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Opinion

Opinion: My home town Haltern in mourning

The small western-German town of Haltern is in shock. Sixteen students and two teachers from the local high school were aboard the crashed Germanwings airliner. Reflections from DW's Daniel Pelz, who grew up in Haltern.

Just a few days ago I logged onto the website of the Joseph-König-Gymnasium high school in Haltern. I took a look at a photo of the faculty because I was curious to see who was teaching at my old school. I left the school back in 1996.

Many young, hopeful faces smiled back at me from the image - most of them unfamiliar to me. Now, two of them are dead.

I know that gray school building with the ugly yellow shutters that's suddenly all over German television screens. That's where I screwed up various maths projects, or tried in vain to score the odd goal in gym class - once, I died on stage playing God in a theater production. Now, flowers and candles are lying outside the building, en masse.

Interest is not voyeurism, rather sympathy

Haltern is in mourning. The first thing locals did after hearing the news, my mother tells me by phone, was to try to picture in their mind's eye which of their friends had kids at the school. Wondering which families were affected.

Deutsche Welle Afrika Englisch Daniel Pelz

DW's Daniel Pelz's home town has been touched by tragedy

Haltern has 37,000 residents; people know each other, even if they don't always like each other. But in this moment, everybody was thinking about the victims and their families - with concern and sympathy. Lots of people stopped to talk on the town center pavements on Tuesday; people rang their friends, sought information. Everybody wanted to know who the victims were - not because of voyeurism, but because they felt affected, too.

These discussions are likely to continue for several days. Many people will buy the local paper to skip straight to the deaths page. Everybody wants to express their sympathy to the victims' relatives. I haven't lived in Haltern for 15 years now, I only return a few times each year to visit my parents. I remember how happy I was to be leaving the Joseph-König-Gymnasium back in '96. But now, all of a sudden, this is my school, it's my home town.

We "Halterners" watch on, disconcerted, as our mayor desperately tries to keep it together in front of the rolling cameras. We know him more typically as a jovial yet composed father figure. Today, tears are in his eyes as he tries to express what everybody in Haltern is feeling.

Christoph Metzelder, the former German international footballer, sent his condolences via Twitter; he's a fellow old-boy from the Joseph-König-Gymnasium school.

Don't leave the bereaved on their own

Haltern wants to help. A very good friend of mine is a fully trained grief counselor. She wants to take care of the bereaved - those left behind - and is going to offer them help. She's by no means the only one.

Haltern's no idyllic burg, things can sometimes get quite messy behind those pretty facades. And yet, many residents here stick together, joining the voluntary firefighters' group, or a sports club, or simply the church. Hopefully the loved ones of those who died on Tuesday can sense the truth - they are not alone.

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