‘I’m terrified it’s only the beginning’

Berliners shell-shocked but not surprised by Christmas market attack

Just two years shy of a string of European terrorist attacks beginning with Paris’s Charlie Hebdo massacre, ISIS has taken responsibility for Monday’s attack on a Berlin Christmas market – an attack many Berliners found tragic but less than surprising.

The terrorist, who killed 12 and injured 48 by crashing into the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market on Monday, December 19, employed a modus operandi strikingly similar to ISIS’s Bastille Day attack on Nice, France. Although German authorities detained a Pakastani asylum-seeker on Monday night, they later released him without pressing charges due to a lack of evidence. The terrorist remains at large, and the authorities are now pursuing a Tunisian man as a possible suspect, while the German people face the aftermath of an attack cementing their country’s inclusion in a year marked by violence and fear in Europe.

“I was expecting that something like this would happen soon,” said Victoria Haurylava, a German student at the Freie Universität Berlin who was at the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market during the attack. “[On Monday], I actually wasn’t even afraid when the police evacuated us from the market because evacuations now occasionally happen.”

Monday, however, was different.

“It began as a totally normal evening, and people were hurrying home or to the Christmas market. I headed there to eat and meet a friend of mine,” said Haurylava. “I got to the entrance of the market, and it became really loud when a lot of police suddenly appeared.”

The Breitscheidplatz Christmas market just evenings before the attack / Sophie Doemer

“Everything happened so fast that I even didn’t understand what was going on and after a few minutes I was evacuated by the police. They just told everybody to go as far as possible from the market but didn’t say the reason.”

The reason, of course, was the deliberate, 40 mile per hour killing spree followed by the terrorist’s mile-long flee by foot towards the Tiergarten public park.

Prior to ISIS’s claim of responsibility, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has come under fire from the European right for admitting over one million migrants, told the press, “There is much we still do not know with sufficient certainty but we must, as things stand now, assume it was a terrorist attack.”

“Honestly, I think it was bound to happen sooner or later considering Berlin is another major European city,” said Sophie Doemer, an American expat also studying at the Freie Universität Berlin. Doemer has studied in Berlin since 2015 and previously worked at the same Christmas market.

“It’s one of the busiest markets in Berlin since it’s right by the Kaiser-wilhelm-Gedächtnis Church and in the middle of a central shopping street in Berlin,” said Doemer. “I think the visitors there are mainly tourists, but a lot of locals go there too.”

The scene on Monday was “chaos” according to Haurylava.

“People tried to help with first aid while they were waiting for ambulances,” she said. “The evacuation zone was so big that many of the rescued people didn’t even know what was going on inside.”

Haurylava added: “I just hope that this was the first and last attack. I’m totally okay, but I’m terrified that it was only the beginning.”

Not everyone saw the attacks impending, however.

Katie Carter, an American student from Elon University studying abroad, previously considered Berlin a “safe” city and claims that her fellow classmates agreed with her — at least until Monday.

“I was surprised and many of my friends studying abroad with me were also surprised,” said Carter. “What happened at the Christmas market was something we never expected to happen.”

Expected or not, Berlin must now face their post-ISIS future as their deepest fears have been confirmed.

“Right now, we’re all still in shock,” said Doemer, who will remain in Berlin over the holidays. Although she remains on edge anticipating ISIS’s next move, Doemer does not plan on putting her life on hold, and she suggests her fellow Berliners do the same.

“Even last year at New Year’s Eve, I had friends who didn’t go out or told me to avoid large crowds because they were scared there would be an attack,” she said. “I don’t think this will really change much in the long run. It’s not going to stop us from enjoying Christmas or New Year’s. That would be letting them win.”

University of Southern California