BERLIN — Streets that would normally be bustling with shoppers and friends meeting over steaming mugs of mulled wine five days before Christmas are eerily quiet.
The cordoned-off roads are empty of traffic, save for several police vans and the black saloon cars of visiting dignitaries.
Stalls are shuttered and the handful of people wandering about appear shell-shocked, talking in hushed tones of the previous night’s horrific events.
It’s odd to see the market boarded up and empty when it should be full of life and of people celebrating. Instead of fairy lights, many stalls have red memorial candles used at grave sites on their front counter.
The front of one of the closed stalls has been turned into a notice board for messages of condolence and support. “We stand together, we share the grief of victims and their families,” a note reads in German and English.
Other messages express a sense of togetherness: “Our words are stronger,” “no fear” and “words are stronger than weapons.”
Just hours earlier, a truck plowed through the now-deserted Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, in the western part of central Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.
As German authorities work to confirm the identity of the attacker, Berliners converge at the nearby Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church to pay their respects to the victims.
‘You hear of this happening in France’
“I go past here every day,” said Evita Baumberger, who headed to the church to sign a condolence book.
“You hear of this happening in France and other places, but this is the first time it’s in my neighborhood. It could have been any one of us.
“Twelve people dead and they were just here having a nice evening with their family. It’s shocking.”
‘With 80 markets in the city, what can they do?’
“I’m shocked, I’m very concerned. I’m angry, also,” said Alice, who preferred not to give her last name.
“I’m here to show my solidarity and compassion for all the people involved.
“Germany has been on alert for potential attacks — but with 80 Christmas markets in the city, what can they do if one person can come with his car and kill people?”
‘It was a black day for human history’
“Yesterday was a black day for human history, with what happened in Ankara and then here,” said Devid from Berlin, who also asked not to give his last name.
“It’s just depressing.
“What more can I say? The people who do this are animals.”
Thousands gather for church service
As evening fell on Tuesday, thousands of people gather at the church for a memorial service.
Those unable to enter the packed building wait outside in the winter air, many hugging each other, crying, or silently clutching candles.
Inside the church a speaker is heard referring to Berlin’s “night of terror.”
Meanwhile, outside loudspeakers share the lyrics of a song being played as part of the service: “So what are we fighting for? What do we live for? What do we pray for? What do we die for? What do we love for?”
The shuttered market, in the shadow of the church, is transformed into its own place of worship. Mourners, their heads bowed in contemplation, take the place of mulled wine-drinking revelers.
A couple of dozen men wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Muslims for Peace” gather at the side of the road as the service draws to a close and senior German politicians are driven away in chauffeured cars.
The Kurfürstendamm, one of Berlin’s busiest shopping streets, would normally be packed with shoppers a few days before Christmas. Tuesday night, it remains cordoned off to traffic and far quieter than usual.