The attack in Berlin has shocked and horrified Germany. Twelve people are dead, almost 50 injured, some of them seriously. The attack, this terrorist act, was aimed at the entire country, at the free society in which Germans live. And it was aimed at a particularly peaceful symbol: the Christmas market, a place visited by millions of people in the weeks leading up to Christmas - not just Germans, but people from all over the world who want to forget their everyday lives, leave their stress behind, and take a carefree winter stroll, filled with Christmas cheer.
Terror targeting everyone
The attack, this murderous act of terror, targets all of us who want to live our lives in freedom. It's a crude attack on this desire for liberty - which is why the attack on Berlin will change Germany. We are no longer, as has been vaguely suggested for a long time, in the crosshairs of international terrorism - we have become its victims, like the British, French, Belgians, Spaniards, Israelis, Americans and others.
It doesn't matter whether the perpetrator was a mentally disturbed gunman, a lone wolf with murderous intent or a group with a fundamentalist background: the attack hits free society at its core. It hits an open society. In targeting a Christmas market, it also hits a Christian symbol, an expression of German and European traditions and identity.
The chancellor is right: this is a difficult day for Germans. It's noticeable that - despite the fact that there have been a series of smaller and medium-sized attacks in Germany over the years and many that were thwarted - this attack is by far the worst we have suffered.
The mentality of German society will change. Light-hearted and, at times, carefree attitudes will subside. The freedom in our lives we were adamant we would never allow terrorists to take from us is going to give way to deep-seated feelings of unease. Germany will feel less safe. And it will be less safe than before.
A political earthquake?
Add to that the possible political earthquake that will follow if the perpetrator turns out to be a refugee. A person seeking refuge in this country, a person who sought asylum and received asylum - a person this country did not turn back.
The chancellor's refugee policies are bound to enter stormy waters should the perpetrator be an asylum-seeker who came to Germany last year when the country magnanimously opened its borders. In that case, society's friendly welcome for people in need will be strained to the utmost. The triumph of far-right nationalist thinking will be celebrating more than merely respectable results. Our open society will shut down, the domestic political scene will fossilize, and freedom will be threatened from within.
On days such as this, it is, of course, important to remain calm and level-headed. But serenity is becoming ever more difficult. The evening of December 19, 2106 is an evening that will change Germany. How much? That remains to be seen.
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