Collapse of the Cologne Archive: the verdict and its consequences


It is 14 o'clock, when huge volumes of water flow into the underground excavation of the Waidmarkt in Cologne, cubic meters of land that separate under the adjacent buildings in the center of the city and also lead to the subterranean replacement structure. With the last discomfort, the column of the consortium of construction companies (ARGE) saves itself from the unstoppable flood.

The city archives of Cologne sinks with all its precious treasures, the houses collapse and bury two young: Kahlil G., 24 years old, design student and Kevin K. The baker's apprentice is still asleep when the disaster will take place on 3 March 2009.

Eight months of probation

His stepfather Frank Pagel dates back to nine and a half years after the tragedy in room 210 of the Cologne District Court, and follows the statements of President Judge Michael Greve almost motionless. The chief construction inspector of the Waidmarkt has just acquitted the two supervisors of the construction charges: only his colleague, Manfred A., receives eight months of probation for the culpable homicide of two people. He had twice breached his oversight duties, the tenor. Upon closer inspection, the defendant could have prevented the disaster.

Although the president leaves no doubt that the disaster was caused by the collapse of construction workers in the consortium, but the responsible boss and his excavator operator are seriously ill and are no longer able to negotiate. The two site managers who make fatal mistakes pass through their employees, however, escape unharmed.

No causal connection to the cause of the collapse: "slap in the face"

Motivation: One was on vacation at the time of scarcity, while the other could be suspected of a thorough check of construction protocols. "But even then we can not establish a causal relationship with the cause of the collapse," says Judge Greve.

During a pause in negotiations, Kevin's stepfather confesses that he can understand the judge's reasoning. He was disappointed anyway. "It hurts, it looks like a slap in the face," says the fifty-year-old co-actor.

One of the biggest cases in Rhineland's crime history

The verdict of the first judge in the gigantic case of the collapse of the largest municipal archive still creates material for discussion. One of the biggest cases in Rhineland's crime history. 30 Shoring Miliation Achivalien sinks into the mud, the damage is calculated by the customer, the Transport Authority of Cologne (KVB), to 1.2 billion euros. A special commission guarantees 100 million pages, determined for years, especially the Chief Prosecutor Torsten Elschenbroich.

The public prosecutor seems almost a civil engineer in the process. He worked so much in the complex matter – concrete, reinforcement cages, excavator width, diaphragms or lamellae that served to keep the excavation dry.

Even in the request it seems palpable, because someone is talking about a question of heart blood.

"The reputation of Germany's high-tech position has suffered considerable damage," said the prosecutor at the end of September. Furthermore, it is the fault of the director of Arge's construction for him. For both it requires a trial period of one year.

Misfortune begins with the excavation

The 10th Great Criminal division sees this differently. Elschenbroich does not want to comment on the day of the verdict. According to FOCUS-Online-Information, the public prosecutor's office deals with the question of appeal to the federal court's appeal against the verdict.

Not that the cause of the collapse has been challenged. Because the court is fully in line with the prosecutor: the disaster begins with the digging of the lamella 11, an underground part of a slot wall of the Waidmarkt underground construction site. On 2 September 2005, the teeth of the excavator are detached again and again at a depth of about eight meters, with which the earth must be recovered from the subsoil.

Natural stone is not eliminated

Instead of analyzing the problem, the key figure now ill, the Polisher Rolf K., asks the excavator operator to remove the obstacle with the very heavy bucket loader. Other sloppies follow. A natural stone that stands out as an obstacle is not eliminated.

Again, the blade teeth come off again. Therefore, the soil directly under the obstacle can no longer be dug correctly, reinforced with iron and filled with cement.

Thus, according to the judges, the gap of about 60 cm wide, through which later pour the earth and water into the excavation and undermine the archive: the building was literally "the ground under the their feet has been withdrawn, "says Judge Greve.

Simulated messages

In order to mask this, measurement protocols are falsified at the moment. With their dishonest tours, the duo passes only because neither the accused construction site leader of the consortium, nor the two inspectors KVB draw suspicion.

But while the prosecution also accuses those responsible for constructing a punishable error, Judge Greve is opposed. In his view, although there were violations of duty, these are not causally described as the cause of the collapse.

Since the accused had made use of their right to silence, it is likely that probably he will never know who exactly is responsible for the catastrophic decisions in the consortium. "This knowledge they then take to the grave," concludes the president.

Heavy criticism of the consortium

Greve addresses the consortium lawyers to Greve. In view of the billions of damages demanded by the KVB customer, the contractors, led by the Bilfinger Berger Group, bring into being another cause of the disaster.

According to this, a hydraulic ground fault, in which groundwater flows massively through an earth movement in the well, is said to have caused the accident. A natural disaster that nobody could have prevented, according to the line of defense. However, the court excludes this thesis: "This is wrong, even a revolutionary is not a natural event". This has been verified by various experts.

"Pure harm" conference

In the context, the president pleasantly analyzes the poor defense expert's speech. He has never experienced anything like this throughout his career.

For one, the expert was ill-prepared, said Greve. Furthermore, the conference was pure nonsense. But as regards the parallel civil procedure, which is about three digits millions of sums, understandable.

Reactions to the verdict

The reactions mix after the three-hour verdict:

Hanns Feigen, the former Hoeness defender, coordinating on behalf of the consortium the criminal representation of supervisors and construction workers, welcomes that "site managers, suspected for so long, are now relieved of a heavy burden".

At the same time he emphasized his sympathy for the two young deceased. Feigen does not want to comment on the judicial rebuke, nor the impact on the civil trial.

Peter Krieger, defense lawyer of the construction inspector acquitted of the KVB, sees his client "finally relieved after a long period of fear". He had to wait a long time for this day ".

The mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker (non-party) commented on the outcome of the proceedings with positive moderation. The chances of damage to the city and its public transport companies seem to have increased slightly: "It is at least a tender signal for the outcome of the civil trial".

The city's legal advisor, Werner Langen, told the DPA that it was good that the court had called "failed construction" a clear cause of collapse. The construction companies are therefore at fault.

The KVB is likely to leave pens

It is not so. Because in the dispute over the billions of losses due to the subway disaster they should also leave the KVB springs. After all, the Cologne traffic managers had taken over the work on the Waidmarkt themselves.

An unusual measure if the customer controls himself. Made only to reduce costs. As a result, one also saved at the local staff. The fact that only one of the KVB construction inspectors receives a conditional suspension and that those responsible for the ARGE sites are acquitted, suggests a serious complicity in the collapse of the archives by the public transport authorities of the cathedral city.

City and KVB are likely to sit on requests

It is likely that this will result in the amount of damages resolved in an agreement. In other words: the city and the KVB probably remain seated on a part of their demands.

Unless, in the second criminal case against the responsible ARGE responsible, another miracle occurs. Stefan H. but silent. He could provide information on those days when the mess in the underground at the Waidmarkt four years before the disaster happened. At that time he was directing the building site there. But time is playing for the 64-year-old civil engineer. In his case, the case threatens to become prescribed at the beginning of March 2019.

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