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Terror in Berlin How the Attack Has Changed the Country

Terror attacks bring people together. That, at least, is what used to happen. But the attack in Berlin has followed a different script, with the gap between those content to wait for the facts and those eager to score political points now wider than ever before. A look back at 48 hours that changed the country. By SPIEGEL Staff

In the hours of uncertainty following the attack on the Christmas market at Berlin's Breitscheidplatz square on the evening of Dec. 19, two methods of viewing the incident quickly became apparent. There was the reflexive, impetuous reaction and the reflective, circumspect approach.

The impetuous took to their computers almost before the truck driver had finished cutting his deadly swath through the Christmas market stalls. Regardless of what was really going on in Berlin, those occupying a certain niche on the web were certain: "Islam-terror" had reached Berlin and a "Merkel Mohammedan" had killed innocent people. Muslims, it was claimed, were dancing for joy in the streets of immigrant neighborhoods like Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg and Berlin-Neukölln. Dec. 19, 2016 was the "beginning of the end" of the Christian West, they said, symbolized by the Christmas tree that had been run over in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

In those minutes -- during which the impetuous transformed hunch into certainty and certainty into rage -- the circumspect were just beginning to comprehend what had just happened on Breitscheidplatz. They saw the dead and injured next to a truck, which had been turned into a murder weapon. They knew absolutely nothing for sure. They knew it would take several days for even the most urgent questions to be answered with certainty -- and weeks, if not months, to clear up the underlying questions. And there was time needed to mourn the dead.

"Pray?! Do Something!!" the impetuous tweeted. They aren't interested in facts. Emotions are enough.

Even before the attack, bridging the gap between the circumspect and the impetuous had become difficult. The sexual assaults committed by immigrants on New Year's Eve in Cologne, the attacks in Ansbach and Würzburg, the Islamist bomb-maker arrested in Chemnitz, and the rape-murder apparently committed by a refugee in Freiburg: These were the milestones of the divide. Now, everyone is certain who is to blame: the establishment political parties, the populists, the lying press, the scaremongers, the do-gooders and the right-wingers. The two sides of the divide no longer have much to say to each other.

The Berlin attack has now demonstrated just how little overlap there is between these two parallel worlds. When it became known, in the late evening of Dec. 19, that the police had arrested a suspect from Pakistan, the parallel worlds seemed to be reconciled for a moment. The impetuous had already known that only a Muslim refugee could be the killer. And now the circumspect had actually caught one. Finally, they expressed what had long been obvious to the other side: that we are in a "state of war" and that it is naïve to "always see only the good in people."

But then, during the course of the day on Tuesday, the authorities began to have doubts about their suspect, and in the afternoon they announced: "We have the wrong man." The impetuous were able to explain this away in seconds. The political-journalistic PC-cartel, they believed, simply wasn't willing to accept the truth.

According to one version that was bouncing around one corner of the Internet, some scapegoat would undoubtedly be found. A user on a right-wing website wrote: "There must be a radical right-winger somewhere that this can be pinned on." The fact that investigators quickly identified a man from Tunisia  as the alleged attacker did not change the truth as perceived by the impetuous.

Such is reality in this not-particularly-festive Christmas season. In the conspiracy-theory-filled world occupied by one side of the gap, mistakes  aren't mistakes  but cynically calculated moves. Whereas attacks at other times and in other places -- New York, Paris, London -- brought people together, many people this time chose to view the Berlin attack from their own ideological trench.

The same pattern was evident in Berlin politics. Even before detailed information about the attack  became known, a debate erupted over Germany's refugee policy -- an eventuality that staff in the Chancellery had been concerned about  for months. It used to be that politicians would hold back in moments of national disaster.

But the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was unwilling to spend too much time in mourning. CSU leader Horst Seehofer, always worried that his position could seem too nuanced for his fellow party members, instantly demanded "that we readjust our entire immigration and security policy."

