A Weekend In Barcelona After The Terror Attack

Photo: Lorenzo Viola / EyeEm
There's no better part of the working week than waking up on a Friday morning – only a few hours to go, then the long-awaited weekend is here. It's even better when you know you're flying south in the evening to celebrate your best friend's 30th birthday. Better still, it's something you've been looking forward to for weeks: summer, sunshine, rosé. Olé!
But it's pretty shit when there's a terror attack at your travel destination the night before, ultimately leaving 14 people dead and injuring dozens of others. It's even shittier when the birthday crew, who had arrived days earlier, were sat only 300 metres from the location of the attack and witnessed everything. And then you have to suddenly ask yourself if you can travel there at all or if it's too risky.
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I'm due to fly to Barcelona on Friday evening. The night before, a truck scorches into the crowd on Las Ramblas, killing 13 people. Las Ramblas is Barcelona's party street. My best friend wanted to celebrate his 30th birthday there with a small group of old and new friends; the trip has been planned for weeks. There's no question in my mind – I want to spend the day with him, despite the circumstances.
My mum doesn't get it though. She calls me multiple times on that Friday, begging me not to fly. It is way too dangerous. Hearing her shaking voice on the cellphone, I only have one thought: Barcelona is probably the safest place on Earth at the moment. I feel there can be an attack any minute, anywhere, even in front of my house in Berlin. But there, where something has just happened – nothing else is going to happen any time soon. That's my logic, at least.
At the gate at Tegel airport in Berlin, I receive another phone call from a friend. Again, they can't understand how I can possibly get on a plane and celebrate a birthday where, only hours ago, a tragedy has happened. I feel bad, but maybe only because one should feel bad. For months now, I have felt this certainty deep inside me that terror is all around us, whether we want it to be or not. Sometimes we are closer to it; sometimes we are further away. I wish I didn't feel this way but unfortunately, in these times, it is inevitable.
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For months now, I have felt this certainty deep inside me that terror is all around us. Sometimes we are closer to it; sometimes we are further away. I wish I didn't feel this way but unfortunately, in these times, it is inevitable.

On the plane, my thoughts are rattling. I want to live, I don't want to be scared – or at least, not show my fear. "Negative things have to be faced with positive things" I tell myself, then close my eyes and try to doze.
At the airport in Barcelona, it seems like business as usual. Bustling activity, security announcements warning you not to leave your luggage unattended, people at arrivals joyfully folding their arms around each other. I get into a cab and ask the driver how she feels. "It is sad what happened. But that's the way the world works nowadays and life goes on." I am her last customer; she's looking forward to seeing her family tonight. As we drive into the city, a bus is driving next to us. I see four young women on board – they are maybe in their early 20s – laughing and enjoying themselves as they show each other something on a phone. "As if nothing had happened," I think to myself. A scooter squeezes between the bus and my taxi. A couple is driving, the girl sitting on the back. At the traffic lights they open their visors and laugh about something: a moment, like before, filled with joy. Again I think that negative things have to be faced with positive things. Life goes on, as does my cab.
I am also happy when I meet my friends. My best friend is particularly happy that I made this journey just to see him for 48 hours, and I am happy that I can spend this weekend with him. We have known each other for 16 years – he is one of the most important people in my life and there is nothing on this planet that would make me miss his 30th birthday. Not even a terror attack. In the evening, we have dinner next to the harbour. We're sitting on the rooftop of a hotel and as we enjoy the first glass of rosé, my friends tell me what happened the night before.
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I see four young women – they are maybe in their early 20s – laughing and enjoying themselves as they show each other something on a phone. Life goes on.

