/2016 Berlin Christmas Market Attack: Terror Survivors Feel Abandoned by German Authorities

2016 Berlin Christmas Market Attack: Terror Survivors Feel Abandoned by German Authorities

It is all supposed to return to an finish on Dec. 19, the day they meet on Breitscheidplatz sq., subsequent to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. They are going to journey to town from Israel, from the US and from nearer by within the German state of Brandenburg and. They are going to kneel on the gouge within the floor that continues by the steps of the church. The names of the 12 deceased have been positioned on the steps. Surviving relations will sink just a few ounces of liquid gold into the bottom with a purpose to full the memorial commissioned by town authorities, lastly closing a wound.

If solely issues have been that straightforward.

A 12 months has handed because the terrorist assault on the Christmas market at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz and the memorial ceremony has been scheduled to mark the top of a 12 months of mourning. However the weight of that assault and what has come since can’t merely be neatly relegated to the previous. Twelve individuals died on the night time of the crime and near 100 individuals have been injured and a number of the victims are nonetheless in clinics right this moment. And few have been in a position to overcome their loss — both to their private well being or the lack of a member of the family. Most wounds are removed from being healed.

However if you meet with the victims’ kinfolk, many are fast to report about one thing very totally different that occurred after the assault. They converse of their disappointment, of a authorities that failed of their eyes. They decry a state that failed to stop a terrorist from perpetrating an assault proper in the course of Berlin. After which deserted them. They are saying it is a wound that may by no means be healed.

Their tales are horrific.

Relations spent days wandering round Berlin earlier than they obtained any certainty that their kids, mother and father or siblings have been residing or not. They are saying that no person answered hotlines, that lists of victims have been managed chaotically, that the authorities have been overwhelmed and that officers have been insensitive.

They are saying that there was no central level of contact they might flip to. Nor was there anybody who may assist victims and surviving relations apply for compensation or hardship help.

Whilst newspapers printed photographs and experiences on the perpetrator, there have been few tales concerning the victims. They appeared to have been forgotten.

There was no official state occasion to commemorate the useless like there had been in France. In Italy, the nation’s president was current when the physique of an Italian nationwide killed within the terrorist assault arrived within the nation, whereas in Poland, the nation’s president additionally kneeled in entrance of the coffin of the Polish truck driver who had been killed within the Berlin terrorist strike. In Germany, although, the chancellor did not even ship a letter of condolence. As a substitute of visits or recognition, surviving relations have been fast to obtain payments for forensics examinations — 51 euros (60 {dollars}) to be paid inside 30 days. In any other case, they’d be turned over to debt collectors.

Month after month, surviving relations discovered of ever-greater failures and cover-up efforts on the a part of the investigating authorities. Additionally they discovered that the perpetrator had round a dozen assumed identities, that he had been a drug vendor, that he had dedicated fraud and that he had been in a position to put together a terrorist assault below the officers’ noses. And that afterward, regulation enforcement officers apparently doctored the information to cowl up their failures within the run-up to the assault.

Over time, disappointment changed into anger.

On the eve of the one-year anniversary, DER SPIEGEL interviewed survivors and witnesses of the Breitscheidplatz terrorist assault. Journal reporters additionally reviewed 1000’s of pages of inside paperwork and interviewed sufferer liaisons from the German federal authorities and from the city-state of Berlin.

The picture that emerges is a shameful one: On Dec. 19, 2016, Islamic State terror reached Germany. However it struck a rustic incapable of mourning the victims or caring for their survivors. Though the chance of terrorism had been growing for years, officers appeared astoundingly unprepared for the assault when it lastly arrived.

The anger of these affected by the assault is obvious in an open letter from the surviving relations of all 12 of the victims despatched to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In it, they write that the chancellor didn’t rise to the extent of her workplace in coping with the assaults. “It’s our agency expectation of you, Madame Chancellor, that the German authorities assist our households comprehensively and unbureaucratically.” The assault on Breitscheidplatz, they write, “can also be the tragic consequence of political inactivity on the a part of your authorities.”

Loss of life

It was 6:53 p.m. on Dec. 19 when Lukasz City, 37, slipped a DVD into his laptop computer within the sleeping cabin of the semi-truck he had been driving. He had needed to go away Berlin a lot earlier, however ThyssenKrupp instructed him they have been unable to unload the metal beams his truck was carrying. He must spend the night time in his truck within the Berlin industrial park.

That afternoon, City had referred to as his spouse and chatted about Christmas. He had additionally picked up a beer at a grocery store and eaten a doner kebab. Now it was time to observe the romantic comedy “Don Jon” earlier than going to mattress, however out of the blue somebody was standing on the window. As City leaned ahead and drew open the curtain, perpetrator Anis Amri shot him within the head. Then Amri began up the truck.