Instead of standing behind the chancellor in the wake of a deadly act of terrorism, Seehofer instead demonstrated just how divided German conservatives are -- and how divided the country has become. It is already clear that the dispute over asylum and deportation will dominate next year's election campaign and could very well cost Angela Merkel the chancellorship.

"Now we stand together," Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) said in the wake of the attack. It was a well-meaning statement. But it could hardly have been more inaccurate.

Can there be such a thing as truth in this situation, in this confrontation between rage and vulnerability? A SPIEGEL team attempted to find it in the days between the attack and editorial deadline on Wednesday night. As quickly and as thoroughly as possible, we came up with a reconstruction of 48 hours that will change the country's direction. It must remain incomplete, but it can help to understand why the impetuous approach may be seductive but doesn't necessarily lead to the desired result.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 19

7 a.m., Berlin, Friedrich-Krause-Ufer in the district of Wedding

Lukasz U. has been on the road for a week and a half by the time he reaches the Berlin office of Thyssen-Krupp. U., 37, drives for a Polish shipping company owned by his cousin, Ariel Zurawski. His nickname in the company is "Inspector," because he is so conscientious about his work.

Foto: DER SPIEGEL

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 52/2016 (December 23, 2016) of DER SPIEGEL.

There are only a few days left until Christmas, and U. is in a hurry. He wants to make it back to Poland in time to buy his wife a present. He is carrying 25 tons of steel parts that he picked up in Italy and must now deliver to ThyssenKrupp at the Westhafen terminal in Berlin. But there are problems in the receiving department and he is told he'll have to wait until the next day to unload. He has no choice, so U. parks his truck alongside the nearby canal.

About 1 p.m., Friedrich-Krause-Ufer

U. calls his cousin and tells him that he is worried he'll run out of time to do his Christmas shopping. But his cousin reassures him and says he'll be home with his wife and 17-year-old son on Thursday. In the conversation, U. also talks about what he has seen in the industrial area where he is parked. It is, he says, a "strange place." Aside from the Thyssen-Krupp people, he says, there are "only Muslims" here. An office of the Berlin immigration authority is only a few buildings away and many asylum-seekers walk past the Thyssen-Krupp facility on their way there.

Afternoon, Berlin, library at the Free University of Berlin

Sebastian Kahl has just had a haircut. The 28-year-old works for a Left Party member of German parliament and he is also earning a master's degree in public economics. He has come to the library to finish a paper on incentive problems in physician compensation.

Afternoon, Friedrich-Krause-Ufer

At 3:44 p.m., someone tries to start the engine of U.'s Scania R 450. He tries again at 4:52 p.m., and then he lets the engine idle for 45 minutes. This information comes from an employee of the Polish shipping company. Modern trucks have an on-board computer that registers engine operation and vehicle movements.

What's going on? And where is Lukasz U.? His wife called him at 3 p.m., but they only spoke briefly because she was still at work. She says she'll call him back at 4 p.m., but when she does, U. doesn't answer. SPIEGEL learned that U. returned to the Thyssen-Krupp office at 5:30 p.m., perhaps in the hope that he would be allowed to unload his steel parts, but nothing came of it.

Early evening, somewhere in Berlin

Fabrizia Di L. is on her ways to the Christmas market at the Memorial Church. The 31-year-old is from Abruzzo, a mountainous region east of Rome. She is one of those Italians who are referred to at home as "cervelli in fuga," or fleeing talents -- students and creative minds who are frustrated by the calcified Italian economy and determined not to end up as permanent interns financially dependent on their parents. The yearning for a future drives them to Germany.

Fabrizia, a vivacious woman with a dark page-boy haircut and a small piercing in her nostril, posted the last entry on her Facebook account a few days ago: a video from the Italian cult film "La meglio gioventù," or "The Best of Youth." In the film, a professor drives a young student out of the country by asking whether he wants to stay in Italy forever, where everything "always remains the same, unmoving, in the hands of dinosaurs." That is precisely what Fabrizia does not want, which is why she moved to Berlin.

