Berlin attacks: "I'm afraid. But I refuse to be afraid."

Article published on Dec. 20, 2016
Article published on Dec. 20, 2016

12 people have been killed and 48 injured in what is almost certainly a terror attack, after a lorry drove into a Christmas market in Berlin. It's a huge shock for the city, for Germany, and for Europe. But Berlin has survived so much, and its inhabitants will not be intimidated. 

I’m an early riser, and I was already asleep when the first news of a possible attack in Berlin started spreading. I went to bed around half past ten, without having looked at the news in hours. When I awoke shortly before midnight, out of habit, I dozily reached for my phone – and was suddenly wide awake.

"Are you okay?" the first dozen or so messages read. "Where are you?" "This is horrible." Several people on Facebook had requested that I use its Safety Check and, lying in my bed, I couldn’t quite believe that I was really doing this. I still didn’t know what exactly had happened so I went to my favorite news website. “Attack in Berlin,” the headline told me, and disbelievingly I read about the horrible thing that had happened in my city.

Now I can imagine what so many of my friends in Europe – in Turkey, in France, in Belgium, in Munich – felt like when they had to use the Safety Check for the first time, when they hectically tried to reach friends and family, when they couldn’t believe what was happening. The helplessness, the fragility, and the fear: I felt all those things again and again during the last few months. But of course it’s different when it’s happening where you live.

When I spoke to my mum on the phone this morning, she told me that she never thought I was really in danger: "I mean, it’s not your corner of Berlin." As it happens, Breitscheidplatz is very near to where I live in Berlin-Schöneberg, just a few minutes away by bike. It’s close to Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s most famous shopping mile; close to a cinema I’ve been to, the Zoo Palast. In the summer I watched X-Men: Apocalypse with a few friends at Zoo Palast, and had to struggle through a huge crowd of Borussia Dortmund fans who had come to Berlin for the Pokal-Finale [the German Cup, Ed.] and were gathering at Breitscheidplatz. It was annoying and lovely all at once – I come from Herne, a small town near Dortmund, and it was beautiful to see my Berlin taken over by yellow and black football shirts. Just two weeks ago I was wandering around that area with my sister, and saw the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, but were too tired to go there and drink Glühwein.

The attack – and by now it seems evident that it wasn’t just an accident – hits close to home. No matter what happened elsewhere in the world, I always felt safe in Berlin. Only rarely, when I was stepping in the main station to get a train, did I catch myself thinking: "This would be a great place for an attack." But I fight those thoughts.

Of course, I’m afraid. I’m afraid what terror and fear will do to Germany, to Berlin. Already right-wing parties – blaming refugees, the German Willkommenskultur and political correctness for everything – are on the rise. It was only a matter of time before something would happen in the German captial, I was sure of that.

I’m afraid. But I refuse to be afraid. I don’t know how Berlin will change after this attack. But the Berlin I know has always been a place of freedom and openness – a place where Nirvana’s "Come As You Are" would be the appropriate soundtrack. Berlin has survived so much and its very existence as one city, uniting East and West, is still a wonder. It can be a grim place, a hard place – but also a resilient one. Berlin has always fought to be itself and it won’t be intimidated so easily. Not by fear, not by terror, not by pain.