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Concerns over New Year’s Eve in Cologne: “Anyone can stand in front of the cathedral with a bomb backpack if they want to”

The police presence alone signals the level of danger. Dozens of blue-and-white vans are parked on the cathedral square in Cologne. Again and again, they make their way through the crowds for rotation. In front of the main entrance, officers are stationed in two tents and allow visitors into the cathedral for the services only after thorough checks – they politely turn away interested spectators.

Due to the threat of an attack, the police are on high alert. On Christmas Eve, special units searched an apartment in Wesel and detained five men. A 30-year-old man, for whom the police have “state security-relevant information,” will remain in custody there until January 7 for averting danger; the other four were released.

Cologne: 100,000 visitors at the cathedral despite the warning of danger

Despite the warning of danger, many tourists are not deterred from visiting the cathedral. Those who do not want to see a police presence in their souvenir photos use the side entrance as a backdrop. At a candle booth set up at the side entrance, visitors can light a candle for their loved ones despite the closure.

Karsten Lassen and his group are among the 100,000 visitors who would have liked to visit the cathedral between the years – and now stand in front of closed doors. “We traveled 500 kilometers and mentally prepared ourselves to crawl up the stairs,” says the man from Hamburg, smiling.

According to the dpa, the Islamist group that allegedly planned the attack is said to have connections to the Islamic State Province of Khorasan (ISPK). The group fights the Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan and sees itself as an offshoot of the terrorist network “Islamic State” (IS). This is why some people in social media speak of a misguided refugee and migration policy by the federal government. They argue that it leads to such threat situations.

“When hundreds of thousands migrate, it cannot be ruled out that there are also terrorists among them”

At the Cologne Cathedral, however, a different mood emerges between the years. “This is the general trend in world politics,” a friend of Lassen chimes in. The war in Gaza or the strengthening of radical Islamists in Afghanistan would lead to corresponding groups becoming more active in Europe, is heard repeatedly in Cologne.

And: “When hundreds of thousands migrate, it cannot be ruled out that there are also terrorists among them,” says the friend, adding, “We cannot shut ourselves off from that.” Lassen makes it clear: “Not all migrants are terrorists.” He also points out that, for example, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had already carried out attacks before debates about migration and terrorism even broke out in Germany.

“There are always crazies,” says another man, who is walking along the cathedral with his mother and daughter: “This can also happen with Evangelicals or Catholics.” The mother, who traveled from the Eifel region, describes how refugees in her village are being welcomed and taken care of warmly. However, the weak infrastructure in the region deters migrants even more than Germans. “No one wants to come to us,” she laments.

“We should show outwardly: We will not be intimidated”

Some tourists on the cathedral square are not shy about their beliefs. An older man describes the police scene as interesting as he walks with his

A throng heads towards the pedestrian zone. He, as a hunter, carries a weapon himself, he says. What are his views on immigration? “I always say: Germany for Germans,” he quotes an extremist phrase and continues, “That’s how we get along better.”

Marco Knevel from Cologne had hoped for a stronger reaction. “We should show outwardly: We won’t let fear get to us,” says the East Frisian, shortly after taking a selfie with the cathedral in the background with his family. He believes that sealing off the house of worship would send the wrong message. “Come anyway!” is his motto. The family deliberately did not cancel their three-day trip to make a statement.

Although the police presence among the visitors receives widespread approval, it still leaves some tourists feeling uneasy. “Anyone could stand in front of the cathedral with a bomb backpack if they wanted to,” says a woman. After all, the police hardly inspect the cathedral grounds themselves.

But one visitor says we must free ourselves from such thoughts. “It could actually happen anywhere, couldn’t it?”

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