4 kilometers to the south, individuals have been crowded between the stands on the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, with solely 5 days left to go till Christmas Eve. Guests ate and drank, met up with co-workers, purchased Christmas decorations, nutcrackers and candles.

At 8:02 p.m., the terrorist drove the truck previous the intersection across the nook on the Bahnhof Zoo practice station after which into Breitscheidplatz, the place he grazed the aspect of a waffle stand, ran individuals over as they stood at tables in entrance of a mulled wine stand after which plowed by the tent in entrance of a sausage stand. He then turned the truck to the left in entrance of the memorial church, operating over a beverage stand, breaking by a fence and operating over extra individuals on the street. The truck got here to a cease after 80 meters.

On Dec. 19, the next individuals died within the assault:

Dorit Krebs, 53, who had simply began working at a close-by financial institution.

Sebastian Berlin, 32, an industrial mechanic at transmission-maker ZF within the metropolis of Brandenburg an der Havel, who had come to have fun a take a look at he had simply handed.

Angelika Klösters, a 65-year-old from town of Neuss close to Düsseldorf who had been given a visit to Berlin as a present from her son.

Dalia Elyakim, a 66-year-old vacationer from Israel who had needed to drink a mulled wine together with her husband after dinner.

Anna Bagratuni, 44, and her husband Georgiy, 44, of Kiev, each staff of a Berlin software program firm.

Peter Völker, 73, who had who had come to fulfill along with his accomplice from the US and a professor of non secular music in entrance of the church.

Fabrizia Di Lorenzo, 31, and Nada Cizmar, 34, an Italian lady and a Czech lady, who had been celebrating the vacations with a bunch of colleagues from the logistics agency 4flow.

Klaus Jacob, 65, who had gone to the Christmas market as a result of he and his girlfriend had been unable to get tickets to the theater.

Christoph Herrlich, 40, a lawyer and start-up founder, who simply managed to push a girlfriend out of the way in which of the onrushing truck, saving her as his personal life was taken.


Rami Elyakim was nonetheless in a coma when his spouse was buried. He needed to bear a number of hours of surgical procedure to his shoulder, hips and each legs. Shortly earlier than the brand new 12 months, he awoke from his coma and requested his kids, “The place’s Dalia?” He had misplaced all reminiscence of occasions from the night aside from gazing on the church’s tower, which had been closely broken in World Warfare II and stored in that state as a memorial to the violence.

Near a 12 months after the assault, Elyakim was standing on the outskirts of the city of Herzlia close to Tel Aviv at his spouse’s grave. The couple had been married for 40 years, and there had solely been just a few days throughout that point that that they had not spent collectively. He says he labored laborious his whole life constructing fridges for eating places. Now he spends most of his time at house on the couch. “I had an excellent life,” he says, “however now I’ve nothing.”

Elyakim comes from a rustic the place the specter of terrorism exists on daily basis. Everybody in Israel is susceptible to being affected by violence and individuals are ready for it. However the thought that he may encounter terrorism in Germany had by no means crossed his thoughts. He thought of the nation to be one of many most secure on the earth. However now, the Elyakims discover themselves questioning precisely what steps the German authorities are taking to guard individuals.

The household is in contact with kinfolk of different victims by a WhatsApp group the place they share hyperlinks to tales concerning the failures of investigators. They do not perceive every little thing within the tales from Germany, however they discover what they do perceive to be incomprehensible. An Islamist who had been free to wander round with 14 assumed identities? “One thing like that would not even be doable in Israel,” Elyakim says. “They’d have put him jail or, on the very least, monitored his each step.” He refuses to utter the perpetrator’s identify.

Elyakim says he thinks Germany must turn out to be extra like Israel in terms of defending itself towards terrorism. He says the safety businesses ought to be strengthened, that bollards ought to be positioned on road corners and that individuals getting into Germany ought to be screened extra rigorously. And that the federal government must take extra duty for the victims.

He says {that a} consultant of the German authorities promised him at his hospital mattress that he can be taken care of. However thus far, he and his kids have obtained little or no help — a minimum of not sufficient to reside in dignity, he believes.

Elyakim has since been acknowledged by the Israeli authorities as a sufferer of terrorism. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, even modified the regulation on his behalf. Beforehand, help had solely been given to victims of terrorist assaults overseas if Israelis or Jews had been focused. Elyakim says he is very grateful to the Israeli authorities for its assist, however that he additionally believes it’s the Germans who ought to be helping him.


