I have always been wondering how people from cities like Lockerbie or Lakehurst deal with the faith that their hometown is majorly well-known for a catastrophe or major accident. One of these places in Germany is Eschede. The 6,000 people village in the district of Celle, some half an hour North of Hanover, became well known for the biggest train accident in the history of Germany – and the biggest high-speed train crash worldwide. At the day of publishing, the Eschede Derailment has its 23rd anniversary. This is a posting about the Eschede Derailment Memorial, typically called Gedenkstätte des ICE-Unglücks in German. As I don’t want to rate places like this one, I decided to present it in a Pictured Story (even though this posting comes with quite some text…)
Eschede Derailment – What has happened?
On 3rd June 1998, ICE 884 Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was scheduled to travel from Munich to Hamburg. The ICE high speed train of the first generation (ICE 1) got into trouble with one of its steel tyres. This wheel broke due to to mechanical fatigue some six kilometers before the accident scene. It broke through the floor of the train and got stuck between two seats. Passengers saw that, but the conductor wanted to see what has happened first (which is in line with the processes in that case). This caused severe damages on the track already. 200 meters before the Eschede rail bridge, this part got stuck in the point lever of one of two switches before the bridge. This was at about 10:59 hrs.
This activated the switch and while the first three cars went straight on, car 3 (which is the fourth carriage, including the engine), was pulled to another track. It derailed and the entire car flew into the support of the Eschede rail bridge. Car 4 derailed as well but rolled on at the travelling speed of 200km/h before being stopped by trees. The impact of car 3 caused the bridge to collapse. The bridge hit car 5 at its rear. This caused all other coaches to derail. They were finally crashing against each other in a zig-zag pattern. The first three carriages, caused by an automatic emergency stop, even completely halted some three kilometers North, even after passing Eschede train station.
The pictures above have of course been taken from an ICE train passing the respective spot at my time of visit. It is also a newer generation of ICE trains.
Locals alarmed the police and firefighter forces and after the first local firefighters arrived, they alarmed their colleagues from a wide range around the crash. Finally, some 1,900 rescue workers, including German military tanks, which separated the train cars again, were necessary to clear the site, to care for the wounded and to retrieve the dead. 96 people (the train was about half full) were found dead at the site. Most were killed immediately, as the intense slowdown from 200 km/h to zero is equivalent to a free fall impact on ground from 160 meters. Five people died in hospital, two rail workers here hit by the derailed car and one person as been standing on the bridge and died. Five dead could not be identified.
Impact of the Derailment Disaster
Deutsche Bahn, the solo German rail company at that time, had to completely reconfigure the wheels of the ICE trains. So long, all ICE trains had to run with significantly reduced speed. The track had demolitions on a length of several kilometers. In addition, the bridge had to be rebuilt. In the following lawsuit, no natural persons could be sued and the action had to be abandoned, which lead to huge critics. Germany does not know lawsiots for crimes against companies. The Enschede derailment was the first accident, in which the helpers where systematically supported psychologically after their work.
Eschede Derailment Memorial – Location
The Eschede Derailment Memorial is located at the original location of the accident. The road is called Reberlaher Strasse, it is the K 20 (county road 20) road. It is signposted as Gedenkstätte in the city and thus easy to find. There is a parking spot for visitors.
Eschede Derailment – The Memorial
The memorial site has been opened in May 2001. There has been some upgrade in 2013. 101 trees are planted on the level of the rail tracks. There is also a memorial sign with the names of the vicitims. The memorial complains about how their faiths have met in this unexpected manner.
From there, stairs head up to the bridge level. There is a gate with another text, which is majorly thanking the helpers and stating that Eschede has become a place of solidarity and humanity due to that incident. If you pass the gate, there are symbolic stairs upwards, which do not lead anywhere. It is really a beautifully done place.
The Site today
The track between Hanover and Hamburg is one of the most important connections in Germany. In peak times, I would assume that you can spot an ICE train in Eschede every ten minutes, on top of regional trains like the Metronom connection. In case of memorial services in the past, trains however have been slowed down or even rerouted if they passed the area around 10:59 hrs at a 3rd June 2021.