Christmas markets in mainland Europe are fairytales of magic and wonder. Wooden carvings, tastefully decorated trees, beautifully hand-crafted carousels for children, homemade angels, a scent of spice and gingerbread, glorious food and drink. It’s like stepping into Christmas itself.
I was in Hamburg last week with my daughter. We went to various markets – one with an ice rink, another with a mini wheel overlooking a lake with a large tree in the middle, dazzling with lights; the other with a wooden hand-carved Santa sleigh and Santa with presents flying through the sky above.
The enchanting ‘Weihnachtsmarkt,’ an iconic symbol of Christmas, with traditions spanning hundreds of years, inspires childlike wonder. They are often emulated in Ireland, but our versions don’t come close. The real markets have to be experienced to be believed.
Unfortunately, however, not everyone feels the same way about these innocent, family friendly wonderlands.
When asylum-seeker Anis Amri drove a truck into the Berlin Breitscheidplatz Christmas market on December 19, 2016, killing 12 people and injuring 56, the German psyche was attacked at its very core.
It was as though he had stuck a knife into a German fairytale and spilt blood across its pages.
The whole thing has been made worse by the fact that, according to a 173-page report, leaked to the media on Saturday, he was not acting alone and was part of a Salafist cell. As one would expect, German authorities didn’t follow up on information that others were involved.
Instead, there are boulders across the streets of cities, separating the markets from potential lorry or car attacks.
It was macabre to see that some people’s ideology isn’t in line with this Christmas celebration, which has been taking place on our Christian holidays for hundreds of years in every village, town and city in Germany and mainland Europe.
As a paranoid person, I was reticent of going to the larger market and my fear was exacerbated when I saw the huge cement boulders along the street.
How dare I have thoughts of fear about our sacred Christmas markets, which I have visited since childhood?
My friend admitted that she hadn’t been to the main market since the Berlin attack out of fear – terrorism at its most effective. We were fine after two Gluhweins and wandered to the Rathaus (town hall) market, the biggest in the city. There was certainly no sense of fear prevailing. People were just having a wonderful time.
The next day, however, radicalised Islamist Cherif Chekatt, who was convicted 27 times for criminal offences across France, Germany and Switzerland and was seen as a ‘state threat’, decided to wander into the majestic Christmas market in Strasbourg and open fire on yuletide visitors.
He killed five people and injured 12, while shouting: “Allahu Akbar.”
The world didn’t seem to be too shocked. After all, it has happened before many times. There wasn’t even an #I’mwithStrasbourg-style hashtag.
As with all such attacks, the only catastrophes that occur are personal. People like Thai tourist Anupong Suebsamarn, who have nothing to do with the running of things, get killed. The losses are personal, not global.
No leaders of countries will be hurt. They will visit the bloodstained, cobbled markets, look at the damage, say words of comfort, then get on with the running of things. Ultimately, nothing will change.
The market in Strasbourg has been reopened. The show must go on. You can’t let them win, after all.
This is the beauty of it. There are tens of thousands of Christmas markets across France, Germany and Switzerland, mainland Europe, and no real impact will be made by Islamist terrorists. People will be scared, like I was, but they will go back.
Terrorists can kill people at a Christmas market, but they’ll never kill our spirit.