As the seventh day of the Love Parade trial came to an end, the district court in Duisburg showed videos titled "Chronologie einer Katastrophe - Teil 1 bis 4" ("Chronology of a disaster - parts one to four)." In the videos, people can be seen enjoying the party at the beginning of the Love Parade music festival on July 24, 2010. As the tragedy begins to unfold, they find themselves in mortal danger as they try to flee through a crowded narrow space. They are seen trapped between a high wall, a ramp, a tunnel and a panicking crowd. Some manage to escape on a narrow staircase; many bodies are passed over heads and others just climb over people. Twenty-one people were crushed to death and at least 652 more injured during the tragedy.
Manfred B, a 34-year-old witness and joint plaintiff, uploaded the videos to YouTube after disaster. He told the judge that he filmed the first part as a diary for himself, as he had at past Love Parades. He continued filming the panicking crowd to document the events. In the video, a voice is heard saying, "What a shitty organization, unbelievable. Fencing in 1 million people, how sick is that?"
The advantage of being tall
The video, which runs almost 40 minutes, shows how Manfred managed to escape harm because he is 190 cm (6'3'') tall — and strong. He almost suffocated someone in the crowd because his elbow jabbed into their throat. He was able to pull his arm away but he would not been able to do so if someone had been lying beneath him.
Now that evidence is being presented, the trial is focusing on the horrors endured by Love Parade survivors. Defense lawyers spent the first days of the trial filing motions. They emphasized the fact that their clients — employees of the city of Duisburg and event organizer Lopavent — were only second-tier suspects and that "they are the wrong people in the dock." They contend that the police in particular "were exempt from their responsibility." The defendants have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent physical injury.
'Don't let go of my hand!'
Rosalinda B. was injured and traumatized during the Love Parade disaster. "The air was smothering; we were packed like sardines," she said when giving her testimony. The 31-year-old from Duisburg faltered as she began to speak, glancing at her hands and repeatedly rubbing her fingers. "Nobody is going to hurt you here," the judge said reassuringly.
She explained how her older sister, Giusi, hurt her hand on the way to the festival grounds. To find the paramedics, the two young women ended up walking into the panicking crowd. A line of police officers did not allow them to pass. "Don't let go of my hand," her sister said, but they were torn apart, as was the line of police officers. "I felt as though I was the smallest one; I could only see upper bodies and backpacks," she recalled. "I couldn't breath anymore." A young man tried to help her but she fell at the foot of the stairs.
Years of guilt
"Next to me lay a young girl," Rosalinda told the court, covering her face with her hands. "The girl kept asking me for help. But it wasn't possible. I couldn't help her because there were people on top of me. They were getting heavier and heavier," she said, on the verge of tears. "I don't know if the girl survived. I have felt guilty for seven years now ... only people who have gone through this can understand."
Rosalinda passed out and later woke up in the intensive care unit of the hospital where she was resuscitated. The doctors diagnosed her with massive chest injuries, bruising and psychological trauma. She was in great pain and was unable to work until last year, she explained. Now she is training to become a nurse. When she thinks of that experience, she feels still feels "tremendous pressure."
'I was walking around like a zombie'
As the dangerously dense Love Parade crowd thinned out, Manfred said he saw two lifeless bodies lying in front of him. He calmly described how he tried to give them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A policeman helped him until the paramedics arrived and took over — in vain.
When nothing else could be done, he went up the stairs. He stayed on the festival grounds, where many partying attendees did not know what had happened. "It was so surreal; I was walking around like a zombie," he said.
He had tried to help a young woman who was pinned on the ground beneath many other people. In his video, he can be heard saying, "We'll get out of here alive." He asked her to fight, and not to give up. He held her hand. In 2010, he was honored by then-German President Christian Wulff along with other Love Parade attendees who tried to help during the disaster. Through his videos, he found the girl whose hand he had held. In December 2010 he was invited on a talk show with her.
Explanations, repression and sadness
Defense lawyer Kerstin Stirner believes it is very difficult for traumatized witnesses to recall details that could help clarify events. Rosalinda admitted that she tried to forget a lot; she even moved away from Duisburg. "It is thus all the more important that people like the second witness — who made a stable impression — be able to provide a more detailed impression of the events. That is why this witness will be questioned more intensively at a later date," Stirner told DW.
From the defense lawyer's point of view, it is of interest to see "whether and how individuals perceived what had happened on the day of the event, especially the lines of police officers and the immediate consequences." This is important in determining the causal connection between individual factors in the tragedy.
Manfred's testimony was suspended until next week, when he will continue. He does seem stable, but when Judge Mario Plein asked him how he has coped with the tragedy psychologically, he first paused then described outbreaks of sadness and the fact that he had "had to cry a lot." He said that even though he is able to work again and go out to clubs, he has noticed that whenever he thinks about the Love Parade disaster — like during the trial — he feels "a lot of sadness inside."
Editor's note: Deutsche Welle (DW) follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.