The arrival of Christmas markets across the globe are normally festive occasions meant to celebrate the start of the holiday season, however, for a moment, the normally cheery mood took a momentary solemn turn at the opening of this year's market in Berlin.
Markus Mueller, the Lord Mayor of Berlin, laid a white rose at a memorial located alongside the usual seasonal holiday decorations. It is a tribute to the 12 people killed by Islamic State adherent Anis Amri after he used a truck to mow down pedestrians at the Berlin market last December. In addition to the memorial, several security measures, including police patrols armed with sub-machine guns and heavy concrete barricades, could be seen alongside stalls serving deserts and warm drinks.
But the threat posed by vehicular terrorist attacks haven't dampened the spirits of Christmas market goers in Germany and across the globe.
In fact, some markets, like the Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, D.C. are thriving.
"We estimate about 10,000 people a day, and up to ... 30,000 a day on weekends," Michael Berman, executive director of Diverse Markets Management which helps organize D.C's market. "You should see it on a Saturday here, it is jam packed."
Christmas markets are open walkways usually set up in large, urban areas with a high volume of pedestrian traffic. While they offer visitors the ability to visit a number of shops selling all kinds of holiday treats, the open nature and density of the markets unfortunately makes them a prime target for terrorists. Amri took advantage of this vulnerability after ISIS encouraged its followers to engage in vehicular attacks. The terrorist group issued a step-by-step guide in the November 2016 issue of its propaganda magazine, Rumiyah, encouraging followers to use trucks to attack large gatherings like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
Markets across the globe have installed similar heavy concrete barriers in an effort to prevent similar attacks this year.
The Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, D.C. is one of them. Located in the heart of the nation's capital, it's a popular spot for both tourists and locals. The smell of delectable chocolates, coffee and warm churros greets visitors as they walk past stalls filled with vendors selling art, jewelry and various other pieces while the sound of live musicians playing all the holiday favorites fills the air. The entire affair has all the carefree cheer one might expect this time of year, but behind the scenes, organizers and security officials have prepared contingencies just in case.
"Safety and security is a priority, and we take it seriously, and we work with the government on that," said Berman. "We have secured our space this year and last year after one of those incidents with concrete barriers. But we we're very fortunate to be ... downtown where we have a strong police force."
The D.C. market barriers form a half circle enclosing the side of the shop tents exposed to the busy city street. They are spread out enough to the point where the average pedestrian can simply walk by them without trouble, but close enough to prevent any vehicle from entering the premises. Most visitors would probably not even notice them, especially in Washington, where large barriers protect the entrances to many government buildings and large offices. Some barriers in Germany were adorned with bows in order help them hide in plain sight. Subtle additions like these have become the new normal in a world where terrorism has become increasingly rudimentary and harder to predict.
The threat posed by vehicular attacks is as rudimentary and difficult to predict as they come. In fact, the ISIS guide acknowledges these facts as being a distinct advantage to using cars as weapons. After all, few suspect something as commonplace as a car. It's simplicity has made it a favored tactic by ISIS adherents ever since. The perpetrator responsible for running over and killing 8 people in Manhattan in late October followed previous examples, albeit haphazardly.
As concerning as attacks on crowded areas may be, Christmas markets continue to see remarkable popularity. Berman certainly hasn't seen a noticeable downturn, nor does he expect one as D.C. market continues to operate until December 23.
"You can't control everything, but we have contingencies. But you can't live in fear either, you know, otherwise no one would go outside," said Berman. "It hasn't slowed any foot traffic down here."