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Barcelona stands up to terror

Anna Gumbau
August 18, 2017

The terror attack in Barcelona has not prevented locals and tourists from taking to the streets and showing their solidarity. Anna Gumbau reports from the Catalonian capital.

Spanien Trauer und Gedenken nach Anschlag in Barcelona
Image: DW/A. Gumbau

"Barcelona is not scared," Víctor Garcia, a local from Barcelona, says the morning after the terror attack in the city, when a van drove through Las Ramblas, killing 14 people and wounding more than a hundred others.

Las Ramblas is the longest boulevard and the busiest pedestrian street in the city. It is regularly filled with tourists and locals who work in the city center. There are several iconic newsstands located along the street. Alberto Garcia, who works at one of these kiosks, noted that things were less busy than usual. He was, however, hopeful that this would solely "be an immediate consequence of the attack," and that Las Ramblas would regain its usual crowds in the coming days.

However, many locals and shop owners admitted being surprised by how many people were roaming the streets of the city. "We are shocked and saddened, but we are not really surprised about the attacks," Víctor told me. Amid the wave of terror attacks in Europe in the past two years, citizens in Barcelona were aware that the city would be hit by one at some point - the question was only when it would happen. "We cannot prevent [such an attack], so we must prevail," Antoni, a local who works at a bank near Las Ramblas, told DW.

Map showing Barcelona, Cambrils and Alcanar ENG

Acts of solidarity

By morning after the attack, once the investigation and operations were over, the police removed the perimeter they had erected around Las Ramblas. At 11 a.m., the streets were mostly crowded; the majority of shops, department stores and local businesses were open as usual, and tourists rambled around Barcelona's most crowded boulevard again.

Citizens have written messages of solidarity at the Boqueria market
Citizens have written messages of solidarity at the Boqueria marketImage: DW/A. Gumbau

Clara and Lorenzo, two travelers from Italy, were planning on visiting Las Ramblas the evening of the attack, until a call from a relative warned them about the situation. "Our hotel was located in one of the streets parallel to Las Ramblas and it was impossible for us to get in there at first. We had to walk for nearly an hour before we could reach it," they say. They were "in shock" the night before, but nevertheless decided to take a walk around Las Ramblas the morning after in spite of the attack.

On Thursday night, many tourists were unable to get back to Las Ramblas and reach the hotels they were staying in. However, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, praised the solidarity shown by citizens, as hundreds of locals offered shelter at their houses and rushed to the nearest hospitals to give blood for the wounded, while taxi drivers gave rides for free and translators voluntarily acted as interpreters between the hospital personnel and tourists who were wounded.

Minute of silence

Crowds gathered in Placa Catalunya
Crowds gathered in the Plaça Catalunya before the minute of silenceImage: DW/A. Gumbau

A minute of silence took place at noon in Placa Catalunya, the square at one end of Las Ramblas that is also the heart of Barcelona's city center. Crowds of mostly local people, but also several foreigners and tourists, began to gather around the perimeter of the square more than half an hour before it started; several queues were formed in order to get into the center of the square. The minute of silence was followed by a long, heartfelt round of applause and voices chanting "Visca Barcelona" ("Long live Barcelona"). Many headed back to Las Ramblas: "This is our street and they won't take it away from us," said Laura, a student from Barcelona University.

Throughout the day, many spontaneous initiatives from citizens took place along Las Ramblas. At the start of the boulevard, where the van had entered the previous afternoon, lies the old fountain of Canaletes, one of the symbols of the city, which became the chosen spot for many people from the Barcelona metropolitan area to light up candles and leave flowers and messages of support.

Spanien Trauer und Gedenken nach Anschlag in Barcelona
Spontaneous tributes were laid at the beginning of Las RamblasImage: DW/A. Gumbau

As the hours passed, the spots in Las Ramblas where people were paying tribute multiplied. Near La Boqueria market, the place where the van had stopped the night before, locals were giving post-its and pens for passers-by to write down their messages of support. "No fear, no hate" and "United we stand" were quotes repeatedly seen throughout Las Ramblas. Many of these initiatives are still ongoing.

"Yesterday was one of the saddest days of my life," said Victor Garcia. "But I also feel immensely proud of how resilient my city has shown to be." The atmosphere in Barcelona's city center the day after the van attack can be well summarized by such a mix of feelings. Its citizens, however, are convinced that the Spanish city will not give in to fear.