Home Travel Berlin, Breitscheidplatz, December 19, 2016

Berlin, Breitscheidplatz, December 19, 2016


Twenty-seven years ago I arrived in Berlin at a momentous time in this city’s history. The Wall had opened after a quarter of a century and I was privileged to stand at Checkpoint Charlie welcoming the hundreds of little two-stroke Trabant cars as they chugged over to the western half of the city for the first time. It was a time of freedom, of hope and joy. I can honestly say that it was one of the most emotional and significant days of my life.

 Another atrocity, another memorial of candles and flowers
Another atrocity, another memorial of candles and flowers

Last night I arrived in Berlin at 6 pm with the intention of visiting a few Christmas markets and getting in some photography, centred on testing the new Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens. What I did not anticipate was becoming involved in another big event. This time, though, it was a time of sorrow, frustration and anger at the inhumanity of terrorism. It was also one of my saddest days.

 The world
The world’s press has replaced the happy crowds at one of Berlin’s leading Christmas markets.

I had left the hotel, camera in hand, intending to get in a few night-time shots before dinner. I was at Wittenburgplatz, near the KaDeWe department store, when the terrorist attack took place at Breitcheidplatz, just a couple of hundred meters down the road. The first I knew something terrible had happened — because there was no explosion, no unusual noise — was when the emergency sirens started wailing.

 Last night thousands were here for a currywurst or a glass of traditional Glühwein. This morning, empty stalls, policewomen with machine guns.
Last night thousands were here for a currywurst or a glass of traditional Glühwein. This morning, empty stalls, policewomen with machine guns.

Understandably, I walked rapidly in the opposite direction and checked on the local news sites to see what was happening. This morning, however, I went back to pay my respects to the victims of the amok-running truck. As always with these terrible events, there is a surreal atmosphere. Just down the road life carries on as normal. But in the immediate area, next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the bright, cheerful Christmas stalls are locked up and deserted. They will not open again.

 A simple message of sympathy replaces all the advertising displays in the city
A simple message of sympathy replaces all the advertising displays in the city

All the electronic street advertisements from Wittenburgplatz down to Kurfürstendamm had been dimmed and replaced with a simple message of sympathy. I couldn’t help contrasting it with the words of hope and welcome that had been projected in 1989 from the enormous electronic sign at the nearby corner of Joachimstalerstrasse and Kurfürstendamm. This was then the centre of Berlin, a beacon of hope and freedom to the citizens of the German so-called democratic republic. Then, as now, the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche stood sentry over Breitscheidplatz as a symbol of Berlin’s ability to overcome the worst that history could throw at it.

 Empty tables, empty chairs
Empty tables, empty chairs

Berlin has come a long way since then. Over the years this city has survived fascism, devastating bombardment, occupation, communism, rape, pillage and poverty as well as sublime moments of hope and joy as in 1989. It has survived and the spirit of the people shines through. Amid all the sorrow and rightful anger, this is the message for the future. A few deranged individuals with a perverted sense of religion and evil purpose will not win.


  1. Dear Mike

    Your piece above strikes the right note. When things like this happen it is very difficult to know what to say or do. Our sympathies must go to the victims and their families and the people of Berlin.


    • Thanks John. I was never in any danger but the disturbing thing is that I could have been if I had been just five minutes down the same road. I feel so sorry for the people involved.

  2. Dear Mike,

    I really appreciate you doing this piece – words and photos. Like you, Berlin is a city to which I am deeply attached – since 1964, when I met my wife-to-be on the way to Checkpoint Charlie, and in many subsequent years when we joined annually with Germans and other Europeans, communists and non-communists, meeting in East Berlin in defiance of the wall to discuss common human interests. And you are right: Berliners have a special spirit and udefeatable humour. It is sickening that it should once again be so cruelly and crudely put to the test. Let us in words and pictures still go on working for peace on earth among all people of good will.

    • Thanks, John. This isn’t something I would normally write about but I felt it would have been perverse to have been here and not mentioned it at all.

  3. Dear Mike,
    I’m glad you didn’t come to harm. Thank you for your Words of hope. We mourn for the victims but have to carry on, may not give in to fear. My family and me intend to visit our local Christmas Market this evening nonetheless.
    Surely this terrible incident will give new fuel to the critics of Frau Merkels refugee-politics, but I am convinced that these crazy fanatics would be here anyway. It wouldn’t be right to withdraw hospitality due to brutal acts committed by criminals.


  4. Mike , glad to read that you are safe and not too shaken.
    Civilisation seems to be a very thin veneer. Let us all hope that acts of barbarity like this do not undermine Angela Merkel’s position. The free world needs a strong Germany with a strong sane leader more than ever.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.