JULY 26, 2010 7:39AM

Dance of Death: The cruel demise of the "Love Parade"

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Dance of Death 
Dance of Death from the Nuremberg Chronicles
(fifteenth century)

THEY COULD JUST AS easily have handed security over to BP's Tony Hayward and be done with it. He and his team certainly couldn't have done a worse job. After all, who could ever have imagined that allowing only one entrance and exit to a pop music event with 1.4 million participants could be a good idea? And even in the absolute best-case scenario, who could ever have dreamed up the idea of forcing all those frequently drunk and disoriented young people - including thousands of gate crashers - to walk though a 200 meter long and just 16 meter wide tunnel, and then climb up a narrow ramp, to get to where the action was?

But that's apparently how the organizers of the tragic 2010 Love Parade in Duisburg, Germany wanted it. The butcher's bill following the July 24 panic: twenty-one dead and over 500 injured, many of them seriously. All of the youthful victims, who included one Australian, one Italian, one Chinese, one Bosnian, and one Dutch person, were either trampled to death on the ramp connecting the tunnel with the festival area or crushed against a concrete wall.

Duisburg 2010 
Hundreds of thousands of ravers were herded
through this 200 meter-long tunnel - where 200,000
were trapped for hours

No doubt there will be a thorough investigation and criminal charges are inevitable. Among other things, the investigators will want answers to the following questions: Why was an event intended for over a million participants planned in an unsafe area that was suitable for no more than 250,000 persons at a time? Why weren't more entrances and exits opened up? Why weren't there more security personnel on hand? Why weren't CCTV cameras installed in the tunnel to make sure pedestrian traffic was flowing properly and the kids stayed safe? The preliminary response so far: Penny-pinching and magical thinking on every conceivable level. The people of the Gulf Coast will know what I'm talking about, as will the victims of any of a growing list of natural, technical, and military disasters unfolding across the globe. In fact, you might say that crackpot irresponsibility is the hallmark of our era.

Duisburg freight station 
Would you want to go dancing here?
1.4 million ravers crowd the party site at Duisburg's
disused freight train station

Whatever led to Saturday's dance of death, the event's venue - a plot of land surrounding a disused freight station on the edge of this dismal Ruhr District industrial town of some 500,000 inhabitants - represented a considerable comedown for the almighty Love Parade, once the world's premiere techno music event. The brainchild of Berlin DJ Matthias Roeingh , alias "Dr. Motte" (Dr. Moth), the first Love Parade was held in what used to be called West Berlin on July 1, 1989, using a portable generator and music broadcast from a single VW bus. Roeingh planned the event as a celebration of youth, peace, and happiness. He also wished to showcase the new phenomenon of dance music, which was just emerging from the urban underground and fast becoming the soundtrack of a hopeful and exuberantly non-ideological new generation.

Dr. Motte
Prophet of the post-Cold War generation:
Berlin DJ Dr. Motte (alias
Matthias Roeingh)
(Source: Dr. Motte Weblog)

This pioneering Love Parade, held along West Berlin's commercial Kurfürstendamm boulevard, attracted just 150 participants but grew exponentially in the following years. The once and future German capital, with its vast "East-West Axis" (today the "Street of 15 June") designed by Albert Speer, proved to be the perfect venue for what became an annual mass event that eventually swelled to 1.5 million participants from all across the planet in 1999.

Love Parade Berlin 
Berlin with its vast boulevards and massive
infrastructure was far better suited to the Love Parade -
which annually transformed the capital into the world's premiere
party town and the great Tiergarten park into the world's
largest open-air toilet 

Alas, 1999 would prove to be the apex of the Love Parade phenomenon. Cost and - ahem - sanitary concerns made staging the event simply too expensive. By 2001 the organizers were no longer able to register it as a "political demonstration," which meant that they needed to cover all the costs themselves. Moreover, the event's sheer size and its runaway commercialization yanked it off its subculture roots and planted it firmly in the cultural and political mainstream. The hard core of the raver generation soon abandoned the Love Parade for gaudier pastures.

Berlin 1999 
"Party like it's 1999!"
Ravers at the 1999 Love Parade in Berlin

The Love Parade was cancelled in 2004 and 2005, then returned to Berlin one last time in 2006 with 1.2 million participants. Negotiations with regional authorities opened the possibility of a five-year run in the western German Ruhr District. In 2007, a revamped Love Parade took place in Essen with 1.2 million ravers, followed by a record 1.6 million ravers in Dortmund the following year. The 2009 event planned for Bochum failed to materialize.

Duisburg Love Parade 
(Source: Spiegel)

Last weekend's fiasco was the last Love Parade in history. On Sunday, organizer Rainer Schaller announced that the event was cancelled forever. But the tragedy in Duisburg - just like the death of an eighteen year-old fan at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969 - also marks the end of an era. While techno music will doubtless drone on, for Dr. Motte's post-Cold War utopia of a "Love Generation" celebrating life in a fundamentally benign universe, the party really is over. I suspect it has been for a long time.

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Wow. Thank you for the historical perspective here. What lunacy and as you say, magical thinking.

As one who has had a share of scary crowd experiences, I find this especially chilling and tragic --and preventable.
Human stupidity knows no bounds...
And that's why I'm a fish.
Fish seem to be better at crowds (a.k.a. "schools").

I hate crowds too, having come close to being crushed to death several times at mass events in this city. And while the Tiergarten area is certainly much more spacious than that Duisburg deathtrap, the video footage looks dangerous enough to me - a simple firecracker could set off a deadly stampede. The only surprise is that tragedies like this don't happen more often.
There is no excuse whatsoever for this kind of "planning," whether it's parties, sports events, oil rigs, or wars, viz. the Wikileaks revelations about Afghanistan.
That seems to be the case. It's frightening to think the city authorities can simply disregard safety considerations in this way. The mayor has already been physically attacked and the people are calling for his head.