How are Berliners Coping with the Christmas Market Attack?

A few hours after the Berlin Christmas market attack, these lines were posted on facebook by a young Berliner: “Don’t seek answers in fear, listen to all human sorrow, try to ease sufferance any way you can and if you may, empathise before and later understand.” Jesse P. invited people to post “what volunteer opportunities are available over Christmas to help people affected by the attack at the Christmas market.” Others called young people to volunteer for the protection of the city’s refugee’s camps against potential attacks from outraged people.

An attack on Berlin was long-expected. The target has been carefully selected: the Christmas market, probably the most important social and Christian tradition in Germany. Now it has happened, along a series of other acts of violence – the sexual assaults committed by immigrants on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and the attacks in Ansbach and Würzburg. The rape-murder committed by a refugee in Freiburg and the arrest of the Islamist bomb-maker in Chemnitz have further poisoned the atmosphere. Being aware of the deep divides in the German society: Angela Merkel wants to avoid hysteria, while more politicians inside and outside her party, like Horst Seehofer, are now calling for a revision of Germany’s refugee policies.

In a country whose Eastern and Western parts have been recently reunited, where there is a clear gap between the North and the South, where “Berlin for all” stands within the country as an exotic island of openness and inclusion, the fear of the divides seems to be even stronger than the actual fear of the terrorist attacks.

Berliners try to find strength for the life they want to live. After the fall of the Wall in 1990, and as a reaction to the Cold War, Berlin has been developed as “Berlin für alle – Berlin for all”, a city where everyone despite his origin, beliefs, and deviations from the mainstream lifestyle can live peacefully, and even stand his/her ground and exploit his/her uniqueness. Of Berlin’s population, 40 percent is not German. This is why on the banners, which citizens who sang in solidarity with the victims at the terrorist attack site were holding, it was written: “You will not divide us. Berlin remains united.”

Berlin’s character has been transformed from a divided city into a city of freedom and sticking together. And this has now become Berlin’s ideological identity, which its residents deny to sacrifice.

Visitors walking in Berlin can see on the walls and tagged on the street signs: “I love refugees,” written the same way as “I love New York”. Though not all Germans agree, for many Berliners it was right as a human obligation to open the borders for refugees in the summer of 2015. But Berliners provided the refugees more than food, clothes and medicines. Many residents of WGs (Wohngemeinschaft , i.e. house commune) voluntarily offered them shelter and hospitality. Open German language classes are organized in many places in the city center. The aim of initiatives like parties, Berliners-refugees weekly meetings and common cultural activities is the gradual integration of the newcomers into Berlin’s life. “It’s not them and us. We try to get to know each other and come together.”, says Ioanna M., a student.


Has this changed after the attack? “Spiegel’s online” opinion editor Stefan Kuzmany, a Berlin’s resident wrote: “I defiantly insist on remaining charitable, especially now. I cannot bring myself to hate a group or hold a religion responsible for terrorism. I am stubbornly convinced that only the killer himself is guilty, along with those who manipulated him to commit his crime. I refuse to allow myself to be terrorized or incited. I have no intention of allowing myself be diminished in any way. That isn’t why I came to Berlin.” He speculates that “if someone wants to drive a truck into a crowd, there is nothing to stop him from finding a truck and a mass of people. The only thing we could do is shut everything down completely: no more Christmas markets, no more public events at all and we’d best all stay at home and lock our doors. The result of this is that we would have an increasingly closed society rather than the open one that we enjoy today.”

Christos Anastasopoulos, a Greek resident of the city wrote in the Tetarto magazine: “Berlin is my city. From today I will walk again in its streets. I will continue living without fear and contact the residents and the visitors. A city is human, when it is open and accessible to anyone who wants to live in peace there. And this is Berlin, our Berlin.”

Therefore, the seeds of fear that the terrorists sought to disseminate in Berlin don’t appear to be germinating there.