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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.