FROM LOVE PARADE TO LOVE STAMPEDE 21 deaths (*) and 500 wounded, in a traffic tunnel in Duisburg/Germany – such news does not come as a surprise – such things were bound to happen with the massified need of people to congregate physically as an answer to the paradox of a virtual and electronic interconnected world on the one hand and personal feelings of isolation in the daily routine of ‘urban atomisation’, at the other. Being connected electronically does not imply being connected socially. With the new and ubiquitous media there seems to be no bounds when it comes to the exploitation of this form of loneliness. To name just three of thousands of web sites that announced the Duisburg Love Parade: www.festival.pig.com; carnaval2010.org; http://www.sex-up.net. This last site carries the headline “The art of love to be unraveled completely at the Love Parade 2010” and an enthusiastic vision of what will happen: “… Duisburg dreams, will see millions from all over who will gather to experience the grandeur that is synonym to the Love Parade.”
Slogans like “Millions from all over the world” (carnaval2010.org) or “Duisburg feiert die grösste Party der Welt” (www.sex-up.net) expresses the mix of fantasy and commercialism from which such giga-events are born. The dangerous reality of such quantities have been criticised in the last years, but commercial and prestige interest proved to be stronger. The specific case of the ‘Love Parade’ enterprise originates in Berlin and grew from just a group of 150 friends in 1989 to it’s first 100.00 participants in 1994 and it’s first million in 1997. With some ups and downs it became 1.2 million in the year 2006 and this was more than the fortunate locals- living next to the huge part ground – could bear. Who want to barricade his garden with barbed wire, who wants to clean up the shit and piss from his doorstep?
Growth in numbers has also meant growth of revenues with all kind of commercial interest. There must have been a direct link with the reunification of the two Germanies when one looks at the sudden jump of ravers joining the Love Parade in Berlin in 1993. The parade became a tool to put Berlin – not longer a fenced island within the DDR – on the party-tourism map of the new Europe. What started as as a cultural underground initiative in 1989 with a mini-parade with a big idea: “political demonstration for peace and international understanding through love and music”, soon became a main-stream event, and thus the initial idealism and cultural revolution ideas were erased. I did not find yet good English sources on this ‘commodification process’, but for those who read German the gibschub.de blog has some good reports on debates around this metamorphosis. This comment dates from a year or so back in time: “Die Loveparade war das Symbol für eine der größten Hoffnungen der neueren Musikgeschichte und mittlerweile weint ihr keiner mehr eine Träne nach. Verraten, missbraucht, ausgepresst…” (The Loveparade was one of the biggest symbols of hope for a new music history and meanwhile nobody will let a tear because of it. Betrayed, misused, squeezed out…“
The logistic management of human bodies for crowds beyond one hundred thousand people is a science still in its infancy, which apparently lays outside the limited and eager scope of mass event entrepreneurs and the civil authorities that blindly support their enterprise. When there is no catastrophe there is glory for the daring authorities who are willing to take the risk, as is expressed in this citation of the mayor Langemeyer of Dortmund in 2008: “That the B1 (high road cleaving through the town) in Dortmund once would electrify 1.6 million people from all over the world, I could not have foreseen that before – even with all my imagination. The ‘Highway to Love’ has become the Dancing floor of superlatives and has found ist way into the history of the Loveparade.” Mayor Adolf Sauerland of Duisburg had another story to tell to the international press, together with Love Parade organiser Rainer Schaller at a press conference on July 25th 2010. The evading remarks of the responsible authorities at this press conference only postponed the unmasking for a few hours. As each chief and each department tries to save their skin, the whole city apparatus started leaking and now we can read how already in 2009 a police commander – Rolf Cebin – who uttered his disapproval of the planned event because of safety risks had been side-tracked and accused by major Sauerland of causing “Imageschande” (image shame) to the town of Duisburg. Who will formally be held responsible is yet an unanswered question. The usual blaming game is on. On saturday July 31, the German daily TAZ has an informative list of who blames whom, “Wer beschuldigt wen?” with five main players from organiser Rainer Schaller and city mayor Adolf Sauerland to Ralf Jäger the interior minister of the Landesregierung and Fritz Pleitgen chief of the ‘European cultural capital city’ organisation.
There is a price to sheer unlimited mobility and connectivity amplified by the need and greed that make people wanting to meet in such numbers.
We, eternally wedged into
Caverns of towering houses,
We, abandoned to mechanisms of mocking systems,
We, faceless in the night of tears,
We eternally severed from our mothers,
From the depths of the factories we call!
When will we live in love?
When will we work our will?
When will we be saved?”
Just selected a fragment from one of my 2008 scroll projects, “Dionysia & other Pleasure Parades”, as a counter point image. One sees the ‘Siegesäule’ in Berlin towering over the masses- a few years ago – masses that by commercialism have been redirected to their tunnel of death in Duisburg: from Parade to Stampede…
“When will we live in love?” is the question from 1920 by Toller, posed – once again – 90 years later. I am not afraid to go against the fashionable current of the quest for ever and ever bigger, more loud and more grandiose events… at a certain scale a party becomes a war and a parade will become a death march.
