The Westminster attack

As it happened

“Our response to this attack on our city, to this attack on our way of life, to this attack on our shared values, shows the world what it means to be a Londoner.”

–  SADIQ KHAN

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I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to start this blog post and it’s incredibly hard to find the right words. While I understand that writing about the events of Wednesday afternoon on a blog might seem a bit disrespectful, it is my belief that ignoring it and continue as usual would be far worse. I feel obliged to pay tribute to those wounded and killed in the attack because it might as well have been me. In fact, it could have happened to anyone in this city, had the circumstances and nature of the attack been different. Therefore, here is how I experienced Wednesdays afternoon and everything that followed thereafter.

It was around three o’clock in the afternoon and a rather quiet day at the office. I had just begun sorting files into folders as ambulances or police cars, going by their sirens, rushed past the windows of the ZDF building, but I didn’t pay them any attention. The St. Thomas’ Hospital is right on the other side of the Westminster Bridge and not that far away, so it’s nothing unusual that sirens are echoing through the borough of Westminster. Then someone in the room next to me suddenly turned the TV speakers on and it was only seconds later that I was told that there had been shots fired in front of the Palace of Westminster. I immediately switched on my TV and saw the aerial view of the Houses of Parliament, police officers, someone on the ground, the BREAKING NEWS letters floating from one side of the screen to the other.

When you watch the TV footage of a terrorist attack, no matter how horrifying it is, you think that the miles between you and the city it occured at don’t matter because you’re shocked and you feel affected. After all, in most cases it’s an attack on the values and beliefs of  a democratic and liberal society just like the one you’re living in, and therefore an attack on your own values and beliefs. However, when you watch the TV footage of injured people and chaos, of an action of such hatred happening only a few hundred metres from where you are – it’s something completely different. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Three days ago, I walked down the very same pavement people were currently lying on, injured, some of them even dead. Outside, I could hear the helicopters seconds before they appeared on the TV screen and my mind went completely blank.

Maybe it was good thing that the following hours were packed with work because there was no time to think about what had happened. I can’t remember much of what was going through my mind that afternoon and evening, but when I went home that night, everything was strangely quiet. It was like someone had put a cloche over the city, muting all sounds to a dull background noise. At every tube station, there were armed police officers, people with a look on their faces that is hard to describe. It was neither fear, nor horror – rather an expression of being withdrawn. And all of a sudden, what had happened at Westminster felt so much closer to home, and it made me feel more vulnerable than at any other point of my life. It was then that I realised how lucky I, we, the whole city had been to avoid even worse and I don’t dare to imagine what might have happened had Keith Palmer not heroically given his life for the safety of others.

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The next day, it was strangely intimidating walking through the streets of Westminster that weren’t closed off. No traffic allowed, only pedestrians – on one of the busiest streets in London. It must be mentioned, of course, what a fantastic job the police and paramedics have done. It’s down to their fast and curageous actions that worse was prevented.

Standing on Westminster Bridge, seeing all the flowers, the media, the photographers… it felt so wrong. People taking photos of people taking photos, passers-by rushing past, in between the flowers and candles. The atmosphere of disbelief that a deadly attack happened here of all places probably represents the mentality of the British better than anything I’ve ever witnessed before. No matter what shakes the foundation of Britain, they will always stand up again and fight back with a stiff upper lip and an amount of determination that I find admirable.

That evening, many Londoners came together at Trafalgar Square at 06:00 p.m. for a minute of silence and remembering those who were injured or killed during the attack. It was moving to witness a British man angrily silence a journalist who was quietly talking on the phone. And to me, it was the most human and most emotional moment since Wednesday afternoon because for the first time, it became visible how deeply this attack has hit this city. It’s not about the number of people who have been killed or injured. It’s about the fact that it has happened in the first place. However, it would be wrong to remain in a state of shock or fear, so let’s do it the British way and jolly well carry on while remembering the pain of loss that ripped through the nation on the 22nd of March 2017.

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