Travel

Sunday 22 September 2019

Christmas Markets: Is it safe to travel? What is the advice for tourists in Berlin?

Travel tips & advice

Police guard a Christmas market in Berlin. (AP/Michael Sohn)
Police guard a Christmas market in Berlin. (AP/Michael Sohn)
The smashed window of the cabin of a truck which ran into a crowded Christmas market Monday evening killing several people Monday evening is seen in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016.(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

A devastating attack in Berlin has thrown the spotlight onto security at Europe's famous Christmas markets.

What's happened?

A truck ploughed through a Christmas Market just off Kurfürstendamm in Berlin on Monday, December 19, killing at least 12 and injuring dozens.

Is it safe to travel to Berlin and Germany?

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs advises Irish citizens to exercise "normal precautions" when undertaking trips to Germany.

"While Germany remains a very popular destination for Irish visitors, recent attacks reinforce the need for travellers to take seriously the global risk of indiscriminate terror attacks, which also applies to Germany," it says.

It has not raised its alert level following events in Berlin.

The attack follows recent security incidents in Ansbach (24 July), Reutlingen (24 July), Munich (22 July) and Würzburg (18 July), "which have caused loss of life and injuries and created a sense of increased anxiety," it notes.

Are other attacks likely?

Last month, the US State Department warned of a "heightened risk" of terrorist attacks in Europe during the holiday season, advising citizens to "exercise caution" during festivals, events and outdoor markets.

The smashed window of the cabin of a truck which ran into a crowded Christmas market Monday evening killing several people Monday evening is seen in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016.(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
The smashed window of the cabin of a truck which ran into a crowded Christmas market Monday evening killing several people Monday evening is seen in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016.(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Extremist sympathisers or self-radicalised extremists may conduct attacks "with little or no warning" during the holiday period, it added.

Although there have been several high-profile attacks in Europe in recent years, including a truck attack that killed 86 people in Nice this July, statistically, the odds of being caught up in one remain very low.

Are Christmas Markets safe?

Open-air Christmas markets are an enduring holiday tradition in Europe, but as the attack in Berlin has shown, they can be quite exposed.

Security has been stepped up (a New York Times story details the protections in Strasbourg, for example), and the UK Foreign Office notes that in Germany, “increased security has been put in place as a precaution at public buildings, major events, transport hubs and large public gatherings.”

Nevertheless, while the odds of being the victim of an attack remain very low, holidaymakers should always be vigilant among crowds.

What commonsense steps can I take?

1. Know your escape route. In the unlikely event of an attack on an outdoors event, festival or market, the US State Dept. advises having "an emergency plan of action ready." Know your exits, and how to return to your accommodation.

2. Consider avoiding large crowds in the first place, and be vigilant when attending large holiday events, visiting tourist sites or using public transportation.

Police and emergency workers are at the site of an accident at a Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz square near the fashionable Kurfuerstendamm avenue in the west of Berlin, Germany, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Police and emergency workers are at the site of an accident at a Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz square near the fashionable Kurfuerstendamm avenue in the west of Berlin, Germany, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

3. In the event of an attack or warning, follow the instructions of local authorities. Let your friends and family know you are safe as soon as possible.

4. Irish citizens in Germany should download TravelWise, the Department’s new free smartphone app, and set an alert for ‘Germany’, to receive all of our significant security and other updates direct to your phone.

5. In Berlin, follow the Embassy of Ireland on Twitter (@IrlEmbBerlin). In the event of a security incident, it will issue travel advice. In the event of a crisis, it will only post updates issued by the authorities in Ireland and Germany.

I’m nervous about travel. Can I get a refund?

No. If you cancel your holiday without the DFA declaring travel to be unsafe, it could be deemed "disinclination to travel". As such, you may have to give up your deposit, pay a cancellation fee or forfeit some or all of the cost.

Some tour operators or airlines may decide to offer refunds or alternative destinations as a gesture of goodwill, but there is no legal obligation to do so.

What about travel insurance?

Travel insurance won't cover the cost of a trip cancellation due to a terror attack, but it's essential to have a policy in case of medical emergencies.

Whenever you travel in Europe, Independent.ie Travel recommends having an EHIC card and comprehensive travel insurance.

More: Travel & Terrorism Q&A: What does my travel insurance cover?

I'm concerned about someone in Berlin - what can I do?

The German police have issued a contact number, +49 30 540 23 111, for people concerned or who may have relevant information.

Irish citizens can contact the DFA on 01 408-2000.

Numbers for emergency services in Berlin:

Police 110

Ambulance / Fire Brigade 112

Embassy of Ireland in Berlin +49 (0) 30 220 720 (message service for Irish citizens in a genuine emergency only).

Read more:

Mapped: Where is safe for Irish tourists to travel in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East? Ask the Expert: Do I need travel insurance, an EHIC, or both?

Online Editors

Editors Choice

Also in Life