German media under fire for story about 'metal-fans' from 'retirement home'

German media are under fire for reporting that two “grandpas” had escaped from a retirement home to enjoy a rock concert in Wacken, Germany.

News outlets crafted their stories from the following police report: "Around 03.00 o'clock a patrol took care of two elderly gentlemen, who apparently liked the Metal-Festival and had made their way from a Dithmarscher retirement/care home to Wacken.

"Of course, they were missed in their home and quickly organised a return transport after the police had picked up the seniors.

"The men, however, made their way home reluctantly, so that a patrol car accompanied the taxi as a precautionary measure."

This is how some media outlets covered the story:

  • German magazine Der Spiegel’s original article headline read: "The crazy odyssey of the heavy metal pensioners”.
  • German tabloid paper Bild’s headline read: “They wanted to go to Wacken: Seniors leave home".
  • Newspaper HAZ stated: "Wacken brings Metal-Fans back to retirement home" and calls the men "sprightly retirees".

This is what the police told Euronews:

  • The two men — not retirees but 58 and 59 years old — were both mentally-ill, confused, and found in the village where the festival was taking place.
  • They had drunk alcohol which made their condition all the more “helpless".
  • They were then brought to the festival’s medical tent for assistance.
  • They had been celebrating in the main street of Wacken, but not at the festival
  • They then waited for a bus at a stop that was closed due to festival traffic. At the same time, it was determined the men were missing from a care facility for mentally-ill people in Dithmarschen, 30 minutes north of Wacken.

Der Spiegel has since issued a correction and a new headline.

“In an earlier version of this article, essential information from the police, especially on the personal background of the two men, was missing... Especially the initially unknown fact that the two men are mentally-ill and are under legal care led to the fact that the report was initially inappropriately intoned with a wink (had an ironic tone)...” it said.

Bild has not changed its headline.

Left-wing Tageszeitung (TAZ) published an opinion piece — which quickly garnered shares on Twitter — reprimanding German media for the mishandling of the information.

"Thank you [TAZ] for showing what old people have to put up with," one user wrote.

"You see, it's not as funny as it sounded at first," another wrote.

"If you are looking for background information on the police operation in Wacken, you should omit the keywords senior citizens, pensioners and old people's retirement home. They have nothing to do with the story," one said.

View on euronews