7:34 p.m., Friedrich-Krause-Ufer

The truck begins to move -- as determined by GPS data later analyzed by the company employee in Poland.

7:57 p.m., Berlin, a subway station near Breitscheidplatz

Sebastian Kahl walks up the steps at the subway station and sends a text message to his girlfriend Lana. Where should we meet? They've planned a family evening at the Christmas market with Lana's parents, who are visiting from Bosnia. At the entrance to the market, the group walks up to the first kiosk to get something to eat. Kahl orders an open-faced sandwich with olives and tomatoes.

As his food is being prepared, Kahl hears a loud bang, "like a firecracker." As he spins around, he sees a large, black monstrosity barreling towards him, and then it rushes past at what feels like a distance of just a few inches. He sees bodies flying through the air like dolls. The truck is dragging one person along the ground, and Kahl is certain that the person is already dead. He sees another Christmas market visitor slumped over on the ground in tattered clothing. For a second, he has the "totally absurd thought" that the person is drunk, until he sees the blood.

The truck driver "deliberately drove into the passageway between the stalls," says Kahl. He sees the truck driving "directly into the crowd." He hears screams and immediately remembers "the images from Nice," where a man killed almost 90 people with a truck in July.

Kahl, his girlfriend and her parents start running down the street, away from the market. They no longer see as the semi-trailer, after traveling about 60 meters, turns to the left and comes to a stop on Budapest Street.

8:25 p.m. Lobby of the Federal Chancellery

Aydan Özoguz, the German government's commissioner for integration, is awarding a prize called the Integration Medal for exemplary projects. Near the end of the event, Chancellor Angela Merkel joins the group and makes a brief statement. "Diversity makes us richer, not poorer," she says. A youth choir sings a song at the end of the ceremony, and then Merkel is told about the attack on Breitscheidplatz. "Something has happened in Berlin," Özoguz whispers into her ear. The young people haven't heard what happened yet and want to pose for selfies with the chancellor, but Merkel leaves in a hurry.

8:41 p.m., Berlin police headquarters

The Berlin police send out two tweets, one in German, one in English. The English one reads:

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'Not Answering Her Phone'

8:45 p.m., Internet

Four minutes later, "Politically Incorrect," an anti-Muslim blog, publishes an article headlined "Urgent! Islamic Terror Has Reached Berlin!" Readers submit 1,462 comments by midnight, including many like this one: "To hell with Muslims and their feet-lickers like Merkel & bandits."

9 p.m., Twitter

A relative of Fabrizia Di L. sends out a message with the hashtags #Berlin, #help: "My cousin, Fabrizia Di L., is not answering her phone."

About 9 p.m., Sobiemyl, Poland

Ariel Zurawski and his cousin Lukasz U. both live south of the Polish city of Szczecin. Ariel is watching TV at home when he suddenly sees his company's black Scania on the screen. The cab is dented, the windows are shattered and pieces of a market stall are protruding from a hole in the windshield.

9:15 p.m., Twitter

Marcus Pretzell, chairman of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia tweets: "When will the German constitutional state strike back? When will this damned hypocrisy finally end? These are Merkel's dead!" More than 1,700 people "like" his Tweet.

9:20 p.m., Facebook

Facebook activates its Safety Check under the heading "The Attack in Berlin." The word "attack" is later changed to "act of violence," and then "incident," and then back to "attack" on Wednesday. The Safety Check allows users to notify their contacts that they are "safe."

9:30 p.m., a small city in Abruzzo, Italy

Italian television interrupts its program to broadcast news on the presumed attack at the Memorial Church in Berlin's Charlottenburg district. Isn't that where Fabrizia works? Gaetano Di L., a postal service employee, dials his daughter's mobile phone number two dozen times, but there is no answer. But then, finally, someone does answer the phone. A voice responds in German. When he hears the words in a foreign language, the father senses that something horrible has happened.

