Thinking Out Loud

December 13, 2018

Strasbourg Christmas Market Shoppers Weren’t Expecting Bullets

Reports of killing rampages which take place in Europe may seem a world away, but it’s different when you walked those same streets just five months earlier. You have a mental picture which no television news crew can come close to approximating. You remember how those streets fit together. You remember the crush of people when you were there. You try to imagine what you might do or where you would run if the same thing had happened on the day you visited.

Crowd scenes have always been potential threats. For as long as I’ve lived, I’ve been aware of men switching their wallets to their front pockets and women clutching their purses more tightly. But of late we’ve realized that every concert, every sporting match, every trip to the shopping mall is fraught with the possibility of a random act of violence being carried out by someone mentally deranged or having a political agenda.

As we walked the streets of Strasbourg earlier this year, those thoughts are always in the back of your mind, but they are buried deep — very deep — as you take in the sights and sounds and smells. The people at the Christmas market on Tuesday night were no doubt in the same head-space; not expecting anything the second before the bullets could be heard.

The city we saw was beautiful. In the collage above, the upper left corner looks like it’s from a tourism photo. The tour boat came by at the right time and there was a young couple, possibly on their honeymoon, standing next to us who I chose not to photograph. We had crossed the border from Germany an hour earlier and after an unnecessarily long bus ride, had been let loose in this picturesque place that stated so clearly we were now in France.

Christmas Markets are a big deal in Europe. Our friend Lorne has written about them extensively. When you’re in the moment of a scene like the one upper right, you never think of people firing shots into the crowd; you never consider your vulnerability. Your brain doesn’t say, “I could be dead in the next five seconds.”

Which is how it should be. You ought to be able to enjoy an occasion like this in relative security. But that’s not the world we live in.

As of this morning the confirmed death toll is 3, with 13 people injured.


(I’ve included enlarged versions of the two pictures mentioned below.)

 

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