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Juergen Teller
Taken from Dazed Issue 41Photography Juergen Teller

Young Berliners discuss the changing face of the city

We speak to five people about the effects of Monday’s terror attack, and how the city is surviving Europe’s rising far-right

It’s say to safe that, in the Western world, we have become desensitised to scenes of war and violence. We see bloodied infants escaping war zones on rafts; bombs dropped daily in far-flung countries, news of executions and hostage situations broadcast on breakfast television. On Monday this week, however, we saw Berlin – a city celebrated for its artistic prowess, cultural diversity and attitude of tolerance – hit by a truck attack which saw 12 killed and 48 left with either minor or serious injuries.

International news outlets were quick to report – or, in some cases, misreport – the facts. There was a responsibility claim by ISIS which was then proven as fake, followed by another whose credibility is still awaiting confirmation. There was an arrest and a subsequent release, with German police admitting they believed they had detained the wrong man. Meanwhile, online commenters were quick to point the finger at Angela Merkel and her liberal immigration policy, whereas others used the attack to justify racism or support the views of far-right party AfD (Alternative for Germany), an anti-immigrant party steadily gaining support.

But what are the actual effects of this attack? Is it just more of a surprise because Germany seems to have resisted the right-wing ideologies manifesting themselves in other European countries? Do we feel threatened by the fact that the carnage we see took place in a tourist destination, a country that feels both familiar and accessible to us? We reached out to five young Berliners – four of whom are German-born, three of whom relocated and now class the city as home – to gauge reaction to the attack and to see whether an isolated act of terror looks set to threaten Berlin’s progressive attitudes for good.

JONAS, PHOTOGRAPHER

“Berlin’s recent history makes it a city that offers huge amounts of possibilities compared to other European cities. It’s free and open both physically and mentally, attracting a multitude of people worldwide. The attack was tragic, but it’s also a situation too complicated to follow up with simple answers – yet it seems the more complicated our world gets, the simpler answers become. Before any motivation was revealed, people used the attack to pursue their hateful agendas. Now more than ever is the time to unite and diversify arguments rather than spewing generalisations of fear and resentment. It’s time to stay cool; think, love. Every one of these attacks make multiculturalism an even more precious gem worthy of standing for. Hatred should not produce more hatred; it would be the easy way out, not the solution.”

“No matter where we come from, what we look like, who we love or who we pray to: in Berlin, everyone gets the chance to add their own colours to the city” – Christoph

CHRISTOPH, STUDENT / SONGWRITER

“Nowadays, people in Berlin are used to reading news about terrorist attacks. We’re used to seeing images from war zones; to dead people being presented as numbers. What we’re not used to is any of that happening on our doorstep. The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ was never more true. We believe it can’t happen to us until it does – and then we wonder how we could ever have been so naïve. But the world isn’t black and white. Humans like to pretend it is because it makes decisions easier. In a fictional black and white world it’s easy to find someone to blame; to shout opinions.

If there’s one place that reminds us how colourful the world really is, it’s Berlin. No matter where we come from, what we look like, who we love or who we pray to: in Berlin, everyone gets the chance to add their own colours to the city. We cannot let tragic events and simple media answers to complex questions paint over such a creative place with layers of black and white. We cannot let a breathtakingly beautiful painting be turning into a dark wartime photograph. The world is iridescent; let’s add more colours as opposed to taking them away.”

CAMILLE, DJ

“The anti-immigrant rhetoric definitely exists in Germany, but it’s mainly supported outside the urban areas. Numbers show that AfD has more supporters outside major cities. So far it’s true that Germany has avoided the far-right shift because its past has shown where xenophobia can lead us. If the attacker is a refugee it will buoy these ideas, but it’s up to us to fight against them – the media can help by publishing positive coverage of refugees who have fully integrated. As a woman, I feel safe in Berlin – my attitude hasn’t changed, and I remain convinced these attacks are triggered by racism and xenophobia. Ultimately multiculturalism, compassion and understanding are the only paths to a better, kinder world.”

FLORIAN, PHOTOGRAPHER

“We’ve all noticed a European shift to the right in the last few years – unfortunately, I don’t think our past will prohibit Germany from doing so as well. We’ve been lucky so far to not have had attacks like Paris and Nice in the past – or maybe we just have a well-functioning system that protects us better than we know. What happened on Monday came as no surprise; there’s no space for fear and we need to step up against those that tell us otherwise.

What’s interesting is that the German media covered the event in a calm, focused way, whereas the international media depicted a Berlin in flames – media coverage which seemingly intended to encourage fear, hatred and distrust, which isn’t helpful. I’m happy that none of my friends have started using German flags as their Facebook profile pictures; this country has had enough nationalism in the past. I’ve been here for 17 years and still Berlin offers me freedom; it stands for liberty and openness. No attack can change that.”

“I feel safe in Berlin – my attitude hasn’t changed, and I remain convinced these attacks are triggered by racism and xenophobia” – Camille

FLAVIO, DJ

“Throughout my 18 months in Berlin I’ve never heard much about either a visible or assumed right-wing attitude here, although I don’t know too much about the rest of Germany. The news of this attack was difficult to process but, because I moved from Paris last year, it felt almost routine. I tried to not panic, checked sources to find more information, marked myself ‘safe’ on Facebook and then refreshed news and social media. 

I couldn’t help but hope the attacker was white and European. I felt awful for thinking this way, but I felt angry because I couldn’t shut out this xenophobia. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that hate speech online reaches a wider audience than accepted. I didn’t come to Berlin to be surrounded by hatred – I moved here without even speaking German and immediately felt welcome. 18 months later, I still do. That climate of acceptance is the thing I love most about Berlin – I’m not ready to let that go.”