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Berlin 24/7: Looking for the Christmas spirit in the city

It’s a yearly ritual: Berlin turns into a giant Christmas market a month before the year’s end. Yet the anniversary of last year’s tragic terror attack is dampening the festive mood, says DW’s columnist Gero Schliess.Two headlines caught my attention recently: a massive brawl in front of a snack stand and massive layoffs at Siemens. Hallelujah! Is that how heartwarming Christmas stories go in Berlin?

Tear gas instead of gingerbread in Marzahn

While Christmas trees are being set up and Christmas markets are warming up their barrels of mulled wine across the city, the merry atmosphere hasn’t reached everyone yet. Pre-Christmas calm and peace? Frighteningly few Berliners care about it, based on what I read in newspapers every day.

For example, the bunch of 50 young people who got into a fight in front of a fast food stand in east Berlin district of Marzahn. According to police reports, they had knives and tear gas with them. Gingerbread and egg nog definitely weren’t on their minds.

The rich and currently extremely successful German conglomerate Siemens also didn’t get the Christmas spirit right when it sent its elves to the capital. Were they there to offer early year’s end bonuses? No, they announced 870 job cuts instead. The fired employees will be demonstrating on the streets instead of doing their Christmas shopping this year.

O, how joyful? For some people in Berlin, this Christmas carol just stays stuck in the throat.

This is what’s going through my mind as I walk around Berlin at night, along the brightly decorated areas of the city such as Ku’damm. I just can’t quite get into the Christmas spirit of peace and comfort. Other Berliners feel the same way.

There’s a least one reason why everyone in Berlin shares a feeling of melancholy. This year, everything is different: December 19 marks the first anniversary of the terror attack on the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market, right by the Memorial Church, when Anis Ami drove a truck into the crowd there, killing 12 people.

Read more: A year on from terror attack, Berlin Christmas market opens calmly

Defying terror after the Berlin attack

I don’t find it easy to go back there this year. There will be a memorial for the victims. At the recent opening of the Christmas market, Berlin’s mayor was also there to hearten citizens.

But the fear can hit anyone, anytime, even now. And I wonder what’s bigger: the lump I’m feeling in my throat or the concrete barriers set up around the Christmas market. They could have stopped Amri’s truck last year.

Kerstin Pham set up her stand, “Magentix Wellness,” on the exact location of last year’s attack. Pham told me she deliberately chose the spot, as she believes in the power of positive thoughts to counter fear.

That’s what I like about Berliners. They are strong and aren’t easily intimidated. Like me, they are ready to defy their pre-Christmas sadness.

Along the way, I unexpectedly find an ally: an older Berliner, whose handwritten search notice was posted by someone on Facebook and has since reached and moved several thousands of people: “Where can a lonely pensioner and widower find a small group to celebrate Christmas with this year?”

He received several offers and now has plans for this year’s celebrations.

So it finally did come: The elderly man will get his Christmas miracle, and Berlin now has its heartwarming story.

Topics: Christmas

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