Italian television was almost the only network there to film the altar lying on the ground in Breitscheidplatz to commemorate the victims of the attack in Berlin on Monday. It is a carpet of candles, in the midst of which stands only an Israeli flag.
The candles are red and white, in a pattern that, although somber, integrates and blends with the Christmas decorations; the market has already restarted. The same market where only days ago the truck carrying the attacker — and the already almost forgotten Polish driver — rushed into the crowd.
The altar is already undermined at 10 a.m. by the smell of the grill on which the sausages will soon be sizzling. Television crews ask their questions and talk about the seriousness of the moment and about the composed dignity of the Germans.
There is also a Danish broadcaster, and above all of us stands a silver frame with the words “Concept Shopping.” A few meters away there is a large red Christmas ornament, the kind that should be hanging from a tree, but on a human scale. Inside there is a father with his son in a stroller being photographed by the mother. Across the street, small groups of people emerge from the Bikini Berlin bearing packages.
In the news as well, the attack on the heart of Berlin is being covered on Italian television with great fanfare, but here at the market they’ve resumed operation in a most natural and courageous way.
The expressions of those who sell bratwurst and chips are that of one who has returned to do their job because Christmas is the most profitable time, rather than one who wants to be the hero who does not bow to the law of terror. Normality, even commercial, becomes a rampart, and oftentimes an anaesthetic.
Meanwhile, in Italy, they receive email newsletters with colored stars and announcements of new products coming early this year. And then, like millions of people, text message greetings fired from the trigger of a smartphone to the entire address book. Only four days ago telephone companies recorded the explosion of “You okay?” sent to all those who were in Berlin: the mixture of concern and the compulsion to be there, to sympathize and therefore not to be left out of history.
And while the reporter of TG1 informs the amazed operator that Pope Francis has called live into One Morning, the market is already in operation. A timid customer examines the foods. Someone photographs the expanse of candles.
A merry-go-round is still stopped, and it is not clear whether it will start later in the day. Its spaceships, poised steady in midair, hung over two policemen who inspect the faces passing by. The traffic on the street are people going to parties, cars, people crammed on buses.
The Memorial Church stands with casualties of World War II on display. You can see it in every frame. It serves as a symbol — a parallel — with this other wound that history has opened in the heart of Berlin, and in the heart of Europe.
But outside of the frame it is still Christmas that commands attention: the strange contrast to tragedy, a tangible form of numbing anesthetic.
A couple next to me speak of the festivities that await them on the 24th and 25th; beginning the New Year, which will be better, they say. Then they proceed toward the subway, which had just reopened, and where I must go down as well. On the U-Bahn, a lady tries to find space for her wooden tree that will soon be inside her home. A girl has a Santa hat, the white pom pom resting on a field of red fabric.
We’re all together, we and many others, shrouded in a kind of vague depression, a few meters below the ground. We’re in the middle of a global war, their faces seem to say. So it’s better to keep fighting daily than to wallow in the damage.
Outside, a few meters above us, on the streets of Berlin, perhaps there is an assassin, still able to obtain arms, on the loose. But the thought does not reach us down here, if only for a fleeting moment, immediately carried away by the sound of things. Perhaps it is below ground, on the U2 from the parts of Nollendorfplatz, where transiting. Perhaps he is sitting next to the lady with her wooden tree. Or next to me. Maybe it’s just that guy that you saw staring at the platform floor.
Above, on the surface, the camera crews will go on all day, trying to make connections, and maybe not just Italians. And until Jan. 6 the markets will be open. Like everything, for that matter, until at least until the 25th. Boutiques of various kinds, restaurants and bookstores selling gifts for the latecomers. And even pharmacies. At Christmas there is always a boom in antidepressants.
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