Berlin remembers victims of Christmas market terror attack three years on

The city will mark the anniversary with a gathering for relatives and survivors at Breitscheidplatz and the the bells of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church will ring 12 times.

Berlin remembers victims of Christmas market terror attack three years on
Tributes on the steps of the Christmas market. Photo: DPA

Just days before Christmas on this day three years ago, Berlin was hit by a terror attack that claimed the lives of 12 innocent people and shocked the country.

On December 19th, 2016, terrorist Anis Amri, from Tunisia, hijacked a truck, killed its Polish driver and drove the vehicle through the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market, claiming 11 more lives and wounding more than 70 people, some severely.

It led to increased security measures being put in place around the market, including steel pedestals and sand-weighed mesh baskets.

Relatives and friends of those killed and injured, as well as survivors, will gather at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, also known as the Gedächtniskirche, on Thursday from 7.30 pm to mark the anniversary, reported local newspaper B.Z.

The victims of the attack were Anna and Georgiy Bagratuni, Sebastian Berlin, Nada Cizmar, Fabrizia Di Lorenzo, Dalia Elyakim, Christoph Herrlich, Klaus Jacob, Angelika Klösters, Dorit Krebs, Lukasz Urban and Peter Völker.

At the memorial at Breitscheidplatz, the names of those who died will be read aloud first. The governing mayor Michael Müller will then lay down a wreath. At 8.02pm – the exact time the truck was driven into the market – the bells of the Gedächtniskirche will strike 12 times for each of the people who died.

On the steps at the front of the the Gedächtniskirche, a metre-long, gold decorated crack engraved into the stone is a memorial to the 12 people who died because of Amri's actions. Their names are engraved around it, as well as the countries they come from.

Amri was shot dead by Italian police while on the run in Milan, four days after the attack, which was claimed by the terror group known as Islamic State (IS).

The truck crashed into the market in 2016. Photo: DPA

There have been concerns over the way authorities handled the Amri case. It emerged that Amri, who arrived in Germany in 2015 and registered under several different identities, should have been deported.

German media also revealed that the Tunisian had been under close surveillance by Germany's secret service but they failed to act in time.

On the third anniversary, Müller called for unity in the face of terror. He said these crimes should not “drive a wedge into our society”.

So far, around €4.3 million in financial aid has been given to those affected and surviving families. At least three people are to receive monthly payments for life.

'Liberal democracy is vulnerable'

President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble commemorated the victims in a speech.

“These victims have not been forgotten,” he said. “The act left deep wounds, sadness for the bereaved, pain and trauma for the affected and a lasting injury in our society, for we see that liberal democracy is vulnerable.”

Schäuble said the state could not guarantee 100 percent safety for all citizens. “But we are doing everything in Germany to protect the freedom of each individual,” he said.

Anti-terror security measures were put in place at the market. Photo: DPA

The Breitscheidplatz market is one of the most popular in Berlin. The operators expect around a million visitors to the site this year.

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German Christmas market closures ‘can’t be ruled out’: health expert

As Germany battles a fierce Covid wave, concerns are growing over events, with one health expert saying closures of the country's beloved Christmas markets can't be ruled out.

Revellers enjoy mulled wine at the 'Santa Pauli' Christmas market in Hamburg on November 15th.
Revellers enjoy mulled wine at the 'Santa Pauli' Christmas market in Hamburg on November 15th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Martina Wenker, president of the Lower Saxony Medical Association, said she believed Christmas markets may have to be cancelled if the Covid-19 situation gets worse in Germany. 

“Depending on the regional incidence situation, closures should not be ruled out in extreme cases,” Wenker told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

“We can’t stand by and celebrate while next door in the hospitals, planned operations have to be postponed frequently, corona patients are dying, and staff in practices and clinics are at their limits.”

Wenker said regional leaders allowed the opening of Christmas markets on the basis that the Covid situation was moderate.

“But if we reach higher levels of escalation, we will have to consider whether Christmas markets are still justifiable,” she said.

Germany on Tuesday reported 32,048 Covid infections within 24 hours and 265 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence increased to 312.4 Covid cases per 100,000 residents. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid incidence tops 300 for first time

‘Maximum safety’

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said on Monday that he wanted to ensure there was “maximum safety” around Christmas markets.

He said it will be among the topics discussed at the Covid crisis talks between the federal government and state leaders this Thursday. 

In general, Söder said mask requirements should remain at Christmas markets as well as distance rules and other protection measures. 

In an interview with broadcaster Bayern3, Söder explained that so far there is no legal framework for Bavaria to cancel Christmas markets. “At the moment, we cannot legally order it,” he said.

Some Christmas markets, which have recently opened to the public, are already enforcing strict rules such as excluding the unvaccinated from entry, or not serving alcohol to people unless they can show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid. 



Christmas market – (der) Weihnachtsmarkt

Celebrate – feiern

Planned operations/procedures – geplante Eingriffe 

Postponed – verschoben

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