Let’s run away from the the crowd barriers and throw a party within the horizons of our limited means of human communication, affection and pleasure, to be lovable with our own and other faces recognisable once again.
The Dutch crowd incidents last year during a massive beach party at Hoek van Holland and this year during a National Commemoration at Dam square Amsterdam, lead me to study a bit more the ideas and development of crowd control science and technology. Doing a check once again after the Duisburg Love Stampede made me find two videos that visualise very recent research relevant for the Duisburg case. One shows a model of a very orderly leaving of a mass of football fans in a nearby football stadium (Esprit Arena Düsseldorf):
This visualisation is a product from the research project HERMES of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and was published on July first 2010 at the web site of in PhysicsWorld.com of the British Institute of Physics: “new project called Hermes, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, aims to protect and save lives by developing an “evacuation assistant” that could allow stadiums and other venues hosting large events to be cleared quickly and more safely than is possible now. The Hermes system is designed to use information about a current situation to predict what will happen when extrapolated to the future.”
The second video (dated June 30 2010) is from the same source and depicts the principles of a situation when through a corridor situation a mass of people is moving from two opposite sides. This is what happened in the tunnel of the Duisburg Love Stampede, though the size of the corridor and the volume of the crowd were different. What is shown – the dynamic evading of pedestrians – is a known phenomenon in the crowd control study field. There is more than just a failure of authorities to plan in the right way or being ignorant of the techniques of crowd control. When individuals become crowds and crowds are modelled in a multi dimensional calculation space, something has happened that needs attention beyond technical solutions. We are faced here with a problem of social order… Humans are not calculation particles. There must be some upper limit of size for leisure industry events. Not just for the sake of safety, but for the sake of sanity as well. Ant heaps do have a certain size, heaping up humans does have it limits also. Why is it necessary to state the obvious that people need to be valued as human beings NOT as particles or ‘mass-milked cattle’.
There is a report dating from 2009 and updated in 2010 from the Federal Ministry of Education and Reserach of Germany with the title “Research for Civil Security- rescue and protection of people”. It gives an introduction to the need of improvement of civil security and an overview of 17 research programs for which the government has put aside 123 million Euro. There is a special page on the phenomenon of mass concerts and even the ‘Love Parade’ is mentioned in the chapter on “Risks associated with major public events – Planning, assessment, EVAcuation and rescue concepts.” The introduction paragraph reads: “Major public events have become very popular. They attract more and more visitors who want to share occasions such as concerts or football matches. As a consequence, many people gather in close quarters during such events. Without information on the expected number of visitors and possible visitor behaviour, it is virtually impossible to develop accurate estimates of the rescue forces needed – which in turn also makes it extremely difficult to plan successfully for such events.” (page 14)
The next paragraph mentions the ‘Love Parade’ events, also its growing size, but does not go any further than asking the question about size, about critical mass. This publication does not give any scientific answer to the question it poses, but reality in Duisburg came up with the answer. When I read the many commentaries on the Duisburg Love Stampede, many comments tend to focus too much on the failure of either the organiser or the authorities or both, while it would be more honest and realistic to ask why it was that during all the mass events in the previous years, from Berlin to Essen and Dortmund, nothing real bad happened.
Was it because of the great precautions, the excellent planning, the different spacial circumstances? Or was it sheer luck? When one looks back at the aerial and crowd pictures of these events, many potential dangerous situations can be observed. When one checks a tentative list of other ‘stampedes‘ in history it will proof that often some odd coincidence made that what could have proceeded without too much problem, ended up in disaster. It has now been proven beyond doubt that a critical mass have been reached in mass mobilisation for leisure. There is a danger that a technocratic response to the Duisburg case would be to keep going with mass events as such and invest in high tech innovations of crowd control. It will be better to find an answer to the fundamental question why such commercialised mass gatherings are needed at all and invent new forms of human size pleasure parades to find again the old Dionysian spirit that has been lost in massification.
One of the researches in the government report above has the code name HERMES. The chosen name for the German Federal governmental study HERMES did get a very special unintended meaning with the Duisburg Love Stampede. Hermes comes from the Greeks (Mercurius for the Romans) and is a god with many associating faculties. He is not just the messenger and trade supporting god, but also protector of thieves and sailors, inventor of the lute (made of the skin of a turtle), slayer of the giant Argus the watchful giant who he lures to sleep and kills him. What strikes me most that Hermes is also one of the few gods that has access to the underworld, and his task is to deliver dead souls to the eternal realm of the underworld managed by Hades. He is what the greek call a ψυχοπομπóς psychopomp who escorts newly deceased souls to their after-life.
This is the fifth article in the series “The downside of the Leisure Industry” on this blog.
*) the death toll has risen from 15 at the day of the stampede to 21 on 28/7/2010