Star Tribune

Trampled underfoot

A Twin Cities area man relives the German concert last month where 21 people were killed.

Article by: KEITH MARTINY , Special to the Star Tribune

Updated: August 12, 2010 - 3:24 PM

Editor's note: At the 21st annual Love Parade, a free electronic-music festival in Duisburg, Germany, 21 people were crushed to death on July 24 and more than 500 people were injured. Keith Martiny, 21, of Eden Prairie, was among the 250,000-plus people who attended the festival. He offers this harrowing account.

Hurrying to see Dutch DJ Tiesto, we can barely hear the thump of bass as we emerge from one of the tunnels at this old train station where the free Love Parade is being held. The opening to the tunnel ahead had just been blocked by police, and a fence on our right had just been erected by police because the grounds had already reached capacity.

We have no idea, though. They tell us nothing. The line just stops moving. There are no signs, no arrows, no directions of where to go. The crowd just came to an abrupt halt, and more people keep pushing in behind us -- hundreds of thousands of people pushing behind us. I assume that claustrophobia and lack of oxygen in the tunnels prompted the continuous pushing, but I really don't know.

Not knowing where to go, we aim for a staircase that looks like a possible exit. However, things start getting bad. I see a man being held up by the crowd and, initially, I think he's crowd surfing. Then I notice his friend attempting to give him mouth-to-mouth as others hold up his body. I manage to get the attention of the police up above -- they see me, they see him, but they do nothing. 

Being 6 foot 2, I can see the waves of force coming at us through the crowd. We are all helpless and have no choice but to succumb to the incredible strength of the human waves. People are panicking, willing to climb anywhere to get out of the insanity. I see several kids fall from different locations -- a stairway, a sign, a speaker tower.

I push forward even more now to help get the unconscious kid out, and lose my friends in the process. Heading for the stairway, I feel the kid we're carrying fall behind me. His friends had dropped him, and they refuse to pick him up. They tell me that he is dead and that I should give up as well or else I will die, too.

Unconscious or dead?

I pick the kid up under his arms and shuffle forward a little ways with him, his legs dragging on the pavement, tripping me up some. I am absolutely exhausted and running out of oxygen. People keep pushing from behind, and I fall on top of the kid. Frantically, I manage to pick myself up, but I know his friends are right: I will die if I stick with him. I hesitantly let his body go into a sea of legs. As I do, I look him in the eyes. His eyes are open, and he is looking directly at me. But there was nobody there.

Now, it is just me, and I'm struggling to stay standing. The crowd keeps shifting and crushing, and I'm forced to stand on a kid who's fallen. He is still conscious and screaming. I do my best to try to get off him but I have nowhere to go. I feel absolutely awful. He stops screaming and looks up at me pleadingly, begging me to get off his chest. I finally manage to push enough room to step onto the ground. I then reach down and pull the kid up. However, he is only one of two on the ground.

I am so exhausted, yet I use my last remaining strength at that moment to attempt to grab the second kid, who is unconscious. I make one last impulse push on the crowd, then immediately grab him and pull him slightly up, enough for me to slap him in the face. He wakes after I slap him several times. He seems able to stand on his own, so I leave him and keep getting shoved with the crowd.

Buried in a pile of people

Police officers direct us toward a gate, which turns out to be horrific. I am met with an enormous pile of bodies, some of which are screaming, others that have gone silent. When I arrive, the pile is at least eight people deep, and I can see oddly bent, gray limbs at the bottom, the limbs of even more dead people.

I get pushed into the pile by the people behind me, and I quickly find myself near the bottom of a pile that's at least 15 people deep. I'm being crushed as people are thrown on top of the people who are on top of me. I can't even get a single breath in, and my shoes are caught. I am now at the fourth layer of the pile; there are only lifeless bodies below me.

I slowly get driven downward and find myself on the pavement with one other living kid, surrounded by lifeless bodies. The two of us are clawing at the pavement to get out, scratching and grabbing at anything we can get our hands on to free ourselves from the crushing weight. But we are completely pinched. In our panic, the kid grabs a lifeless woman's leg and tries to pull himself out with it before realizing what it actually was. I end up doing the same thing. It takes me what feels like an eternity to realize that this was a person. We briefly make eye contact, and I start screaming in pure hysteria.

As more and more people are stacked on top of me, the light begins to get blocked, submerging my head and extinguishing my last thread of hope.

Saved lives

Then, in a moment of clarity, I weigh my choice to help that poor kid. I weigh my choice that put me in this situation. I like to think with all my efforts I saved at least three lives today. I decide three other lives are worth the cost of my own.

A cop finally grabs my outreached arms and gives me a tug. My shoes are caught. I struggle to slip my feet out of my Adidas high tops. If they had been tied tighter, or had I Velcroed them, I would have undoubtedly died. I slip them off, and the cop pulls me out of the pile. I can breathe again! I stumble in my socks to an opening on the other side of the fence and nearly collapse from exhaustion.

I don't look back. I sit down and wait, watching for friends to come through. All I see are bodies and people crying. It all feels so surreal. I have a hard time determining if it all actually is happening.

Urge to go back and help

Then I see my friend Blake. Soon all seven members of our group of Georgia Tech students studying abroad are accounted for -- and alive. In my hysteria, I get a sudden urge to go back and help, but my friends won't let me. They have no idea what it was like. While they eat food from a vendor, I drift in and out of reality, thinking about what I had just gone through. Minutes later, the police clear us out as dozens of ambulances arrive and need our spot to set up an instant triage clinic. Helicopters are everywhere, and people are hysterical.

I see a gorgeous brunette girl sitting on the curb across from me. She is crying silently, looking around in wide-eyed horror. She must be no older than 19. She is so beautiful in her white, cotton dress, but her face and dress are covered in dirt from being on the ground. I am so conflicted with her beauty and sorrow: so beautiful, so innocent looking, yet she was put through this horrific ordeal. It hits me deep. I don't think I will ever forget the way she looked sitting on that curb.

Keith Martiny, of Eden Prairie, is studying mechanical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. He spent the summer at the college's campus in Metz, France.

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