9:57 p.m., Berlin police headquarters

Berlin police use Twitter to officially announce their arrest of a "suspicious person," though they are careful and shy away from certainty:

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About 10 p.m., Sobiemyl

The police go the house of Ariel Zurawski. They ask him to come with them and bring along his computer.

10:15 p.m., Berlin, Kurfürstendamm, Memorial Church

Feras, a 35-year-old Palestinian, looks at the devastated Christmas market in disbelief. "Why here in Berlin, and why in Germany?" he asks. "Germany is a country where an Arab and a Muslim has more opportunities than anywhere else in Europe. I was welcomed here and have learned a lot from the Germans."

Feras says he came to Germany two years ago. He worked in a bank back in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, but he wasn't making much money and his future looked bleak. He chose Germany and was allowed to stay, and he found a job working as a bartender at a hotel. He also began pursuing a degree in business management. "This is much better than working in the bank at home," he says, adding that he also makes more money.

According to Feras, people in the Palestinian territories refer to Germans as "the machines." German punctuality, the importance of precision and the value of work are all things that people at home find a little scary," says Feras. He too was afraid of this mentality, he says, but when he looks at how much progress he has made in his life, and how friendly most Germans are to him, he has to say that he has since come to appreciate the German mentality.

The Germans took in so many of us, and so many from Syria, too, people that even most Arab countries refused to let in, and now this."

Shortly before midnight, Gryfino, Poland

The officers at the police station have received photos from Germany showing Lukasz U. on the passenger seat of his Scania. He is dead. The driver was so disfigured that the police want to spare his wife from seeing the picture, but Zurawski is able to identify his cousin. Lukasz is a heavyset man, weighing about 120 kilograms (265 lbs.), and it looks as though he was involved in a fight before his death. Lukasz has stab wounds in addition to a gunshot wound in his forehead. According to investigators, the wound is from a "firearm," but it is still unclear whether it is a pistol.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20

12:21 a.m., Twitter

US President-elect Donald Trump laments the "terror attacks" in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany. "The civilized world must change thinking!," he writes.

12:38 a.m., Berlin Central Station

In the almost empty mezzanine of Berlin's main train station, police stop a man who has the appearance of a refugee. A group of six officers approaches him. Two demand that he open his suitcase while four provide cover with their pistols. The man looks extremely frightened. His identification papers are checked over radio and his suitcase is searched. The officers only find clothes. "You can go," the officers tell the man, who is shaking as he walks away.

1:30 a.m., a small city in Abruzzo, Italy

Gaetano Di L. dials the number of the Foreign Ministry in Rome which then calls the Italian Embassy in Berlin. A short time later, his son and his wife depart for Berlin to provide DNA samples that can be compared with that of one of the attack victims. The father talks with the two by phone every hour. "We hardly have any hope anymore," he says.

3:22 a.m., Meckenheim, field office of the German Federal Criminal Police

In the early morning hours, specialists with the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA) send out an internal situation report labeled "for official use only." It reads: "According to facts currently known, we must assume a terrorist attack."

5 a.m., an apartment in the Berlin neighborhood of Friedrichshain

Sebastian Kahl's telephone rings. An officer from the Berlin State Criminal Police force apologizes for the early call but says he is hoping to get a description of the perpetrator. Kahl, though, is unable to help, saying he couldn't see anything in the darkened cab of the truck. On one point, though, he is certain: It wasn't an accident, the driver wasn't drunk, it wasn't some suicide pact. Rather, it was terror.

Early morning, Saarbrücken

"We must assert that we are in a state of war," Klaus Bouillon (CDU), the interior minister of the state of Saarland, says in an interview. Later, he would express regret for his choice of words.

9 a.m., Berlin and all state capitals

Germany's state interior ministers join a conference call with Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. Just before midnight, they had hoped that they had already caught the perpetrator. Now, though, they learn that the clothes and body of the suspect who was arrested at the Victory Column shortly after the incident displayed "no blood traces" from the murdered truck driver. Had the police apprehended the wrong man?

