On Place de la Bourse, many nations mourn Brussels dead | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.03.2016
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On Place de la Bourse, many nations mourn Brussels dead

As information continues to emerge about the victims of Tuesday's attacks in Brussels, people have flocked to the city's streets to show support. There are silent tributes, but there is tension, too. Dana Regev reports.

Place de la Bourse-Beursplein in central Brussels, the gathering point for people wanting to pay their respects to the victims of Tuesday's attacks, is constantly packed as hundreds of people from all across the world bring their own unique ways of commemorating the dead.

On Saturday, Meike, a Hamburg-born German who lives in Antwerp, held a "free hugs" sign. She noticed a family of four sitting on the stairs, all crying. The father had just found out that he'd lost a cousin in the explosion at the Maelbeek metro station. "I have no anger in me," he told DW. "Just sadness."

Meike offered him a hug, and, with tears in his eyes, he - and the rest of his family - immediately accepted the offer.

"At night, after all the journalists are gone, I get to hug more people," Meike said. "It's then when they really feel the burden, and want to unload it."

Numerous languages are spoken around the candles and flags on Place de la Bourse: Polish, Arabic, French, German, Dutch, Hebrew, English and many more - displaying not only the cosmopolitan nature of Brussels, but also the worldwide impact of the attacks.

Belgien Solidarität NEU

Meike, a Hamburg-born German who lives in Antwerp, is holding a "free hugs" sign

Thorsten from Germany, Fidel from Spain and Hakan from Sweden met in Brussels - the city that has since become their home. On Saturday, they planned to hang the flag of the European Union in front of the former stock exchange, where dozens of other flags are already decorating the walls.

"I saw Place de la Bourse on TV, and I realized it's still missing the EU flag," Fidel told DW. "It's very good to have all the other ones, but this flag actually shows that we are one, that we are together in this - and that we are strong."

"It takes time until things sink in," Hakan said. "You recognize these places - the station, the airport - because you visit them regularly, and all of a sudden they become scenes from movies, they become the news on TV. It's very emotional for me, and it will take me quite a while to digest it."

The three men declared unanimously that they would not change anything in their daily lives after the attacks. "The authorities need to do something, for sure, but I will not avoid anything and anywhere," Fidel said.

The atmosphere isn't always calm: Alongside the silent tributes are also political debates. In one incident on Saturday, a man stepped into the circle of flags and candles, demanding "justice for Palestine!"

Many people booed, shouting for him to "focus on Brussels today," saying that "Belgium is strong." Others cheered and applauded his statements.

Capucine, a French photographer from Paris, survived the attacks in her hometown and came to Brussels to pay her respects. "This man had a point about Palestine, but I'm afraid that as time goes by, we also think we might actually learn something from Israel," she said.

"True, the change should come from education, welfare, tolerance - but these are all very long processes," Capucine said. "What about now? What about the next attack that will certainly happen? In that aspect, I think Israel is very experienced, to say the least."

Capucine said her lifestyle had definitely changed. "People are saying that they are not worried, or that they won't let terror win, but, honestly, I prefer not to take chances," she said. "So yes, I am more cautious when taking the metro, and yes, I am looking at suspicious bags or objects. And I won't lie - this has affected my everyday behavior. Better safe than sorry."

'Grief can be felt by everyone'

The presence of Israeli flags has caused some outrage, as one Israeli student living in Brussels told DW. Yael Machluf, who is part of an exchange program in the city, said there were attempts to remove the flag from the square.

"A woman came and took the flag away," Machluf said. "When we asked her why she's doing this, she said that this flag is a disgrace and that it shouldn't be here. I told her that grief can be felt by everyone all over the world."

Eventually, both Palestinian and Israeli flags were allowed to join the other flags and candles.

Belgien EU-Flagge als Symbol der Solidarität

Hakan from Sweden (right), Fidel from Spain and Thorsten from Belgium came to Place de la Bourse to add the EU flag

A few meters away from the memorial, a small stand offers pens and notebooks for people to write their kind words to the families of the victims. Two NGO workers from Romania came up with the idea when they realized that the next rain will wipe out all the chalk messages written on the sidewalks and walls.

"We just wanted the families to have a hard copy of the warm messages," they said. "We wanted to spread solidarity, and have it written on paper."

The two added that they're worried about how Muslims are going to be treated after the attacks. "I can't stop thinking about how to make people understand that evil exists all over the world, unfortunately, regardless of country or faith," one said.

Worldwide conflicts aren't the only troubling issue discussed on the square. Many children can be heard asking their parents what terror is, why they are there and what all the candles are for.

Chris, a native of Belgium, brought his 8-year-old son to the square after realizing that it would be the best way to answer the unceasing questions. "It's very difficult to explain this to children," he said. "It's hardly simple to explain it to ourselves."

Belgien Solidarität

A man is holding the Belgian flag in Place de la Bourse, Brussels

"I try to show him that some people are now gone, and that everyone is sad about that and coming here to express their sadness," Chris said. "But I cannot really explain the terrorists' goals to him. How can I? Even I don't understand the final goal of this."

Terror is a crime in every aspect, Chris said. "What is it supposed to reach exactly?" he asked as his son lit another candle, placing it among the slowly withering flowers.