Each year millions of people flood the German Christmas markets, which are found all around the country, from large metropolitan regions and small towns. The beginning of the Advent season marks the opening of the market. On December 1st, after just opening for the season, a Berlin market was evacuated after authorities were alerted of a possible improvised explosive device (IED) delivered to a pharmacy on the outskirts of town. Police handled the situation and no one is in immediate danger, but the area remained on lockdown for quite some time as an investigation was conducted.
This scare comes not even a year after the December 19, 2016 terror attack executed in a Christmas market in central Berlin. ISIS claimed responsibility for Anis Amri deliberately driving a large motor vehicle through the market, killing 12 and injuring 48 individuals. Amri was later killed by police in Italy following a search for the assailant, but his death did not alleviate the fear for further terrorist attacks in Germany. What is usually a festive spectacle with abundant decorations and cheer, is now a more reserved and fearful sight with visitors weary of a possible additional attack.
Some cities have taken precautionary measure to ensure the safety of citizens and tourists. They are increasing security and developing creative ways of protecting the markets. The city of Bochum in western Germany built large car barricades around their market and giftwrapped them as a way to prevent a possible attack without losing the holiday spirit. Head of Bochum Marketing, Mario Schiefelbein, explained, “For us it was very important to fit in those ugly barriers into the beautiful overall atmosphere.” Gift-wrapped car barricades are not the only creative solution being executed this holiday season. Augsburg is decorating trucks which will be used as car barriers, and Munich is blocking the streets with massive planters filled with seasonal evergreen trees.
These steps of beautifying security measures, while rightfully and understandably executed, serve as evidence of the fact that the occurrence of terrorism is a growing trend in western European cities. Authorities are expecting attacks and commendably act to ensure the necessary steps and resources are in place and available in the event of more violence. Terrorism is the new normal, as we have seen with the countless suicide bombings, shootings, knife attacks, rapes, and van rammings in major European cities.
News of a new attack at a major event, whether a van ramming at a German Christmas market or a suicide bombing at a large pop music concert in England, spark immense media attention, both from large media outlets as well as individuals on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Social media engineers have provided users multiple ways to react to attacks, including individualized profile picture filters which allow people to show their support for the country and its victims with a simple click, as well as the technology for people in the immediate area of an attack to mark themselves as “safe” which sends a notification to their online friends list. While this feature is also used in natural disasters, the public is increasingly seeing it used in the event of terrorism.
One observation about this newfound normalcy is that in the event of a terrorist attack, whether at home or abroad, people continue with their days as if nothing even happened. Although there is some fear and lack of excitement at the Berlin market, people are still in attendance. Popular spots for attacks include concerts, shopping centers, and sport arenas, and while the area is shocked for a short while following an incident, the location quickly returns to its usual state and people walk around as if nothing happened.
Facebook has aided the normalization of terror attacks, the country filters being a prime example. It is incredibly easy to see a headline on Facebook with the words ‘terrorist attack’ and in reaction, hop on the bandwagon and choose a filter for your picture to supposedly pay your respects to the victims. This, however, can quickly become problematic if people are not taking the time to read about the incident and truly grasp the heaviness of the situation, because no matter how frequent a country gets attacked, an attack is still as serious and devastating as the last one. Since people are changing their filters as quickly as attacks are occurring, it becomes easier to just accept that it happened and not do anything about it.
As terrorist attacks become a more frequent occurrence, the public becomes complacent. People are not as surprised and worried when they hear about a bombing or shooting because it has become commonplace. During this holiday season, it is crucial to see the gift-wrapped car barricades and remember the lives lost, and that terrorism does not have to be the new norm. This can serve as motivation to enact actual change in the world.