When Bodo Klimpel first read about the crash, he did not connect it with children from his town. Klimpel and his fellow citizens are still coming to terms with the tragedy. Manasi Gopalakrishnan reports from Haltern.
On March 24, 2015, all Mayor Bodo Klimpel had in mind was to quickly finish off his appointment in the library and use the afternoon to clear out his basement. But as he spoke to the town librarian, Klimpel couldn't but help notice the constant buzzing of his phone. "It just wouldn't stop and at some point I asked the head of the library to excuse me," the mayor told DW, remembering how the day of the accident unfolded for him.
"I looked at my phone and saw that I had 17 missed calls, all from my office. I called them because I knew something had happened. Then they told me that the plane that had crashed was probably the one which our students were in," Klimpel said.
150 people died after Germanwings flight 4U9525 crashed in the French Alps while traveling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. Officials who examined the cockpit voice and data recorders concluded that the flight's co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who was suffering from severe depression, appeared to have intentionally crashed the plane. The Joseph-König School in Haltern am See in Germany's Ruhr region lost 16 of its boys and girls, almost all from the same class, and two teachers.
"It was a big shock for us," Klimpel remembered. At the time, the mayor and other officials in the town helped organize psychologists and spiritual welfare workers to help families of the victims cope with the tragedy.
Coping with the crisis
This year on March 24, Haltern residents gathered at the city center and at the churches to observe a minute's silence. For students at the Joseph-König School, who missed the anniversary because of the Easter holiday, a special memorial ceremony was organized in the town's churches on Monday.
"We stand united in grief," said the pastor as he addressed a gathering of families and schoolchildren who had come to the St. Sixtus church to remember those who died in the accident. Turn by turn, friends of the victims came up to the pulpit to convey their sadness.
"Tell me, someone who has lived, laughed and loved... why is he suddenly not here anymore," a girl read out from her memorial speech. "Physically you are away, but I can still feel you, with my hands, with my body, with my desire, with my frustration I must accept what is impossible for me."
Strains of music from the organ and violins mingled with the voice of the pastor, who read out passages from different psalms, consoling families and helping them come to terms with the loss of their loved ones. One by one, the names of the schoolchildren who died in the crash were called out as two girls laid bouquets of flowers in front of the church altar.
In a very emotional moment, families and friends burst into tears, hugging each other for solace as the audience stood up for the final hymn.
For Haltern am See, the crisis is far from over, but the city has changed, and as Mayor Klimpel said, "I think we have found a way to deal with the tragedy. The residents have come closer and have supported each other."
Above all, the tragedy helped Klimpel and probably many others in his town see things in a new light. "I evaluate problems and difficulties completely differently, compared to last year. You have a new compass. Lots of things are not that important anymore," the mayor said, adding that the crash had made him very careful about using words like "dramatic" and "catastrophe."