On Friday, July 22nd, an 18 year old kid started shooting people at a mall just a few miles from our apartment. Beloved wrote about our experience in an email he sent back to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Rosa where he worshiped while he lived in Santa Rosa, California. Here is what he said:  

To all my good friends at UUCSR

Many of you remember me from UUCSR. My wife Anitra Kitts and I moved to Munich in November of 2012 and have lived here ever since. As I am sure you know we had a tragedy here last night – but I want to let you know that Anitra and I are fine and were not close to the area of danger.

What does it mean to live here, live here through such a tragedy, and move forward? How do our fellow Muenchners go on? How does official Munich and official Germany react? How do the expats react? What does this all mean?

Friday was the start of the 500 Jahre Bayerisches Reinheitsgebot Fest (500 year anniversary of the Bavarian purity laws setting the highest standards for the brewing of beer). Anitra and I were going to meet some friends at the festival in the center of town – and meet a number of expat friends at one of the beer tents. I came home from work early to be there.

We were sitting on our balcony and decided not to go because there was a thunderstorm coming. Then we heard the sirens – and sirens, and sirens (we live one block from a major thoroughfare). Anitra immediately wondered what was happening – I hardly noticed. She started checking twitter and the news was ominous.

We immediately started checking news sources. Do note that there are difficulties with this as “Unser Deutsch ist sehr schlecht” (Our German is very bad), so it’s a combination of using the little German that we knew, using Google translate, and hoping the BBC was picking this up. We did this for about 3 hours, following the minute by minute of what was going on at a unassuming 70s vintage shopping mall about 2 miles from the apartment.

They thought it was three shooters. Shots were fired. The death toll was unknown but continually increasing. They thought one shooter ran down into the U-Bahn (subway). So transit was shut down throughout the city. Then long distance trains were diverted and the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) was shut down. People were locked in the offices, and stores. Our friends at the Reinheitsgebot (we later learned) were herded to a protected square and provided free juice and water and the option to buy beer (it is Bavaria) but not let out. Highways were shut down and cops were called from all of Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland. This was big time.

People were opening their houses so those that were stranded had a place to stay. The police were keeping people informed on twitter (Bavarian police effectively use twitter in multiple languages – German, English and French). BBC and local papers were feeding news live but basically the authorities had few clues.

Eventually and somewhat nervously we went to sleep. I forced myself not to read the news until I woke up at 6am. By then things had settled down and we learned some key things

There was only one gunman. The other two suspects were really two guys in a car that raced away to escape when they heard gunshots
The gunman killed himself nearby
Trains, subways, buses and trams were running again – the danger is gone
Friends who were stranded were allowed to leave at midnight- but had to walk home- some long distances – because at that point trains were not running

It was a quiet, eerie foggy morning. We have many wet foggy mornings in Munich, but for some reason this one seems particularly strange. Later people started coming out – I noticed the neighbor across the street with his two toddler children walking down the street. Then we went downtown. Tram to subway to walk the main tourist drag – which was filled with troops and sharpshooters only hours earlier. Yet in the morning it was calm, almost normal, but a little quiet. There was some extra security but not much and it was subtle. The trains were quiet, but amazingly normal. Muenchners were gradually getting back to normal.

Facebook was hopping. Friends around the world were checking with each- worrying about each other. Asking if people were ok, letting people know they were ok. Our local friends were telling their stories of spending the evening in the courtyard and walking home at midnight. Even my employer talked about employees that were working late and ended up spending the night at the office.

Later we learn that the perpetrator was an 18 year old born in Germany of Iranian descent. He had no contact with ISIS or terrorists but an obsession with serial killers, depression and access to an illegally obtained glock. The police made clear that he was not a terrorist – just a very disturbed young man.

We do not know much about the victims except most of them are teenagers. Official Germany and the press is helping preserve their privacy. So in summary we have

A tragedy
A city pulling together
Officials organizing and doing their best to keep people safe and keep people objectively informed
A city picking itself up

I am still unnerved. I believe many others are here as well. But I am also hopeful and thankful. Thankful for all my friends, family and stranger around the world who care, who open their doors and remain vulnerable and help others. Munich is a city of people who sometimes seem cold and pushy on the tram but when someone falls down everyone else picks the person up. When refuges come everyone brings food and water. And when some are stranded they open their doors.

May I learn to have the same heart that others here have. May we all let our heart lead even through our angst and fear.

With my love and greetings

Bill Von Seggern


2 thoughts on “A Letter Home

  1. I would be unnerved, too! My brother’s family, with two young children, was at the Columbia, MD, mall when shooters went in there. It was terrifying and still makes me cry to think about!

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