Epiphany 2017: Terror in My Berlin Neighborhood


Epiphany 2017: Terror in My Berlin Neighborhood

Epiphany, January 6th, marks the official end of the Christmas season. As a Berliner who’s faith began with the star over Bethlehem, I find myself this Epiphany still grieving quietly, taking the time to stop and a reflect amidst the countless wreaths and candles lovingly laid out at the Gedächntnis Church, for the dead of the Christmas Market Attack. It was an act of terror that changed Germany, Berlin, my Charlottenburg neighborhood and me as well.

As the carnage unfolded, it was my job as a journalist to report on the bloodshed in my own back yard, at a market I had planned to attend just a few streets away the night of the attack.

My young son and I were set to go there that very night but were laid up with a sudden flu. Fate was kind. We wanted to buy matching father-son hats, an incongruous even silly idea when set beside the untold pain and anguish wrought by the Islamic State follower Anis Amri. As the police and security experts I talked to right after the attack had indicated, it now very much looks like he had help.

How far his jihadist network extends, which mosques and hate preachers it includes, is still being investigated. It appears some of them, like an apparent fellow Tunisian accomplice, are right here in Berlin. My Berlin.


Our planned Christmas outing was exactly the kind of fun many others, celebrating the sheer joy of Christmas were looking forward to that night: buying gifts for loved one, sharing a mulled wine with friends and colleagues, taking in the nativity scene, the lights, the happy crowds. Dispelling the dark gloom of long winter nights.

Those who died that night, from this city and from around the world – from Italy, Israel, Ukraine, Poland – were not so fortunate. I pray for them, that the pain of loss their families will bear for a lifetime may ease with the years. Right now, I can’t lift this heavy feeling in my heart.  A similar pall shrouded me as I reported on the Islamist attacks in Brussels in March that left 32 dead and on the Paris terror attacks that left 130 dead. As an international journalist, sharing in collective grief comes with the territory these days.

Both cities I know well, especially Brussels where I have worked. But seeing Berlin, my Berlin, my neighborhood, my home for almost two decades, so brutally attacked, its citizens and guests murdered and maimed, caused a different quality of grief and rage:

I felt what it was like to have my life, my family, our home threatened by fanatics who hate us and would see us dead.

Terror has passed through my door and made itself comfortable at my fire.

It is a bitter realization – especially since the suspected attacker was a failed asylum seeker who flaunted German law for years and managed to gain a foothold here thanks to government policies and taxpayer support. The same no doubt applies to the men and women in the Islamist underground who groomed, supported and aided his vicious attack.

In a different age, my ancestors would have girded up their loins for war and sought revenge. Blood for blood. It’s still the response in many parts of the world. It’s primal and definitely not Christian or Enlightened, but it is no doubt extremely cathartic.

In our Global Age though, complete with an Internet of Things Islamist Network funded by oil-rich sheiks, vengeance, and divided societies, is exactly the response those who seek our destruction want to see.

Vengeance and blood debt are sad and failed chapters from their book, not ours.

Thes lack the self-reflection and self-criticism that has made European civilization, with ist science, medicine, art, music and culture the wonder and glory of the world.


This weekend, I will again be riding my bike down to the Gedächtnis Church to light a candle for the dead. I will be searching my heart for a forgiveness that is hard to find right now. I won’t be struggling with the rage that has subsided or with a vengeance that’s not part of my make-up or my culture. But I will be clearing my mind of the doubts I have that our society, our leaders, that we are in any way equipped to vanquish this vicious enemy.

For me, the holiday season came to an end well before Epiphany.

It ended with a jihadist murder spree on the Kudamm.

But there was no let up to the slaughter this Christmas season. It continued in short order with another Islamic State attack in Istanbul. Two cities, Berlin and Istanbul, now united in mourning and sorrow.

2017 will be the year we learn how to track down and stop the jihadists in our midsts.

Or we will have to learn to grieve like we did in 2016.

It’s a new kind of Epiphany in my Berlin neighborhood.

All Copyrights ©Brian Thomas 2017

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