Crowds return to Berlin market but holiday spirit muted

The stalls and crowds are back at the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin, which reopened on Thursday. A truck had ploughed through the market on Monday, killing 12 people and injuring dozens of others. The mood around the city was subdued
The stalls and crowds are back at the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin, which reopened on Thursday. A truck had ploughed through the market on Monday, killing 12 people and injuring dozens of others. The mood around the city was subdued and tentative, even as people began trickling back to the German city's beloved Christmas markets.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BERLIN • The looming black truck with its shattered windshield was gone.

The splintered boards and toppled Christmas tree had been cleared from the street and the square.

In their place, the cheery stalls selling mulled wine, crafts and trinkets had returned to the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin, which reopened on Thursday.

But if the holiday trappings could be easily restored, the holiday spirit that so infuses Germany this time of the year could not, not after Monday's attack that killed 12 and wounded dozens, at least not yet.

After that attack, the country's worst in decades, Berliners, like the French and the Belgians before them, seemed determined to continue to live life without fear.

Shaken but undaunted, they trickled back to the city's beloved Christmas markets, most of which reopened on Wednesday afternoon.

Even as they did, the mood around the city was subdued and tentative, and the crowds at the markets were rivalled by those at sprawling makeshift memorials, which were laden with flowers, candles and signs bearing messages of anguish and condolence.

"It hits us very close to home," said Ms Mileidis Andino, who moved to Germany 20 years ago from her native Cuba. "Christmas is such a big deal here, so important for families," she said. But since the attack, she added, "people feel anxious".

Those who ventured out were greeted by more police officers than usual and other added security measures, including concrete barriers around the market at Potsdamer Platz and other obstacles at the Brandenburg Gate, where Germany's largest open-air New Year's Eve celebration is expected to go forward as planned.

But as they do every year, ice skaters circled the Neptune Fountain at the Christmas market in front of the Rotes Rathaus, Berlin's city hall.

Ms Doreen Martens, a 47- year-old secretary, drank mulled wine and watched. "There is a strange mood, a gloomy atmosphere," she said. "The festive Christmas feeling is definitely gone."

Many members of Berlin's large immigrant community have tried to show solidarity with the victims since the attacks, sensitive to the possibility that anger would be redirected towards them.

"We want to serve as some kind of proof - that terrorism has no religion," said Ms Fifi Shukri, 19, a Jordanian who stood at a makeshift vigil with a friend at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, on the square where the attack took place.

On Thursday, bells at the church, whose war-damaged spire was left unrepaired after World War II, tolled 11 times, signalling the reopening of the market.

"I am a Muslim, but I love Christmas. ISIS, they are psychos, horrible people," Ms Shukri said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2016, with the headline 'Crowds return to Berlin market but holiday spirit muted'. Print Edition | Subscribe