There is a thick binder on the desk on the house of Sigrid and Hans-Georg Rheinsberg, and two others are mendacity on the ground. The binders comprise all of the newspaper clippings they’ve collected because the loss of life of their daughter, Dorit Krebs.

Their anger grows with every new sheet of paper they learn.

“Somebody ought to have been there for us from the start — for all of us,” says Sigrid. Her husband provides, “Nothing got here — no letter, nothing.”

Sigrid says that the “authorities additionally shares duty. It wasn’t the perpetrator, nevertheless it did share duty.”

She provides that Merkel had taken refugees in below her arm however, when it got here to the victims of the terrorist assault, she did nothing.

“That is maybe a bit sturdy. However Ms. Merkel handled us badly.”

“Completely ignored us,” her husband says.

The Rheinsbergs reside within the Havelland area, west of the German capital. However their granddaughter, who moved into the house of her deceased mom close to Berlin, is extra open concerning the household’s outrage. She requested that her identify not be revealed.

She says that her experiences within the days instantly following the assault nonetheless upset her right this moment. She first discovered the following morning that her mom had been on the Christmas market. When she referred to as the police hotline, she was instructed that she should not fear, that her mom had solely been injured and was within the hospital. When she arrived on the hospital in query, the daughter was instructed that no affected person with that identify had been admitted.

She then tried to get extra info at a police station, the place she additionally filed a lacking individuals report. She drove from hospital to hospital, asking if her mom could be there, however she did not get any concrete info. On the hotline, she says the particular person sounded irritated: You are calling about Ms. Krebs once more?

Then, the Berlin Workplace of Felony Investigation obtained in contact together with her, requesting that she usher in an merchandise for DNA comparability. She introduced alongside a toothbrush. She did not have any certainty till three days after the terrorist assault. When she later inquired about her mom’s private belongings, a blood-smeared bag was merely pressed into her fingers.

“The whole lot simply stored getting pushed forwards and backwards, and no person knew what the opposite was doing, and in lots of locations, there was merely a scarcity of humaneness,” she says.

Berlin police have addressed the errors made after the assault in an inside report. It states that the care offered to the victims and their households had been “inadequate.” It additionally states that individuals tried contacting many locations to seek out out about their family members however have been supplied with “no info by any means.” As a consequence of incompatibilities between IT techniques, hospitals needed to fax the names of the injured to the police, the place officers in flip entered the information by hand into their system.

Bothered by the way in which she had been handled, Dorit Krebs’ daughter wrote an e mail to German Federal Inside Minister Thomas de Maizière one month after the assault. She wrote that the state had failed and that the households had been poorly handled by the federal government. De Maizière answered in February and promised enchancment.


On Feb. 20, 2017, Kurt Beck’s cell phone rang. Beck had been taking part in a convention about Africa in Kenya because the chairman of the Friedrich Ebert Basis, a corporation strongly aligned with the center-left Social Democratic Social gathering, which Beck as soon as led. The decision got here from German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who requested Beck if he may think about changing into the federal government’s particular commissioner for the victims and households left behind by the deaths within the Breitscheidplatz assault. “I will should assume it over a bit,” Beck stated. He referred to as again an hour later and agreed.

Beck is 68 years previous and he has already had quite a lot of roles in his life: head of the SPD celebration, a state governor, however within the months after that decision he additionally discovered lots of new issues — together with about himself. In March, three months after the assault, he wrote to the victims’ households and likewise to everybody who had been injured within the assault. He additionally met with virtually all of them.

Beck is sitting in a sparse workplace contained in the Justice Ministry; darkness has already fallen outdoors. Beck tries to be significantly matter-of-fact when discussing his function, saying he confronted a “package deal of duties” when he started and referring to deaths as casualties.” He says he knew the place can be emotionally taxing and that a number of the conferences he had had distressed him to the purpose that he needed to stroll round his house twice at night time earlier than he may even handle to take a seat down. On many nights, he nonetheless had bother sleeping.

There are numerous surviving relations who describe their conferences with Beck as having been constructive — lastly, they are saying, a consultant of the federal government had carried out one thing. In February, then-German President Joachim Gauck had invited victims’ households to his workplace to lend them an ear they usually have been additionally happy by that. However the households concerned say they have been conscious there wasn’t a lot he may do for them.

Beck helped them by making use of stress on the authorities and making certain that their varied requests have been processed shortly or by serving to them to seek out the fitting particular person to speak to. For one younger lady who had misplaced each of her mother and father within the assault, he helped discover a donor who may soar in and assist her with the prices of her college research.

