The evening of 2 November 2020, just as Austria was preparing for a second pandemic lockdown, was unusually warm in Vienna … 20 degrees Celsius in November! People were corona fatigued, socially deprived and financially exhausted. One more beer with friends in one of Vienna’s cool center-city cafés was exactly what everyone needed before going into a long winter lockdown filled with statistics, cases and firings.
And then all hell broke loose, as we would later find out, frantically watching TV all night and waiting to hear just how much more scary our lives have become. Many have already heard the Vienna shooter was a 20-year-old young man, with Austrian and North Macedonian citizenship, who served time in prison for wanting to join ISIS in 2018.
A severe mistake was made, an unforgettable one – he was let out of prison early, for reasons so unjustified I question the whole law system in Austria.
One of the reasons: He had a place to live (with his mother). The irony is, that same mother turned him in in 2018. Also, no one seemed to have checked how long he stayed with his mother, one of the important reasons given for letting him out early. Soon enough, he had his own state-funded apartment were he apparently spent days planning to kill the very same people who paid for his life, education and apartment by going to work and paying taxes.
Just after 8 p.m. on this warm, almost summery evening, the shooter started shooting. His first victim, ironically, was also a North Macedonian young man, just 21. Then many more. Too many: five dead, three in critical condition and another 22 injured.
I believe the whole city was awake Monday. Throughout the night, we heard sirens and helicopters and watched press conferences, trying to find some comfort. One hundred and fifty EKO Cobra police officers (special forces policemen) and 100 WEGA (Viennese special forces) were in the center city, and it seemed all of the paramedics, firemen and police officers were on the crime scene.
Those are the facts of the terrorist attack in Vienna of 2 November 2020.
‘Wien is anders’
The second part is much harder. The emotions of it.
There is a saying in Austria, “Wien ist anders” (Vienna is different). It says so much without many words. Vienna is simply different than anyplace you have seen and experienced. And it shows, for example in Mercer’s Quality of Living Ranking: Vienna has been No. 1 for 10 YEARS in a row!
It is a city where subway trains run every three minutes, but everyone is still running for the one currently leaving the station.
It is a city of city-funded, free kindergartens and schools, but private kindergartens and schools have waiting lists.
It is warm and cold at the same time, and it often simply feels like a hug from an old friend, the one your soul has been craving for.
This time Vienna is different, for a different and very sad reason. Everyone felt it in the air. The normally busy subway was empty; the streets were empty; the souls were empty. People are in disbelief, hurt and shocked.
I think everyone who lived through such a violent experience knows the feeling, even if they’ve buried it somewhere deep, deep down. I happened to have become – unwillingly – very familiar with it growing up in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s while war was raging. I am not much better off for it, nor am I immune to this kind of shock. But I did take one valuable lesson with me.
You always have a choice. You have a choice to give circumstances around you a meaning; to give them your imprint. As Viktor Frankl said, “Once you find your why, you shall know your how.”
So we all have a choice to decide on our why. Do we give hate back and perpetuate this endlessly, or do we change the narrative? The families of the five deceased are bruised for life, but the rest of us … the rest of us can decide to further make Vienna different.
Today, for the first time in a long while, Vienna life slowed its fast pace and showed us so many things we have to be thankful for but seem to overlook. So, today I chose to be thankful for all the subway, tram and bus drivers who showed up to work and made it possible for us to move safely through the city, even though they are scared and left families at home not knowing what the day brings.
I chose to appreciate the men who emptied our building’s garbage containers, even though they wanted to stay home and take care of their parents.
I chose to be grateful for all grocery shop workers who made it possible for me and my family to have fresh milk, fruit and bread, even though they had no one to take care of their children and had to send them to school. (Our school had only 12 out of 325 children attending on Tuesday.)
I chose to admire nurses, doctors, police officers, firemen and many more who are the selfless heart of this city. It is an army of good people who had the misfortune of experiencing the madness of ONE very disturbed young man. And for me, it is a good enough.
Why? Because I choose the good. This city deserves it. I deserve it.
And that is something no one can ever take away.
About the author:
Nina Avramovic Trninic is a civil engineer, and an expat originally from Tuzla, Bosnia. (Send comments to: [email protected].)