It was a Monday night almost like any other. My roommate and I had a friend visiting and we spent the evening cooking, drinking wine, and talking. Talking so much, in fact, that the phones we are usually glued on were forgotten, left in other parts of the apartments. When we casually checked them after several hours of being merry, each of our message apps had blown up with texts like: “Are you okay????”
In an unbelievably violent act, a truck had driven through a Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more. While the police didn’t draw any hasty conclusions, Facebook and the world were not as cautious, jumping quickly to assumptions of terror attacks. It felt like the worst-case scenario had finally come true.
I wasn’t at the Christmas market. On that day. Berlin has about 60 of them across town but this one was dear to me. The decorations were particularly magical, the selection of booths and vendors especially varied, and the market was located extremely close to my apartment. Hence, I had stopped by dozens of times over the last three weeks, either with friends and family or just by myself after running errands on the nearby shopping mile. In fact, only two weeks ago my roommate and I had mulled wine at one of the booths that is now nothing but splinters of wood. We could have easily been among the injured or dead. I am not saying that to be dramatic or to put myself in some sort of special position. I am saying it because it’s true and that realization has given me shivers more than once since the incident.
The media has been scaring people for months, warning Germans that we’d be next, that Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Hamburg, all our major cities, could be potential targets for terror attacks. And then an act of such violence happens and suddenly it’s you. It’s you who opens Facebook and sees a: “Mark Yourself Safe” notification. It’s you who is being contacted by distant relatives or Facebook friends you haven’t even talked to in years. It is you who desperately tries to reach her boyfriend because he didn’t share his evening plans with you and you try to tell yourself that there is a rational explanation for why he would have his phone turned off. He never turns his phone off.
My boyfriend was not at the market either, as I found out excruciating 45 minutes later. Neither were any of our friends or family members. But as much as I have felt for Paris, Nice, Aleppo, Turkey, the US, I will admit that nothing had my gut wrenched like having to worry that an innocent, harmless, fun visit to the Christmas market could have actually harmed a loved one.
I am a Berlin resident and even after saying all of this, I ask you not to pray for Berlin. If praying helps you through times like these, please pray for the injured that are still in a critical condition. Pray for the relatives of all those that were killed. Pray for the sanity of the eye witnesses, rescuers and police officers. Light a candle, if you’re in town. But don’t turn a whole city into a victim, because that’s not how people here deal with the incident. Berlin has seen incredibly saddening events in its history, but its residents have always carried on, making the best of a situation in a sobering, unwavering way. This event hasn’t doomed us as a city, it has brought us together. We aren’t helpless, and we won’t let the attempt of spreading terror and fear among us succeed. We will carry on. Cautiously, but deliberately. Don’t #PrayForBerlin like that’s all that can help us now. Come visit Berlin! Don’t let the media make you believe that the world is one sad, dangerous place. Experience our persistence, perseverance, our great culture and fun sights. Make memories in Berlin and carry that message back with you. And hit me up when you’re in town!