The politicians then discuss whether all Christmas markets should be closed. In the eyes of de Maizière, doing so would represent a victory for the enemies of freedom and his colleagues from Germany's states concur. The group agrees to avoid instrumentalizing the attack for political goals.

10 a.m., Facebook

"Germany is no longer safe," writes AfD head Frauke Petry. "It is actually the duty of the chancellor to tell you as much. But because she won't, I am telling you." The day before, AfD party leadership had agreed on a campaign strategy ahead of fall 2017 general elections that calls for "carefully planned provocations."

10:13 a.m., Sobiemyl

Ariel Zurawski leaves his house. Despite below-zero temperatures, his jacket is unzipped, he is wearing normal shoes and has no hat. He wants to appear strong and to deliver the facts in as sober a tone as possible. But the dark rings under his eyes hint at the difficult night Zurawski has just lived through.

Because his name is printed on the cab of the truck, some Facebook users have accused him of being a terrorist. But on this morning, Zurawski only rarely shows his feelings -- such as when he speaks of his cousin's conscientiousness. Lukasz, he says, wouldn't get behind the wheel of his truck if he had drunk two beers the night before. "He was a good driver. One of the last good ones in the industry," Zurawski said.

Lukasz, he goes on, was at the wrong place at the wrong time. But he also says: "It didn't happen on some raucous parking lot somewhere, but in the middle of Berlin." He says he can't believe that something like that could have happened on a street in the German capital. Almost as a warning, he holds a photo of his dead cousin up to the photographers' cameras.

10:17 a.m., Breitscheidplatz

Specialists haul off the cab of the Polish truck to conduct a more comprehensive forensic examination. According to investigators, a decisive piece of evidence  pointing to a new suspect is found there in the afternoon.

11 a.m., Chancellery

Dressed completely in black, Angela Merkel speaks to the press for the first time since the attack. Germans, she says, "are united in deep mourning."

She knows that there is more at stake than merely the federal government's response to terrorism in the nation's capital. She herself is also in the spotlight, as are her refugee policies. She knows that her Bavarian sister party has once again challenged her approach to the refugee crisis.

Merkel would like to appear as the chancellor who unifies her people in times of crisis. But she is no longer able to do so. She is polarizing even without wanting to be. She cannot break free from the refugee issue. She weighs her words carefully: "I know that it would be difficult for all of us to take if it were confirmed that this deed was committed by a person who asked Germany for protection and asylum."

Her short statement doesn't strike the tone hoped for by the CSU. Merkel also mentions the many people who have helped refugees after arrival in Germany. Some in the CSU will not have been happy to hear that.

11:30 a.m., Chancellery

Germany's Security Cabinet, made up of Merkel, several government ministers and the heads of the country's security agencies, meets at the Chancellery. BKA head Holger Münch confirms to the group the news which has already leaked into the public realm: There is no incriminating evidence for the refugee who was apprehended and as such there is no suspect in the terror attack. The search will have to start from scratch.

11:40 a.m., Munich

Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, who is also head of the CSU, says: "We owe it to the victims, their families and the entire populace to rethink and readjust our entire immigration and security policies."

12:35 p.m., Berlin-Moabit, German Interior Ministry

Thomas de Maizière is standing on the ground floor of the ministry he leads, his face pale and his eyes glassy. He has been worried for months that Germany could experience the kind of attack already seen in places like Paris, Brussels and Nice and sleeps with his mobile phone directly next to his bed. In the summer, in Ansbach and Würzburg, the country was lucky. People were injured, to be sure, but there were no deaths aside from the two attackers. At a staff meeting just a few days earlier, de Maizière said that he would be extremely relieved if the holidays passed without an attack.

Now, standing at a black lectern, de Maizière is forced to announce to journalists that he has ordered flags in the country to be flown at half-mast. "We have been struck by a brutal attack," he says.

