Campus - 23.11.2015 - 00:00
23. November 2015. It should have been a quiet conclusion to a strenuous week. But suddenly everything changed. I met some fellow students here at HEC Paris in order to watch France’s friendly match against Germany in a lecture room. Thus we also noticed, during the live broadcast, those loud bangs which would later prove to have been detonations. Only a few minutes later we first read in French media about a shooting incident and detonations in the city centre. What followed in the subsequent minutes and hours was quite simply surreal.
Contact with friends
Whereas we only regarded the first news flash about a shooting incident as an occasional phenomenon in a big city, it was only a little later that we actually learnt about the horror that really happened: further messages of terror followed with each passing minute. The football match had soon became a side issue; transfixed, we stared at our mobiles, followed the live ticker about was what happening and, above all, contacted our friends who were in the city centre or the stadium that evening in order to make sure that they were safe and well. Some of them were locked in in restaurants and bars without knowing exactly what was happening outside the supposedly shielding walls. Only a few hours later, after we had followed the reports mesmerised and aghast, and many others had reached the safety of the campus a few miles from the city, did we try to come to terms with what had happened and what we had experienced, when on our own and trying to go to sleep.
All the scenes of horror and fear were in places that I had already been to myself and in whose vicinity in Paris I will be in the future; it was only on Thursday that we had still tried to get tickets for the international match. I received countless telephone calls and texts from friends and family asking me to confirm that I was well, and I made many calls and sent many texts to ensure that friends were safe.
Safety measures on the campus
A HEC Paris student was also among the victims. During the three days of national mourning, all examinations were cancelled, and the safety measures were stepped up here on the campus, too: extramural people are not admitted. During the subsequent day, both I and others visibly found it difficult to concentrate. All this led to a situation whereby the terror attacks of 13 November 2015 seem closer to me and weigh more heavily on my mind than the attacks of January in Paris and those in Beirut only a few days earlier.
Cordiality in the street
What will stay the same and what will change is still uncertain. What is palpable, however, is that the population closed ranks in the subsequent days and that a wave of mutual cordiality and attentiveness ensued. Fleeting expressions of bonjour and au revoir turned into smiles which you give to each other or into conversations in the street, in the supermarket and in the Métro. It is a mutual recollection of the values that this country represents: Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité. They are being invoked and acted on as strongly as possibly never before whilst Paris is slowly returning to normal, streets are filling up again and the Parisians again embody their accustomed joie de vivre.
And yet a certain nervousness and anxiety can be felt. Only two days after the attacks, panic triggered by firecrackers caused people to flee from a memorial event in a Paris square. I myself was sitting in a group room with two fellow students recently when we heard some undefinable screaming from another room. We interrupted our work immediately, looked at each other obviously perturbed and made sure that everything was in order. Thus the attacks are still firmly entrenched in our minds days later.
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