It could have been anyone: Students and teachers from 10 Berlin schools were present during the attack in Nice. A memorial service was held in the Berlin Cathedral for the victims.
It should have been a fun and carefree time in the French city on the Mediterranean coast. They had passed their high school exit exams and the new graduates from Berlin wanted to celebrate with a trip. There was no way Silan, 19, her classmate Selma and a 29-year-old German teacher chaperoning them could know they would not return. At 11 pm on July 14, the class was on Nice's Promenade des Anglais for the fireworks, and the three have been missing ever since. Their bodies have yet to be identified, but it can be assumed they are among the 84 dead.
"Where is the joy that vanished a few days ago?" Evangelical provost Christian Stäblein asked in the Cathedral of Berlin. For two hours on Monday, the sanctuary was closed to tourists so hundreds of surviving students and teachers could attend an interreligious service with their friends and families, led by Stäblein, Auxiliary Bishop Matthias Heinrich and Imam Kadir Sanci.
How do we endure?
The pews were packed, the students from the 10 Berlin high schools well aware that it could have been any of them. "So close to the dead, so close to us, how do we endure this, God? That's what we're asking in this room." An organist played Grieg and Bach. A sopranist sang, "The Lord Bless You And Keep You."
Provost Christian Stäblein, Imam Kadir Sanci and Cathedral Preacher Michael Kösling (left) at the Berlin Cathedral
Bishop Heinrich also tried his best to console the young people before him. "Why this horrible suffering? Why the death? Why the terrible guilt? Why so many victims?" Christian theology provides a paltry answer. "Christ teaches us how the cross can be carried. He didn't say how that is to be understood." Faith helps the suffering. God's word promises that there's more beyond death and anguish.
No names, no photos
The service neither announced the names of the victims from Berlin nor displayed their photos. The deaths of the three women have not yet been officially confirmed. There were candles for them, however, as well as for the families, the city of Nice, and for France and other countries where attacks have taken place. Imam Kadir Sanci recited a Muslim prayer. The service attendees joined hands in a circle during a moment of silence.
Berlin Mayor Michael Müller gave concluding remarks. It's the third time this year he's had to express his condolences in the wake of an attack in France. He fears an increase in hatred against Muslims. "Many may want to blame an entire group or religion, thus dividing our diverse society." The memorial service should be a sign of solidarity and peaceful coexistence, he added.
Against discrimination and intolerance
"We are full of sadness and many of us full of anger," Müller said. "But no matter how difficult, we cannot answer hate with hate, violence with violence." Vigilance is no excuse for prejudice. "We cannot allow for general suspicion of groups within our society."
Many would like to see intolerance, discrimination and racism become socially acceptable, Müller said. "But I say: Let's not bring down our free, tolerant life." Berlin is about respect and tolerance, an open city of peace.