On December 11th, 2018, I was in Strasbourg for work during what would later be known as the “Christmas Market attacks.” The first victim was shot rue des Orfèvres at 7:50pm, and I saw it happen, twenty to thirty meters from where I was standing.
At first I heard two or three loud bangs, which sounded a lot like firecrackers. At that moment, I was on the phone with a colleague: I turned around, curious to see who would use firecrackers in such a narrow street. I saw a man coming out of an alley, lift his arm, point it at someone, and I heard that firecracker bang again, while the person fell suddenly on the ground.
During the following fifteen seconds I was very lucid. I ran like everybody else around me while trying to explain on the phone what was happening. “There is a guy shooting at people on the street!” While I was moving quickly towards the end of the street, I could hear two more bangs behind me. All I could think about was “Will one of these bullets hit me in the back? Did the shooter aim in my direction? Should I turn back to see where he is going? Is he shooting at other people?” Once in an apparently safe area, I started panicking. The lucidity vanished, and was replaced by cold fear, confusion, and anxiety.
After calling my loved ones to tell them I was fine before the news of an attack in Strasbourg broke, my co-workers and I found refuge in a bar outside the city centre of Strasbourg, and I eventually spent the night at my friends’ flat nearby. That night I was in shock and did not eat. The next day we travelled back to Paris. During two days or so, I stayed home alone. It felt somehow therapeutic, yet everything seemed a bit bland, and empty: the food, work, my flat. I felt almost like a victim — what were the odds that I would find myself in the middle of this, in a city I do not even live in?
A part of my brain wanted to erase that awful scene, which became more and more blurry each time I remembered it; another part wanted to live that exact moment over and over, so it would end up being “printed” in my mind, so I could never forget that night.
After one or two days, I stopped feeling afraid: I felt lucky instead.
Lucky that I was twenty meters up the street from where the gunman showed up.
Lucky that I was not one of the victims.
Lucky to be alive, in a winning-the-lottery kind of way (I bought a few Euromillion tickets a few days after).
Now that a year has passed, I am lucky to say that I don’t think about it a lot anymore. At least not in the same way.
I visited Strasbourg earlier this month, and went to rue des Orfèvres. Once there, my friends asked me if I was OK, and I was. I objectively described what happened that night, pointing out where I was standing, where the shooter came from, and I felt quite normal about it: neither lucky, neither afraid.
To me, the most remarkable thing about this experience is how life can go on and make bad memories barely feel like a bad dream.
That day, we eventually left the colourful rue des Orfèvres, and walked to a busy food stand, place du Temple-Neuf. We ordered a few local knackwursts, served with crispy bread and Dijon mustard, and it was delicious.