How European Christmas Markets Are Working to Keep Visitors Safe
On Wednesday, a gunman killed at least two people and wounded 14 more in Strasbourg, home to France’s largest Christmas market. The event, The Washington Post reported, was declared an act of terrorism by the Paris prosecutor. A manhunt is still underway to catch the shooter, who fled after allegedly getting injured himself.
“Once again, terrorism has struck our territory, in Strasbourg,” Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said in a statement. According to Laurent Nunez, a top Interior Ministry official, the suspect is known to authorities and has a lengthy criminal record. The suspect, The Washington Post added, became radicalized during one of his previous prison stays.
This, sadly, is not the first time a Christmas market in Europe to be targeted by terror attacks. In 2016, a Berlin Christmas market was the subject of a truck attack that left 12 people dead.
However, authorities are diligently working to ensure the safety of the markets and those who come to visit them.
“There is a general threat from terrorism. There may be increased security in place over the Christmas and New Year period, including at Christmas markets and other major events that might attract large crowds,” the Foreign Office advised on its site even prior to this week’s attack. “You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.”
Beyond remaining vigilant, authorities and experts say there are a few things you can do to help with your personal safety.
“As holidaymakers, it is important to familiarize yourself with a country’s particular security protocols. In the case of France, holidaymakers should at the very least equip themselves with the SAIP app, which provides valuable real-time security information on your location coupled with any FCO travel advice,” travel consumer campaigner Frank Brehany told The Independent.
Authorities are also stepping up their efforts to keep the Christmas market areas safe.
"As in previous years many security measures are visible, you will see physical barriers and uniformed officers along with our own security personnel, surveillance cameras, and equipment, with other security measures active in the background,” Craig Jenkins, executive chairman at Visit Bath, told Somerset Live.
Guests of the market, Jenkins added, are now subject to random stops and bag checks before going into the markets. This, he noted, is in a bid to prevent attackers from concealing weapons or explosives. And, in case of an attack incident, response units are already stationed close to the festivities.
In what it calls “unprecedented protection,” Berlin authorities have added massive barricades to ensure attendees' safety this year. The barricades come with sand- and stone-filled bags, which are also bolted down. Private guards will also be on hand alongside uniformed and plainclothes police officers.
"This year is quite different from the years before," Uwe Timm, CEO of German working group AG City, shared in a statement. "This time it was mainly about the question of how to combine the comfort of a visit with security. Despite increased security measures, the accessibility for visitors is guaranteed.”