Five years after Berlin attack, Germany remembers its victims

Five years after a truck ploughed into a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany will hold a ceremony on Sunday to honour the victims of the deadliest Islamist attack perpetrated on its soil.

Candles and flowers laid by people to commemorate the victims of the 2016 attack at Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in Berlin
(Archive) Candles and flowers laid by people in 2019 to commemorate the victims of the 2016 attack at Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in Berlin. 2021 marks the fifth anniversary of the attack, which killed 12 people. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

Carried out by 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri and claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, the attack on December 19th, 2016 killed 12 people and left dozens injured.

A 13th victim died this year having suffered serious injuries in the assault.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the events were “etched in our collective memory” and shared his condolences with the families of the victims in a statement ahead of the memorial.

The anniversary will be marked with a ceremony beginning at 18:45 local time with a speech by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The tributes will take place at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, whose bell tower, partially destroyed in World War II, overlooks the Breitscheidplatz square where the attack took place.

The church’s bells will ring at 20:02, the exact time when the truck drove at full speed into the Christmas market.

The friends and family of the victims, who are expected to attend the ceremony, this week addressed an open letter to Scholz.

They urged the government to authorise further investigations into the individuals responsible for ordering and abetting the attack, an element they say has been under-explored.

On the run for four days after the attack, Amri was eventually located and shot down by police in Italy.

“The Breitscheidplatz attack still raises a number of questions that have not been sufficiently answered in my opinion,” Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said on Friday.

Different inquiries highlighted errors in the surveillance of Amri, who arrived in Germany in 2015 and was quickly identified as a potentially dangerous Islamist and a drug trafficker.

The German authorities remain on alert over the threat of further attacks. Since 2000, law enforcement has foiled 23 such attacks, the interior ministry said in September.

There are currently 554 individuals in Germany considered to be dangerous Islamists, according to police.

IS also claimed responsibility in 2016 for a knife attack in Hamburg, a bombing in Ansbach that injured 15 people and an axe attack in Bavaria where five were hurt.

None of the assailants came to Europe carrying orders from IS, according to authorities. All of them seem to have organised their actions alone, sometimes under the influence of mental disorders.

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Berlin weighs up free public transport ticket for summer

Just a few weeks before the €9 ticket is due to be released, the Berlin Senate is mulling a new idea to offer free summer travel for people who sign up to subscriptions.

Berlin weighs up free public transport ticket for summer

According to reports in regional newspaper Tagesspiegel, the transport administration has pitched a three-month €0 ticket for customers that would run alongside the €9 ticket with the aim of pulling in new long-term customers.

In a letter obtained by Tagesschau and regional broadcaster RBB, the transport administration department told parliament that the free ticket would be exclusively available for new and existing season-ticket and subscription holders. 

“It is currently being discussed in Berlin to lower the prices for season tickets to €0 in the campaign months as an alternative to the €9 monthly ticket,” they wrote.

This could win over new customers and encourage them to start rolling subscriptions, they argued.  

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get hold of the €9 travel ticket in Berlin

The free ticket would run from the start of June until the end of August – just like the national €9 ticket – though it’s unclear if it would only be usable for local public transport in Berlin or if, like its €9 counterpart, regional and local routes nationwide would also be included in the offer. 

Pandemic effect

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Berlin and Brandenburg’s transport operators have lost a number of their original customers. Some have switched to cars or bicycles while others are simply travelling less due to continued home office or less post-pandemic socialising. 

Fewer subscriptions – known as Abos – have been sold by S-Bahn and BVG this year. The operators are concerned that this could lead to significant revenue losses over time.

By dangling the carrot of free transport, the Senate is hoping that it can encourage some of these customers to return over summer and start paying for subscriptions when autumn rolls around.

However, the transport administration has pointed out that talks with the federal government, other federal states, transport associations and the companies involved have not yet been concluded.

“There are different models and therefore many parties to be involved,” transport administration spokesman Jan Thomsen told RBB. “A decision is still open.”

According to the Senate’s estimates, the €0 scheme would cost Berlin around €22 million. 

READ ALSO: What tourists visiting Germany need to know about the €9 ticket