Germans Take Terror Alert In Stride Amid Holiday Prep
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Germany is on high alert after intelligence reports of the increased risk of a terrorist attack. That means security has been tightened in public places, especially tourist sites, just as the country is entering the holiday season. As NPR's Eric Westervelt reports, that includes the country's famous and beloved Christmas markets.
ERIC WESTERVELT: All but obliterated in a British bombing raid, the Kaiser Wilhelm church's half destroyed steeple stands today as a memorial and iconic reminder of the Second World War. It's also a major tourist attraction along West Berlin's fashionable Ku'Damm shopping artery. And every holiday season, the plaza outside the church holds one of Berlin's 60 outdoor Christmas markets.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING AND LAUGHING)
WESTERVELT: American expat Richard Simmons is with the company that rents the stalls for holiday markets across the city. This one just opened for the season a few days ago. Simmons wonders whether it's the cold rain or the recent security alert that seems to be keeping crowds, so far, a little light.
RICHARD SIMMONS: I think it's more because of bad weather. And I think it's dumb to let our lives to be controlled by some terrorists. If they do something, how are we going to stop it? There's no way to stop that anyway. You're just going to have to watch and keep your eyes open.
WESTERVELT: Jurgen Lutzen runs a stall selling hot and cold drinks and half a dozen kinds of grilled sausages. The Bratwurstmeister has worked this Christmas market for the last 17 years and says security is the tightest he's ever seen.
JURGEN LUTZEN: (through translator) The police and private security presence has been raised. Sniffer dogs come through the market every night. And with 200 stalls here, we have 200 extra pairs of eyes keeping watch all the time.
WESTERVELT: Sixty-eight-year-old Ute Ehlras, from Bonn, spent a busy day holiday shopping and stopped by the market for fries and a drink before heading home.
UTE EHLRAS: Maybe it can be dangerous, of course, but what can I do? I will not stay at home. I will go everywhere.
WESTERVELT: Security analyst Guido Steinberg says the media leaks are minor problems compared to larger structural issues within German intelligence. For example, three years ago, it took a U.S. tip to help foil a Jihadist plot to attack American targets in Western Germany. The suspects were long known to German authorities, yet they were able to freely travel abroad for terrorist training in Pakistan before returning to Germany.
GUIDO STEINBERG: And it was only then that the American authorities alerted our foreign intelligence service that there was a group plotting an attack.
WESTERVELT: Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.