2:20 p.m., Berlin, City Hall

Wilfried Gräfling, Berlin's fire chief, is exhausted, having been on his feet since the previous evening. He says that his employees are also in need of psychological care after being confronted with the images at the scene of the attack. "When such a monster loaded with steel rolls over you ..." He breaks off without completing his sentence.

Gräfling looks down at his list of numbers: 15 people still struggling to survive, 14 more seriously injured and 17 lightly injured. There were 153 first responders from the fire department on the scene, in addition to 80 others from the German Red Cross and other organizations. Twenty-two hospitals were taking care of the wounded.

Gräfling says that doctors who were at the scene as private citizens also helped, as did people from surrounding buildings. "That was impressive." The result was that despite the large number of victims, they all could be helped. "Luckily, nobody was forced to make a decision like: 'We'll have to let that one lie.'"

2:30 p.m., Berlin, Federal Press Conference

German Federal Prosecutor Peter Frank, accompanied by the heads of several security agencies, appears in front of gathered journalists. "We have to get used to the idea," says Germany's leading criminal investigator, "that the arrested Pakistani isn't the perpetrator."

'Blood On Your Hands'

2:57 p.m., Breitscheidplatz

Angela Merkel strides onto the square in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church, holding a white rose in her hand. She is accompanied by Berlin Mayor Michael Müller and Andreas Geisel, his city-state interior minister, in addition to de Maiziére and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. All are wearing black overcoats. A cold wind is blowing across the Christmas market and temperatures in Berlin have fallen below freezing. Merkel, Müller and the ministers observe a brief moment of silence and they then lay their flowers at the site.

A gust of wind picks up one of the condolence notes and blows it into a candle. Merkel takes a quick step forward to pull the note out of the candle, but the white paper has already caught fire. De Maizière quickly stamps out the flames, but not before a black hole has burned into the sheet of paper -- right next to the word "peace."

3 p.m., Munich, state capital building

Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer has invited senior party members to take part in a conference call. He wants to know if he has correctly assessed the mood within his CSU party. After just a few comments, it becomes clear that he has.

Seehofer repeats what he said that morning: Germany's refugee policies must be reviewed. And more than that, the country's security policies must also be examined anew. Issues like increased video surveillance or the use of the military for domestic security operations, the hurdles to which are set extremely high by the German constitution, must be revisited, Seehofer demands.

The indignation over Merkel is so great that Seehofer openly questions whether a reconciliation meeting between the CDU and CSU scheduled for February should go ahead as planned. Such a meeting, Seehofer says, only makes sense if there is a possibility of agreement. He says he wants to see a working group develop proposals that can be submitted to the CDU. "Whether the CSU will support Merkel in the coming campaign is an open question," says one leading CSU member. "The distance to her has once again become greater."

3:05 p.m., Breitscheidplatz

It is quiet on the square in front of the Memorial Church. Mourning Berliners have drawn signs. "Why?" reads one. Another says: "A blow at the heart of Berlin."

Three dozen people are waiting behind a red-and-white crowd-control ribbon to see the chancellor. One man in his mid-40s, wearing a wool hat and sunglasses, is standing in the first row. When Merkel passes, he says audibly: "That bitch." He turns away and pushes through the gathered crowd toward the back before saying more loudly: "All of this is thanks to her."

A nun calls after him: "Don't say such nonsense!" But he isn't listening.

A teddy bear is sitting on a step in front of the Memorial Church, black tears drawn under his eyes. There is an envelope next to the bear with a message for the chancellor: "Now you officially have blood on your hands. Please step down from all of the offices you hold."

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3:30 p.m., an apartment in Berlin's Friedrichshain neighborhood

Sebastian Kahl has spent his day "in a fugue." He didn't go to work. Many of his friends have called and he feels as though everyone is treating each other with a new form of attentiveness, as though everyone had become "more skittish."

