The steps down to the grove of 101 cherry trees and to the memorial plaque with the many names: it is a difficult walk for the victims of the accident and their relatives at the memorial service in eschede on this sunday. Some wipe their faces.
Exactly 20 years after the ICE disaster in the small town in the luneburg heath, survivors, relatives of victims and helpers at the time meet again. On the board next to the bridge into which the train crashed at the time, the names of all the dead are written with place and date of birth: married couples with and without children, infants with their mothers, young and old.
101 people died and 88 passengers were seriously injured in the worst rail accident in german history. On 3. June 1998 shortly before 11 a.M., intercity express 884 "wilhelm conrad rontgen" derailed in the lower saxony community and crashed into the concrete bridge at speed 200.
The train was on its way from munich to hamburg. The cause of the accident: a broken wheel tire that had snagged on a switch in front of the bridge. A criminal case against the railroad and the tire manufacturer was dropped in 2003.
20 years later, many of those affected look down on the tracks from above, into the distance, and as an ICE train thunders past at full speed, the force of the catastrophe of that time becomes tangible for a brief moment. Relatives let their feelings run their course, hold each other in their arms or brush each other’s hair.
Firefighters also pause in front of memorial plaque, some speak of harrowing details of operation. The almost 2000 helpers were confronted with terrible images. Victims lay bleeding and trapped in the wrecked cars and under the concrete masses of the collapsed bridge. Other passengers had been able to save themselves and were wandering around the accident site in shock.
"The memory of this is a constant reminder that safety must take precedence over everything else," says rail board member richard lutz. He reiterates railroad’s apology for human suffering caused.
All the people who were on the train at the time had entrusted themselves to the railroads. "And we must stand by the fact that we did not live up to this responsibility on that day," says lutz. The fact that it took the railroad 15 years to apologize for the disaster is also something lutz addresses: "the apology also applies to a lack of sensitivity in dealing with those affected."
Heinrich lowen of the eschede self-help group, in which members and victims have joined forces, speaks of an avoidable catastrophe and a failed legal reappraisal. "It was people’s misjudgements that led to this disaster – misjudgements."
It is incomprehensible that there have been no legal consequences for the negligence in the maintenance of the wheels. "The court has hurt us once again by discontinuing the proceedings."
Lowen has a request for the future: politicians and the railroad had to make sure that safety had absolute priority over everything else, over maximizing profits and setting speed records. "People traveling by train should reach their destination unharmed and safely, because nothing is more precious than life as such." Lowen lost on 3. June 1998 wife and daughter.
Lower saxony’s minister president stephan weil (SPD) assures the public at the memorial service on sunday: "the train accident in eschede, this catastrophe, is unforgettable."One reason is that the disaster hit people at a moment when they felt completely safe. "Technology does not offer permanent safety," warns weil. And for the federal transport ministry, state secretary ennak ferlemann (CDU) said those responsible for safety needed to be constantly reminded of their responsibilities. "We must not cut corners here."