It's a question that lurked in the background as we made our way through the large Christmas market in Munich last week: Hundreds, maybe thousands, milling about, drinking hot wine or cold beer, shopping, eating, strolling, in the run-up to a joyous Christian holiday — what if terrorists choose it as a target?
You don't want to be deterred, but neither do you want to be naive. It's the kind of low-grade anxiety that keeps you looking around when you're in a crowd, resolving to be alert but not intimidated. That left you wondering later whether you'd been silly to feel anxious.
Germans were obviously feeling that same anxiety — even before Monday's truck attack left at least nine dead at a Christmas fair in Berlin. While we were in Central Europe, news broke that a 12-year-old boy who held dual German and Iraqi citizenship had twice tried to detonate a nail bomb at a Christmas fair in Ludwigshafen, a city near Heidelberg, in southwestern Germany.
A 12-year-old, one cab driver exclaimed in near-disbelief. Twelve! There was now a deep sense of fear and uncertainty in his country, he said. Germany had taken in too many refugees, and though he didn't doubt most were good people, there were certain to be some bad apples among them. There was just no way of knowing who. And we should know that the fear was much more pronounced in Europe than in far-away America, he added.
He predicted that gnawing unease would lead to the defeat of Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, in next year's elections. And after what we saw this year, here, who knows? He just may be right.