Kahl wanted to go to the service at the Memorial Church, not just because of what he and his girlfriend went through, but also out of respect for the fates suffered by others. A gesture of compassion. But then he hears the news that the police have arrested the wrong man. His girlfriend is afraid that the terrorist is still running around in the city and that he could kill again and the couple remains at home. They both want to spend Christmas with their families and Kahl feels he has much to be grateful for. He sees his survival akin to "being born again."

5:20 p.m., Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

It is 40 minutes before the services are set to begin, but so many people have come that police have already had to close the church to non-invited guests. The benches inside are full. The closer the hour comes, the more anxious the mood in front of the church becomes. An interpreter tells the heavily armed police that she has to go inside because otherwise the journalists who have traveled from France won't know what is being said from the altar. Some visitors are so brazen that they try to sneak between the Christmas market stalls toward the church entrance. But they don't get far and the police officers react angrily.

A group from the Muslim community Ahmadiyya shows up wearing T-shirts reading: "Love for all, hate for none." When Aiman Mazyek, of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, is allowed to pass with a small entourage, two women standing in front of the church snap: "Of course the Muslims are allowed in."

6 p.m., Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

As the opening bells cease ringing, Breitscheidplatz and the surrounding streets fall silent. The many hundreds of people who were unable to get into the church remain on the streets despite freezing temperatures and listen to the sermon broadcast on speakers outside.

Inside, dressed in black, sit the German president, the chancellor, Berlin's mayor, cabinet ministers and city-state senators. "We will not allow ourselves to be led astray to inhumanity," says Evangelical Rev. Markus Dröge.

6:26 p.m., Facebook

"We refugees must now defend ourselves against an unstable psychopath who is distorting our image in Western society," writes Fuorat Alhader on the Facebook page of the group "Syrian House in Germany."

6:30 p.m., Berlin and all state capitals

Senior security officials from federal and state institutions once again join a conference call. There are solid clues pointing to a new suspect. Those taking part in the call are hopeful that he might be captured as early as that night.

6:57 p.m., Karlsruhe, Germany

The press department of Germany's Federal Prosecutor's Office announces that the Pakistani taken into custody on the previous evening has been released.

8:15 p.m., Raqqa, Syria

Amaq, the Islamic State mouthpiece, claims responsibility for the attack in Berlin. The perpetrator, it says, is "a soldier of Islamic State."

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21

8:26 a.m., Passau, Germany

CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer rejects criticism of his party coming from the CDU. We must now "re-examine everything, make adjustments and improvements," he says.

Leading CDU politicians respond immediately. The investigation must first be concluded, says Saarland Governor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, and then a sober debate must take place. Only then, she continues, should laws be changed if it is found necessary to do so. "For me it is important that we stick to this sequence and that we don't already draw hurried political conclusions today. We should refrain from making quick, broad demands until we know the facts."

In the Chancellery, staff members say that the statements coming from the CSU show the degree to which Horst Seehofer has been forced into a corner by his own party.

10:58 a.m., Hamburg, offices of the German news agency DPA

The first reports about the search for the Tunisian suspect, which has now been ongoing for at least the last 18 hours, are published by the media. DPA, citing the Mainzer Allgemeine Zeitung, is the first to announce that police are engaged in a nationwide search for a man whose papers were found in the cab of the Polish truck used in the attack.

12:25 p.m., Berlin, offices of federal parliament

Thomas de Maizière and the heads of the country's security agencies, stern expressions on their faces, march into room 2300, where the Internal Affairs Committee meets. De Maizière is furious that the name and image of the new suspect Anis Amri have already found their way into the online media even though the agencies haven't yet gone public with their search. That, he says, poses a risk to the investigation.

Midday, Chancellery

Angela Merkel has concluded the Security Cabinet meeting and is now briefing top officials from those parties represented in German parliament. As the meeting comes to an end and the gathered ministers and lawmakers prepare to leave, the chancellor calls out to two high-ranking CSU members present, Gerda Hasselfeldt and Alexander Dobrindt. She says she would like their party to be more careful about coordinating with her CDU. "There is such a thing as telephones, by the way," the chancellor says.

