Rainer Schaller, the organizer of the 2010 Love Parade techno festival that left 21 dead and more than 500 injured in a mass panic, said it was high time that those responsible were brought to trial.
Mr. Schaller, 47, the founder and chief executive of the McFit chain of gyms who owns the rights to the Love Parade, told Handelsblatt in an interview that he felt a “moral responsibility” for the disaster.
“We urgently need this trial … and I would even say that if I were sitting in the dock,” he said.
The deaths occurred when people were crushed in an overcrowded tunnel that was the only access to the event in the western city of Duisburg. The victims included people from Spain, Australia, Italy, Bosnia, China and the Netherlands.
Despite allegations of gross mismanagement from the families of victims, no members of the city administration, Mr. Schaller’s organizing company Lopavent or the police force, have been brought to trial.
Prosecutors indicted 10 people — 4 employees of the Lopavent and 6 city employees — in February 2014 on charges including involuntary manslaughter and bodily harm.
But a court in Duisburg decided in April that they would not stand trial for lack of a sufficiently strong case to bring to court.
“We just need clarity; we owe that to the victims and their families,” said Mr. Schaller, who was heard as a witness. “What happened in Duisburg wasn’t a natural disaster. People made mistakes there.” He added that his faith in the German justice system had been “sorely dented.”
“For me, there’s one life before and one after that Love Parade. It took me time to learn to come to terms with this new life. I knew from the start that I bear a moral responsibility”
McFit was the main sponsor of the event, which originated in Berlin where it mushroomed from a love and peace demonstration in 1989 to the world’s largest techno dance party.
“For me there’s one life before and one after that Love Parade,” said Mr. Schaller. “It took me time to learn to come to terms with this new life. I knew from the start that I bear a moral responsibility.”
He added: “I still have questions that haven’t been answered to this day. And I had hoped that they would be cleared up in the trial. I personally want to know what really happened.”
The 10 people charged were accused of failures in planning and monitoring security procedures properly. But the court said “an exhaustive examination” of the evidence showed there was no sufficient case to answer. Prosecutors have appealed the decision, which one lawyer in the case called a “judicial scandal.”
Mr. Schaller said none of the allegations leveled against him and his company by the families of the victims were true. “But I’ll never criticize what the relatives or those injured claim,” he said. “Everyone can say what the feel and think.”
He added that the tragedy hadn’t hit the revenue of McFit, Europe’s largest chain of fitness centers. “Our customers were evidently able to distinguish between the tragedy at the Love Parade and the McFit brand,” he said. “It was even more important to me that none of our employees quit at the time. If anything the Love Parade welded us together.”
Mr. Schaller said he had considered withdrawing from the business a number of times. “But I pulled myself together quickly,” he said. “My motto is never give up!”
McFit, set up in 1997 as a budget gym service, has expanded to 240 studios in Germany, Italy, Austria, Poland and Spain employing 3,500 people and generating more than €240 million, or $274 million per year. It has 1.4 million members on its books.
The latest trend marks a return to virtual fitness classes like the aerobics videos of decades ago, but brought up-to-date with high-end film productions in glamorous locations featuring virtual trainers in the guise of a cow girl, drill instructor and Indian shaman, to name a few.
“People want entertainment these days,” Mr. Schaller said. “In the future, fitness must happen wherever the customer wants it: in our McFit gyms or in their hotel room, in the forest or at home.”
He has set up a service called Cyberobics and recently invested €15 million in a showroom in Berlin. McFit offers Cyberobics via the Sky Pay-TV channel and plans to sell it to companies that want to “incentivize” their employees.
“Fitness is an incredibly booming story worldwide,” Mr. Schaller said, adding that McFit plans to open gyms in Hungary and the Czech Republic this year.
He claims McFit has changed the market. “The majority of studios that are opened today are at the discount level,” he said.
Mr. Schaller still owns the rights to the Love Parade. Asked if he would ever stage another one, he said: “Never. And I wouldn’t even sell the rights because I don’t want something like that ever to happen again under that name.”
Christoph Kapalschinski covers consumer goods, textiles and food for Handelsblatt. Thomas Tuma is a deputy editor in chief at Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com