By Philip Maughan
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Berlin is a dark city. At night, especially in winter, the streets are low-lit and quiet. On Monday evening, I walked a friend visiting from London through the Tiergarten, a 520-acre park thick with beech and oak trees, towards the central station. Less than two hours later, police arrested a man hiding out among those trees, supposedly attempting to flee the hell at Breitscheidplatz, a popular square in a commercial area of Charlottenburg, about a mile to the west. It's now unclear whether he was the driver – recent reports suggest he was an uninvolved civilian.
Details are still emerging about what happened at the Christmas market. Events already being stitched into the extraordinary narrative surrounding "Islamist terror", generally reserved for atrocities committed on European soil. One nice thing about the darkness, my friend pointed out, is that it makes the Christmas lights seem that much brighter.
Since Britain voted to leave the EU in June and the US elected Donald Trump to be its 45th president, I have been pompously reminding people in Berlin that we are living on an island, part of an archipelago of liberal values around which the sea is rising fast. As the news spread over Monday night – 12 people are now known to have died and 48 were injured after a 32-tonne goods lorry careered off the road and ploughed into a busy Christmas market – I tried to answer texts and worried phone calls, some of which quite honestly seemed a little OTT, until I discovered that one of my friends was unaccounted for and started doing exactly the same thing.
I was in shock. I felt a sickening panic not so much from my proximity to such a violent and upsetting loss of life, but because it meant accepting I’d been wrong. It meant the end of a kind of leftie fantasy: of safety, of special status, of an island sanctuary from the nastiness growing so rapidly elsewhere.