Early afternoon, on Germany's borders

The federal police are performing active exit controls and are hoping to identify suspicious persons as they leave the country.

Shortly before 3 p.m., Memorial Church

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfonso signs the condolence book set up there for the victims of the attack. "Those who are afraid, are not free. Fighting terror means fighting for freedom," he says. Alfano does not mention the name Fabrizia Di L., since her family is still waiting for the official confirmation of her death.

"I feel like she has left me," Fabrizia's mother says in a tearful voice on the phone with her bishop back home. "It is so sad. She was so thankful to be able to live in this city. She went to work and never came home again."

5:35 p.m., Kalsruhe, Federal Prosecutor's Office

Germany's top law enforcement agency issues a European arrest warrant for Anis Amri, including the following characteristics: "Age: 24; Born in: Tunisia; Height: 178 cm; Weight: ca. 75 kg; Eyes: brown; Hair: black." The warrant also notes: "CAUTION! Person could be violent and armed!"

6 p.m., Chancellery

More than 100 demonstrators are standing with candles in front of the Chancellery. An unprecedented assembly of right-wingers has called for a vigil for the victims of the attack. Senior AfD members Björn Höcke and Alexander Gauland are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the right-wing ideologue Götz Kubitschek, the PEGIDA functionary Siegfried Däbritz and Jürgen Elsässer, the editor-in-chief of the far-right publication Compact.

Organizers announced the demonstration on Tuesday at noon, before it was clear who was behind the attack. But the right-wing populist agitators were certain that, somehow, Angela Merkel would be at fault. Bach is playing from the speakers and a woman's voice singing the composer's St. Matthew Passion rises over the clattering of generators. One poster reads: "Merkel is smeared with the blood of the people."

The event is cleverly organized, with none of the right-wing politicians taking the microphone to speak to those present. Instead, a robed pastor reads out a message of peace. He quotes the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a peaceful opponent of the Nazi regime, saying: "We are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself."

Later, in front of the television cameras, the AfD representatives are much less restrained. "If we don't stop Angela Merkel's policies, our country will collapse," says Höcke.

The demonstration in front of the Chancellery will likely set the tone for the coming confrontation. Once again, stricter laws will be debated as will greater leeway for police officers and agents with the intelligence services. Calls for more active deportation policies will be made. The challenge will be that of distinguishing reasonable modifications from shrill demands. Instead of symbolic debates over such things as a burqa ban, Germany needs to engage in serious, sober discussion.

The attack will further deepen the divide between politics and society. Merkel's hope that she could run a re-election campaign without having to constantly discuss the refugee crisis is now completely unrealistic. Seehofer will see to that.

In 2017, the chancellor will have to play a role that she never wanted: that of a divisive candidate. The campaign will get dirty, that much is clear. Merkel had wanted to pose as a stateswoman, the model of reason and pragmatism in a chaotic world. But the attack in Berlin makes that dramaturgy impossible. The chancellor will no longer be able to present herself as the champion of refugees. She will now have to assuage the fears of many Germans and focus on security -- without sacrificing liberal democratic freedoms.

That is the other danger that now presents itself. With the bloody attack having been committed by a Tunisian Islamist who German officials had had under surveillance and who long since should have been deported to his homeland, arguments against stricter laws will be difficult to make.

The search for the roots of hate will be further subsumed behind the fight against its symptoms. And the impetuous will spring ahead of the circumspect. The only question remains is: Where are they leading us?

By Melanie Amann, Laura Backes, Maik Baumgärtner, Sven Becker, Agnieszka Debska, Markus Deggerich, Katrin Elger, Hubert Gude, Frank Hornig, Horand Knaup, Gunther Latsch, Ann-Katrin Müller, Ralf Neukirch, Miriam Olbrisch, Sven Röbel, Jörg Schindler, Christoph Sydow, Andreas Ulrich and Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt

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