We wait for buses to take us to the Maternushaus with Johannes and his family, and after a few minutes they arrive and we board. The windows seem to be tinted from the outside so no one can see in and a police escort leads the way.
We ride in silence.
We meet Jens´ girlfriend who is there with her father and other family members we know. The mother of the Moroccan family looks absently through the international crowd.
Hannelore Kraft, the Premier of the state of North Rhine Westphalia, greets us.
The mood in the room is gloomy. The buffet is plentiful. On my search for coffee I bump into a few pastors from Düsseldorf who recognise me and we exchange a few words.
We continue our journey in a protected convoy. A few cameramen line the street. Passersby wearing serious expressions stop and look at the buses as they drive by. Posters with 4U9525 black ribbons of mourning shine in the sun. The entire city as well as people around the world are mourning in front of their TVs.
Suddenly we stop. The driver (or was it the escorts´ mistake?) has got stuck in road construction and can´t make the narrow turn because of a heavy construction site fence. He eventually gets off the bus to see exactly what the problem is, scratches his head and tries to push the barriers aside, which are covered in advertising posters. The maneuver doesn´t work even with security´s help. He gets back on the bus and tries again to make the turn. The passengers are starting to get restless and we crane our necks to assess the situation. The police give the driver signals to help him drive forward and reverse. A little forward, turn, back, turn again, a little forward again, turn and …, etc. We´ve been watching the action tensely for the last 10 minutes. Little by little the driver angles the bus into the desired direction.
Suddenly I hear a scraping sound on my side. The construction site fence next to me begins to wobble dangerously and almost tips over. I instinctively pull back from the window.
The driver finally makes the turn and we clap, relieved.
We arrive on time despite the interruption, deboard the bus directly in front of the Cathedral and are allowed in after our wristbands are checked. The highest security measures are in place all around the Cologne Cathedral.
150 white candles are burning on the steps to the altar, one for each of the dead. My husband and I only found out this morning that Cardinal Woelki is going to light a candle for the mass murderer too. I am totally opposed to this. Apparently there are family members who have stayed away from the memorial service for this reason. Emergency counselors point us toward the nave and we take our seats. The first row is reserved for political representatives.
I study the programme in front of me as well as a wooden angel which was made in a workshop for the disabled in Russia. It´s there to lend us support and comfort. I pick it up and press its smooth wood.
Jews are sítting in front of us who stand out because of the small, white skullcaps they wear on their heads. People next to me are speaking Spanish.
The Cathedral bells chime and a requiem opens the ecumenical service. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki and Anette Kurschus, a Protestant pastor, speak. Prayers, readings and sermons are broken up by musical performances, among them an opera singer who performs a solo. She lost two colleagues on the flight home which sadly never arrived.
Pastors as well as a young woman we know read prayers. Her name is Sarah and she lost her sister in the disaster. I admire her courage and strength to speak despite her grief. ”I pray for all the families and friends of the passengers and crew, who miss their loved ones terribly,” she reads. Her voice trembles. The pastor with the very long hair is standing close by for support if needed.
The memorial service is being televised live in many countries, and large screens have been set up on several squares in the centre of Cologne.
© Brigitte Voß / Translation: Ellen Rosenbaum
(To be continued)