrowded. But tens of thousands more revelers had already filled the narrow underpass leading to the gates, and turning them around proved impossible. The situation worsened quickly, especially inside a tunnel near the entrance, which became unbearably hot and short of oxygen.
Kevin Krausgartner, a 21-year-old who was among those bottlenecked in the tunnel, described the scene to Welt Online: "There were 25 people lying in a heap. I screamed – people could no longer get any air. I saw dead people, and one person was sitting there looking extremely pale. I wanted to give him some water, but the ambulance medic told me there was no point as he was already dead."
According to reports, some of the deaths took place during a stampede inside the tunnel, while others happened in a crush surrounding a steep utility staircase leading out of the mess. Others fell as far as nine meters from a ladder leading to an embankment up above. In total, 16 revelers died at the scene, three more in ambulances and at the hospital.
Meanwhile, the party continued at the disused railway station that served as Love Parade's central venue. UK-based DJ Mark Knight told the BBC: "We were told just before we were about to play 'the show has to go on. We cannot stop for fear of the repercussions and more panic.'" According to Knight, about half of the people at the festival seemed aware of the tragedy unfolding outside, while the other half looked oblivious. He described the scene as "very odd" and "surreal."
So far, blame has been leveled mostly at the event promoters and the city of Duisburg. Many think the venue was poorly chosen: a former coal mining town in Germany's Ruhr valley region, Duisburg has a population of just 500,000; the attendance at this year's Love Parade was roughly 1.4 million. Over the weekend, German news magazine Der Spiegel uncovered an official document from the city that said the event was cleared for only 250,000 guests. An official investigation into the matter is currently under way.
"The organizers are to be blamed," says Dr. Motte, original founder of Love Parade. "It is a scandal to only allow the people a single entrance to the party site... The organizers didn't have the least amount of concern for the people." Motte threw the first Love Parade in Berlin in 1989, four months before the wall came down. This year's event was run by Rainer Schaller, who is also CEO of McFit, a German chain of fitness centers.
Wolfgang Orscheschek, a spokesman for the police trade union, said Schaller and his team had pressured the city into hosting the event, despite concerns among locals and safety officials. In a statement on behalf of the 1,400 police on duty at Love Parade, Orscheschek said the victims had been "sacrificed for material interests."
On Sunday afternoon, some of those affected set up a memorial by the mouth of the tunnel where many of the deaths occurred. Flowers were laid and candles lit near pictures of the victims, while one cardboard sign grimly displayed the word "Warum?" ("Why?")
Out of respect for the victims of this year's event, Schaller has announced that there will be no future editions of the famous dance music festival. "The Love Parade has always been a peaceful party, but it will for ever be overshadowed by the accident," he said. "It's all over for the Love Parade."
UPDATE: The Love Parade death toll continued to rise throughout last week as more succumbed to their injuries. The official figure for those injured is now 512 with 21 dead.