They were having dinner in a cosy restaurant on Las Ramblas, talking and enjoying the warm evening, when suddenly a bunch of people ran past. Most of them with their cellphones at their ears, all of them with shock in their eyes. Immediately it was clear that something must have happened. Only a few minutes later, police cars raced past, so close that my friends thought their chairs would get knocked over. Now it was certain: something had happened.
Exactly what had happened they found out from push notifications from German news media on their phones and shortly afterwards, from the boss of the restaurant. A truck had crashed into a crowd only 300 metres from the restaurant and all locals, tourists and restaurateurs were asked to go home immediately and stay there. Las Ramblas was completely closed off; only residents were allowed to pass after showing their identification. So my friends paid the bill, left the turmoil, and got a taxi home.
They couldn't escape the shock, though. All evening they sat in silence; if they talked, it was quietly and about the attack. They messaged their family and friends to say they were okay. And even though they each had a glass of wine in their hand, no one thought of toasting and partying.
Now, talking about it on this beautiful rooftop terrace, the mood is depressed. The shock and lack of comprehension still sit deeply and no one really understands what happened. The conversation only lightens when two new friends from my home town arrive. They breathe fresh air into the crew and somehow everyone is relieved. We drink and talk and soon it's midnight. A cake with candles is brought to the table and the waitress suddenly starts to sing "Happy Birthday" in a beautiful voice and we all join in, joyfully, and hug the birthday boy. We are happy because he is happy and because we are all together and love each other.
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Later we leave the restaurant and walk to a bar through the tiny alleys of the old part of Barcelona. We are walking through a ghost town – not a word, no music, no people. Silence rules; an unpleasant, pressing silence. The bar is pretty empty, too, but the three bartenders smile when we get in and it's cosy and the people sitting at the tables are laughing and seem joyful. We aren't feeling loose, though. Mostly we talk about our lives and our problems; about gratitude, family, friends and love, and what we wish for our future. When someone says they want to go home, we all go together. There will be no partying for us tonight and that's okay.

We are walking through a ghost town – not a word, no music, no people. Silence rules; an unpleasant, pressing silence.

Big excitement, though, the next morning. We're well rested, the sun is shining and we have a big surprise planned for the birthday boy: we've hired a catamaran. We put him into a taxi blindfolded. When we take his blindfold off, we all lift our arms and cheer for joy. The first glass of champagne is slurped quickly; by the third, we are all sitting on the bow of the catamaran as we sail out of the harbour. The weather is beautiful, the sun is tickling our noses, the wind is rushing through our hair and we are all happy. Music streams from the speakers and we talk and laugh and enjoy life and this moment.
The first three hours fly past just like this and as we sail back towards the mainland I sit on the tip of the catamaran. My legs dangle in the air, the waves wash underneath me and the coast of Barcelona lies ahead. I feel free. But even from the sea a silence lies over the city; it quietens me down, too, and I slump into a swirl of thoughts. In front of me, the shimmering blue of the sea and a grieving city; inside me, a deep gratitude – for the people in my life that shaped everything up until this moment and, most importantly, for the people that are shaping my now and giving me the strength and energy for the future.
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In front of me, the shimmering blue of the sea and a grieving city; inside me, a deep gratitude

"Negative things have to be faced with positive things" I think again, and suddenly I see clearly that this is also true for my own life. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that," said Martin Luther King Jr. It is in each one of us to make this world a better, more beautiful and more loveable place. And even if it sounds romantic or naive, I have always believed that love will win in the end. This is what I want to keep believing.
We spend the evening on the rooftop of a newly opened members' club. It is super cosy and we are so relaxed from our day at sea that we eat, drink, laugh and muse with blissful smiles on our faces. Someone asks if we want to go out but we agree that the day is perfect as it is.
The next day I get into a cab with my friend and we drive to the airport. On the way we have to pass two roadblocks – apparently they are still looking for one of the attackers. At the airport, it seems like business as usual. Bustling activity, security announcements warning you not to leave your luggage unattended, people at arrivals joyfully folding their arms around each other. When the plane rises into the air, I have a smile on my face. It would have been impossible to party on such a weekend; many people are scared, understandably so. But negative things have to be faced with positive things and this is what I want to live by.
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