Berlin, Germany, Dec 20 – Rattled but determined tourists hit Berlin’s landmark attractions Tuesday, saying that to keep away after the Christmas market rampage would hand victory to the attackers.
At the Brandenburg Gate, the city’s famous east-west divide and favoured tourist hangout, visitors snapped selfies even as flags hung at half-mast in mourning on nearby embassies.
David While has only a few days to see the sights and says the attack “hasn’t stopped us”.
“No one is safe anymore. You can’t stop going to places, because otherwise they’ve won,” says the 52-year-old Londoner.
His friend Neil Thomas, 53, puts Monday’s rampage, in which a truck driver ploughed into a crowd, killing 12, in a category with other recent attacks on European destination cities Brussels, Paris and Nice.
“I think, at this stage, we just get used to it,” he says, adding that the very Christmas markets targeted in the attack were the main reason for their seasonal visit.
Despite the winter chill, Lili Jiang puts on a big smile for her parents’ camera before heading for a tour of the Christmas markets.
“We are still going… but we are a little bit worried about the safety problems,” admits the 23-year-old, who is studying in Portugal and whose parents have come all the way from China to visit.
She is quick to note German plans for beefed-up security, giving herself a pep talk that, from now on, “maybe there is not much to worry about the security.”
– Barriers and patrols –
New barriers have gone up overnight at Christmas markets in Germany and across many other sites in Europe in a bid to protect revellers during the holiday season, an important source of revenue for the tourist industry.
At the Gendarmenmarkt square in Berlin, police check bags and patrol the narrow rows between wooden Christmas stalls.
“We could have shut out of solidarity (with the victims), but on the other hand, that is exactly what the terrorists want — for everything to be paralysed and everyone to be scared”, says Gesine, taking a drag off her cigarette while awaiting customers eager to warm up with her mulled wine.
Her stand is defiantly open today, she adds, “but there are a lot fewer people today”.
Germany’s world-famous Christmas markets — a 2013 industry survey counted 1,500 of them — attract tens of millions of visitors each year, and tourism officials are at a loss to estimate the impact Monday’s attack will have.
For now, says Burkhard Kieker, head of the visitBerlin tourist office, the city’s hotels are still nearly full and have not yet experienced a rash of cancellations.
“This is a first for Germany, both in terms of the scale and the type of event, and for the moment were are unable to fully measure the impact,” said a spokeswoman for the German tourism federation, DTV.
Berlin, for now, is still planning to stage showy New Year celebrations with a fireworks extravaganza at the Brandenburg Gate.
Sausage seller Liza Meyer will be at the ready in her market stall, even though she suspects “people will think twice” before coming out.