However surviving relations and victims additionally say that Beck began his job too late and that months had already handed by the point he contacted them. They are saying that the misplaced time misplaced may now not be made up. A few of this resentment will stay, and Beck is absolutely conscious of this. The report he plans to launch as the federal government’s commissioner for victims on the anniversary of the assault will embody quite a lot of authorities failures — issues that, in his view, must be modified sooner or later with a purpose to enhance the way in which victims of terrorist assaults are handled. He additionally performed analysis overseas in different nations which have been the targets of terrorist assaults, together with Spain, France and Belgium, to see what classes may very well be utilized to Germany.

One of many issues Beck is asking for is the creation of a distinguished commissioner for victims on the authorities stage who would step in after terrorist assaults and different “occasions that inflict nice injury,” with a everlasting workplace positioned contained in the Justice Ministry. He additionally needs to arrange an internet portal that may inform households about the place they will discover info and the place and the way they will apply for help. And he’s calling for tactics of figuring out the useless that will likely be much less burdensome to households. In his report, Beck writes that such measures would make lots of issues simpler for households.

The one downside is that it will all come too late for the households whose family members have been misplaced or injured within the Breitscheidplatz terrorist assault.


Dec. 19, 2016, left behind a riddle for Hartmut Hüsges. When the semi-truck got here to a cease that night time, Hüsges and his husband Sascha remained unscathed. Hüsgen’s husband stated on the time, “Take care of the canine and I’ll see if there’s any manner I will help.” He returned a short while later ashen-faced. One thing, maybe a chunk of a Christmas market stand, should have fallen on his head. The docs at an area hospital recognized him with critical mind hemorrhaging. Sascha was put into an induced coma and underwent surgical procedure.

He has spent almost a 12 months in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics since then and hasn’t returned house. Nor has he been in a position to converse a phrase since that day and he has additionally been unable to maneuver on his personal. Hüsges has no thought what’s going on inside his accomplice’s head as a result of Sascha is barely in a position to blink his eyes and transfer his left hand a bit. The remainder of his physique is paralyzed.

“His life has been wrecked,” says Hüsges.

Hüsges is 61 years previous and works as a senior official within the German Finance Ministry, the place he’s accountable for the nation’s annual tax forecast. He isn’t the type of one that protests over issues simply to make himself really feel a bit higher. As soon as he went to a gathering with different victims, however he by no means went once more as a result of the night had been too emotional for him. He isn’t keen on crying.

Hüsges says he shortly got here to know it was unlikely his husband would ever return to his previous self and that he would possible require look after the remainder of his life. Hüsges has already begun getting ready for the long run.

He bought a house, which he plans to maneuver into along with his husband in some unspecified time in the future. It is a rambler, which is vital as a result of Sascha will now not have the ability to climb any stairs, and it’s now being transformed to make it handicap-accessible. Hüsges additionally purchased a automobile that has been outfitted for wheelchair transport and he plans to rent nurses to supply look after his husband.

Hüsges estimates it will all value round 750,000 euros – most of which is able to by no means be reimbursed.

Most of the victims’ households have tales to inform pertaining to cash. There are totally different sources of funding obtainable to victims in Germany, however the households say that weeks handed earlier than that they had an excellent overview of them. The German parliament’s analysis service was tasked with drafting an summary within the spring and the following doc it produced had over 27 pages.

After the assault, it was even unclear initially who was accountable for compensation — the federal government, below its victims’ compensation regulation, or a fund maintained by personal automobile insurance coverage firms. The regulation says that the state is just not accountable for damages “attributable to an attacker by the usage of a motorcar.” It was solely by a hectically organized order that each funds may very well be accessed — a call that was useful to the victims and their households, but in addition extraordinarily difficult provided that one fund is managed by the state of Berlin and the opposite by the German Insurance coverage Affiliation. There are additionally so-called hardship funds for the victims of prison terrorist acts administered by the Federal Workplace of Justice in Bonn. A special software must be accomplished for every totally different fund.

Lots of these affected described the search for reimbursement as a degrading course of by which they felt a bit like beggars — a minimum of initially. Typically they needed to wait weeks for a solution, cowl the prices themselves, borrow cash or take out a mortgage.

Thus far, round 2 million euros has been paid out to 132 victims and surviving relations, a median of 15,000 euros per particular person. These sums will possible improve considerably within the coming months. Eighteen of the surviving victims have been lately granted social safety funds. Nonetheless, it is nonetheless value drawing a comparability: The federal government has promised 40 million euros to cowl damages attributable to the riots surrounding the G-20 summit in Hamburg.

