How Germany Reacted to the Horrific Christmas Market Crash


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How Germany Reacted to the Horrific Christmas Market Crash

Onlookers and press flocked to Breitscheidplatz while it was still unclear whether the crash was an accident or a terrorist attack.

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany

When I arrive about one hour after a truck rammed into the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz in central Berlin, police have cordoned off the area. At this point, nobody is absolutely sure yet if this was an accident or a terrorist attack, but the signs pointing to an attack are there. One of those signs is the British eyewitness who reports on Twitter that the truck "plowed" through people at 40 miles per hour, "and it wasn't near a road and [there was] no attempt to brake."


More onlookers and journalists gather at the cordon on Budapester Straße. The truck is visible from there—it broke diagonally to the street, at the edge of the Christmas market. Amid fire engines, ambulances, and paramedics rushing about, the truck looms unusually large, with no logos or names on its black tarp. Press photographers are trying to get a good shot. "This is Merkel's fault! Anyone can see that," yells a man in a blue windbreaker. But most of the people watching the scene are silent or talk in hushed tones. Police officers carry sub-machine guns, but they look focused and calm. More ambulances keep arriving, but few with emergency lights and sirens.

A little while later, police officers set up a press area in front of the Zoo Palast movie theater, at about 45 yards from the truck. Soon, more than a hundred reporters, camera crews, and photographers crowd the area, clawing to find out more.

Thomas Neuendorf, spokesperson for the Berlin police, is immediately surrounded by camera lenses and microphones, but he has few new facts to share. The truck was registered in Poland, it came from Kantstraße, and rammed straight through a footpath between stalls, killing 12 people. The passenger of the truck appears to be one of the casualties. The driver fled, but a suspect was arrested in the vicinity.* "We're currently investigating the background of the incident," Neuendorf says.


Journalists at the scene are exchanging information. One of them knows that the passenger was a Polish man and likely the original driver of the truck. The Polish trucking company has confirmed that it lost contact with its driver. Later, we'll get confirmation of what some of us already suspect: The truck was hijacked together with the driver, who had already died when the hijacker steered the massive vehicle into the crowd. The crash isn't being treated as an accident anymore.

On social media, the cycle of reactions we come to expect by now has begun—people complain about the news coverage being too graphic or too slow, people quickly place blame, others tell them not to jump to conclusions too quickly, politicians express their condolences, someone from the right-wing AfD party publicly condemns Chancellor Angela Merkel. Facebook activates its Safety Check feature for Berlin while I'm looking at the truck. It feels kind of surreal—as if an entire city was just threatened by this truck, which has been peacefully resting against a half-demolished market stall for the last few hours. The violent act the truck was hijacked for lasted a few seconds, but those seconds were probably enough to change the way we feel in our own country.

* In a press statement on Tuesday, Berlin authorities said that the suspect who was arrested denies any responsibility for the attack and they are unsure he can be linked to it.


Scroll down for Grey Hutton's photos from the scene of the crash this morning.