Sadness and defiance mark the reopening of Breitscheidplatz market

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It shows the terrorists they will not stop us, said one stallholder as the Berlin square welcomed visitors again

Sabrine, 52, has worked as a stallholder at the Breitscheidplatz for more than 10 years. And every night since the truck careered through the Christmas market she has had nightmares.

In my head I can still hear the explosive bang as the lorry crashed into the market and the crunching sound as it scraped along the stalls, she said. Our bosses have advised us to keep our thoughts to ourselves but for me its better to talk about it.

Despite the horrors she witnessed that night, Sabrine said she was grateful to return to work when the market reopened on Thursday for the first time since the attack.

Firstly it shows the terrorists that they will not stop us; its like giving them the middle finger, she said. And, secondly, sitting at home watching it all on the media was just eating me up.

Even though the market had reopened, it was far from an ordinary day. Stallholders had been urged to keep bright lights and music turned off and there were no customers at her tin-can alley stall. We dont expect people to want to throw balls at tin cans today, said Sabrine, who prefers not to give her surname. We wont make money today, but that doesnt mean we dont want to be here.

Passers-by consisted of other stallholders, or police officers who patrolled the market in lines of three or four, hands poised on the triggers of their submachine guns.

Visitors walk through the reopened Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. Photograph: Michael Kappeler/AP

It feels important to talk and to be here, said Hilde, who in between serving mugs of Glhwein at her stall, held her hands over the hotplates to keep them warm amid sub-zero temperatures. Ahead of the 11am opening, she had visited the service held for stallholders and market-goers in the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, at the foot of which the lorry had come to a halt. It was a good thing to get everyone together, even though theres little comfort to be had from words right now, she said.

Martin Germer, the churchs pastor who has been acting as a counsellor for stallholders and some of the relatives of the 12 people who died and the dozens of others injured in the attack, told the congregation: It feels right to be opening up the market again as a sign of our determination to keep going.

On the door of his church he had put up a sign which read: Shocked and saddened, we think of the people who died on Monday, 19 December, right next to our church. They have been torn out of our lives so suddenly. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured [of] body and soul and with the families of all the victims.

Inside the church, bathed in the calming marine light of its stained-glass windows, members of the public queued to sign condolence books. At numerous points inside and outside the market, thousands of candles, flowers and handwritten notes had been left by residents and tourists. Some wiped away tears as they read the messages, while others linked arms or embraced.

Authorities have stepped up security at the reopened market. Photograph: Michael Kappeler/EPA

Soft toys and prayer books were among the mementoes and trinkets left at the scene. There were the flags of Israel and Italy in honour of the two victims from those countries, Dalia Elyakim and Fabrizia di Lorenzo. Someone had placed a vinyl single of a song made famous by the legendary Berlin singer and actress Hildegard Knef: Das Glck kennt nur Minuten (Happiness is fleeting).

Mohamad, 25, visiting with his mother, Elham, 49, said he had been confronted by the carnage on his way home from work at a nearby sports-shoe stall. It was half an hour afterwards, at about 8.30, he said. At first I thought it must have been an accident then the reality sank in.

Born in Berlin to Palestinian parents living as refugees in Lebanon who arrived in Germany in the early 1990s, Mohamad said: These attackers are ruining the name of Islam. We have to come here to prove that there is another side to our religion.

A stallholder in his 40s selling cocoa-dusted chocolates on the side of the market adjacent to the Krfurstendamm, the citys largest shopping promenade, said he had suffered from insomnia since the attack. On hearing the crash, he recalled, he had run over to help rescue the injured and had stumbled over dead bodies.

I will never forget what I saw, and I cant begin to put it into words, he said. But he said he took some comfort from believing the consequences of the attack might have been much worse. There was a gas canister from a bratwurst stall, I think, which was punctured or leaking as a result of the impact, the owner shouted out that it might explode, he said, declining to give his surname.

While someone tried to turn off the supply I ran around telling stallholders to run, realising the chain reaction which might occur if it exploded, which doesnt bear thinking about, he said.

Friedrich Hilke, a 60-year-old businessman on an annual visit with his wife to Berlins Christmas markets from Uslar in Lower Saxony, said he would continue to do his Christmas shopping on the market as planned. Were still shaking inside, he said. But having spent two days shut up in our hotel watching the news footage of this, were glad to be able to come and demonstrate our solidarity.

He was angry, Hilke said, at those who had tried to put the blame for the attack on Angela Merkel for her open-door policy towards refugees and migrants.

On the contrary, she steered against much of the popular opinion in Europe to ensure the refugees didnt end up left stranded in the mud of Hungary, where lots of people wanted to leave them. We should be grateful we have a leader with such warm-heartedness, and be wary of the cheap right-wing slogans we hear these days, he added.

Around the perimeter of the market, a team of workmen, firefighters and police had erected 60 large concrete barriers ahead of the opening. Each was four metres long, 60cm wide and a metre high; they were needed to make people feel safe, said Michael Roden, head of Berlins stallholder and fairground association.

We need to get back to a state of normality as soon as possible and need at the same time to reassure people that what happened cant be repeated, he said. We spoke for years about the possibility of something like this happening Ive been working here for 30 years but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined something like this.

At the place where the Scania truck had come off the road, cutting through the stalls and careering down the lane of wooden huts, the barriers were placed two or three deep.

A black-and-white canvas picture of the square resting on an easel marked the now-empty space where wooden huts destroyed in the impact had stood. Some of the debris from the crash was still visible behind red plastic sheeting broken beer bottles and Christmas decor, a ripped alpine backdrop and a shattered wooden canopy swing.

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