Hüsges, the official from the Finance Ministry, is not formally counted as a sufferer as a result of he remained unhurt. He says that for him it is not about cash. He claims he does not, as is regular in the US, wish to obtain thousands and thousands of {dollars} in damages. “There will be no compensation for Sascha’s life anyway,” he says. “One-hundred million cannot make a distinction there.” Hüsges solely needs to have the prices reimbursed that he would not have accrued had it not been for the terrorist assault.

He regarded up the pertinent sections of the federal funds. The pot of cash devoted to such damages, he says, has been pathetically endowed. “The federal division that’s accountable may have stocked it up from in the future to the following,” Hüsges argues.

Kurt Beck can even advocate in his report that compensation for terror victims ought to be elevated significantly. He believes the 10,000 euros typically paid to surviving kinfolk is just too low, and that funds to those that are injured is also increased. However he can solely make a recommendation– the precise choice should be made by politicians.

Hüsges says he had all the time regarded ahead to his future, however now it is one thing he views with concern. He continues to hold the burden of two lives. He nonetheless wears his wedding ceremony ring on the ring finger on his left hand, and that of his husband on his proper one.


When one asks the individuals affected by the Breitscheidplatz assault in the event that they skilled something constructive amid their struggling, if there are quiet heroes, they identify those that no person is aware of. Clerks in authorities workplaces who really make an effort. Individuals who helped them, cops, paramedics, staff of the Weisser Ring, a corporation that assists crime victims, and first responders. They usually point out Pelsin Bars.

The physician from Turkey was on Breitscheidplatz with associates the night of the assault when she out of the blue noticed individuals operating towards her. Bars rushed within the different course — towards the injured. She is barely 28 years previous, however in japanese Turkey she had already needed to deal with the victims of a bomb assault. She says which may have been why she did not panic, and as a substitute calmly and thoroughly cared for the injured — first the intense circumstances, then the much less critical ones. She did this for 2 hours, maybe three. “For me, individuals like her are the hidden heroes of today,” says one of many individuals affected by the assault.

Bars stated she had solely been doing her job. Just a few days in the past, she obtained her German license to apply medication. She will now additionally work as a physician right here, and her first selection is Berlin.


On a Monday in November, every little thing seems to be prefer it all the time did — the stalls, the tower of the Memorial Church that was destroyed within the battle, the lights. Breitscheidplatz is surrounded by site visitors like an island is by the ocean. After all, not every little thing seems to be because it all the time did, and, after just a few seconds, one notices the concrete bollards, the cops and the digital camera groups asking the individuals consuming mulled wine why they’re there and if they’re afraid. It is the primary day because the reopening this 12 months of the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz.

René Oköchel says he set out in completely regular vogue that morning, anticipating solely to want a bit extra time than standard. For over 20 years, Oköchel has labored at Christmas markets throughout Germany. On Dec. 19 of final 12 months, he was standing in entrance of a stall that was fully destroyed by the attacker’s truck. His proper foot was shattered, his left leg damaged, he had bruises on his whole physique and a traumatic mind harm.

Since then, he has had issue strolling. For one 12 months, he could not work. The development of the stalls on Breitscheidplatz this 12 months have been his first job.

Oköchel says he is the type of one that does not spend lots of time fascinated about issues that may’t be modified. He says he’s merely who he’s, and that he must look ahead.

Just one factor occupies him.

He remembers seeing Angela Merkel standing, in 2015, after the assault in Paris, amongst statesmen. In Germany, she was solely seen mourning as soon as after the assault: throughout a remembrance service within the Memorial Church, barely 22 hours after the terrorist struck. At that time, although, Oköchel says, he and many of the victims have been nonetheless within the hospital. Many victims have been combating for his or her lives, and many individuals did not know but if their kinfolk have been among the many useless. The memorial service, a number of the individuals affected say, wasn’t for the victims.

For one 12 months, they’ve been ready for Merkel to precise her sympathy personally. The kinfolk of the 12 victims write of their letter that that “is, in fact, self-evident.”

It seems that message has been registered by the federal government. In response to a question, a authorities spokesman stated that the chancellor “needs that the individuals affected not be left alone of their scenario and to precise her sympathy.” Merkel then visited the Christmas market earlier this week and he or she additionally plans to attend the opening of a memorial devoted to the reminiscence of the victims of the assault on Breitscheidplatz on Dec. 19. And, final week, kinfolk of the victims obtained a letter from the Chancellery for the primary time. Merkel is to fulfill with the survivors and surviving kinfolk the day earlier than the memorial opening. Within the invitation, Merkel says she needs to discuss “how they and their household are actually doing right this moment.”