People in Brussels Talk About How Last Year’s Terrorist Attacks Affected Their Lives
"I saw people running out of the station, people lying down on the pavement and there were a lot of police. So I went back home and called my boss to tell him I’d be late."
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
One year ago today, on the 22nd of March, 2016, Brussels was hit by terrorist attacks at two different locations. At 7.58AM there were two explosions at the airport, Zaventem. A little over an hour later, at 9.11AM, there was a third explosion at the Maelbeek metro station.
Thirty-two people lost their lives in the attacks, and over 300 people were injured. The youngest victim had just turned 19. The attacks were the worst ever in the history of Belgium – so it's no wonder that, a year later, the people of Brussels still struggle to wrap their heads around what happened that day.
We went to the Maelbeek metro station to ask young Brusselians about their memories of that day, and the impact the attacks have had on their lives.
VICE: Where were you during the attacks that day?
Louise: I was at the metro station Houba-Brugmann, quite far from Maelbeek. I hadn't really heard anything about the attack on Maelbeek yet, but I did notice there were a lot of police on the streets and helicopters flying around. The cops told us to hide out in the [fast food chain restaurant] Quick. I stayed there until about 1PM.
How did you feel that day and the days after?
I was intensely sad. It was so tragic. One of my friends knows someone who died during the attack here at Maelbeek. She had given birth just six months earlier. I just have no words for that. I haven't gotten more vigilant since the attacks or anything – it's just that when I walk past this station I do feel a bit scared. I used to like riding the metro, but these days I prefer to walk to school.
Do you feel safer now that soldiers patrol metro stations?
It's good that they're there, but it's really just a false sense of security, isn't it? Something could happen again at any moment, and there's not much they could do about it. And they're not keeping an eye on everyone – I could walk in here with a bomb belt and no one would notice, because I don't look "suspicious".
Has your perception of Brussels changed?
I still love Brussels, but it's not the same as it was. It was the first time that such a cowardly act was committed here. Let's hope it never happens again.
VICE: Do you remember where you were at the time of the attack on the Maelbeek station?
Jonas: I was already at work, because I always start early in the morning. It's weird to think that I got off at this stop only an hour before the attack. There had already been an attack on Zavetem, so when I heard about the explosion in Maelbeek, I – and probably many others with me – figured that there would be bombs going off for the rest of the day. It was very stressful. But my company immediately went into lockdown, which did make me feel safe.
Do you feel still safe?
I still have to take the subway to get to work. Even weeks after the attack, I caught myself thinking about how I could protect myself or where I could hide if something were to happen again. But at some point you just have to let it go, not think about it too much and start living again. I was lucky that nothing happened to me. It may sound a bit macabre, but sometimes when I hear a great song, I think, 'This would be a great song to die to.'
How do you think the city has handled it?
Everyone was very calm after the attacks. I'm from France and have been living in Belgium for a while now, and I was very inspired by how the Belgians responded to the situation. In France, we've unfortunately had to deal with terrorism too, and it has shown that there are very different ways you can respond to this kind of thing. There is no point in being angry or frustrated about it.
VICE: How did you hear about the terrorist attacks?
Célia: At the time of the attacks I was at uni. We were told that a bomb had gone off in a metro station and were ordered to leave campus and to go home as soon as possible. It was a shock, obviously. You always think something like that can happen to others, but never to yourself. It was pretty scary.
How do you feel about all the soldiers patrolling the streets right now?
It was weird at first, all those soldiers. But it's become pretty normal, even though it's something that shouldn't be normal, ever. On the one hand I feel safer with the soldiers here, but it also means I could be in danger. There's a reason they're here, after all.
Did the attacks change your perception of Brussels?
Brussels is a city with a lot of diversity, with people from all over the world. That's something I really like about this city. The terrorist attacks did not affect my love for the city.
VICE: Do you remember where you were during the attacks?
Hans: Yes, I was outside, close to the Maelbeek metro station. I saw people running out of the station, people lying down on the pavement and there were a lot of police. So I went back home and called my boss to tell him I'd be late.
You still went to work that day?
Yes, that's the best thing to do. Just carry on with your life.
What went through your mind when you saw it happen?
I just didn't understand what the terrorists were trying to achieve with these attacks – and I still don't. Doing something like this doesn't solve anything. And why attack us? We haven't done anything; we're innocent.
How have the attacks affected you personally?
I do worry every time I take the metro. Especially at rush hour, I pay more attention to what's happening around me. The soldiers patrolling here and on the street make me feel safer, more relaxed. I'm from China, and when you're there you'll see even more guards walking around. But apart from that, not much has changed. Brussels is still a great city to live in.
VICE: On the day, how did you hear about the attacks?
Danyana: I was at home. I live near the Maelbeek metro station, and suddenly heard so much noise outside and saw police on the streets. Concerned friends and family kept calling me to ask if I was alright.
So do you feel the attacks affected you personally?
Yes, absolutely. It happened so close to my home, and I use this metro stop all the time. I wouldn't say that I'm scared or anything, but I – or someone I know – could easily have been a victim of the attacks. Knowing that has changed something for me.
VICE: Where were you when it happened last year?
Alex: I was with my family in Luxembourg. I study in Brussels, so I was immediately worried about all my friends. My grandmother was travelling from Luxembourg to Brussels that day and for a large part of the day we didn't hear anything from her. So we immediately assumed the worst. It was a weird feeling – you don't know what to do with yourself. Eventually we were able to reach her, and it turned out she just had her cell phone turned off the whole time.
How have the attacks impacted you personally?
It has definitely pushed me to talk about it with people. We have to accept that it happened, but also need to spread a message of tolerance. That's the only thing we can do to counter the negativity. It may sound cliché, but we are all humans. And I think it's important that we're not afraid. I have a brother and a sister who are both 14, and it would be such a shame if they had to change the way they live their life. There's no point in changing your life or being scared. If you do that, the terrorists win. You just have to carry on living as if nothing happened.
So is that what you're doing? Carrying on like nothing happened?
Yes, in a way. I'm not scared at all. I take the metro every day, and if something were to happen, well, then it happens. There isn't much you can do about that.