TORNOW, Germany -- On an unusually hot July day in Berlin, a friend and I left the city for the countryside to visit friends at their small house on a lake in the village of Tornow, 40 miles south of Berlin. We took two trains, a bus and finally a car for the last few miles up a narrow country road.
During the two hours on public transportation, I marveled at how safe we felt. Mothers with carriages and strollers were easily accommodated, and there were no security measures in sight. When our train ran six minutes late, causing us to miss the bus at the designated junction, the driver phoned ahead to arrange for the bus to stop for us farther up the road. Later, as we sat in a cool reserve on a lake sheltered by leafy birches and tall pines, sipping tea and nibbling a chocolate torte with our friends, we remarked at how idyllic the world suddenly seemed.
Less than a week later, Islamist terrorists struck the London underground and a double-decker bus, and my German friends were grimly speculating whether they could be targets, too. When the magazine der Spiegel asked Sir Peter Torry, the British ambassador in Berlin, whether Germany could suffer a similar attack or whether London was a uniquely "preferred target" because of its participation in the war in Iraq, he offered no optimistic assessment: "I believe that we must expect everyone to be a potential target."
The Germans, after all, have troops in Afghanistan, too, and are training Iraqi security forces. But that's not what makes them a target for terrorists. "We all champion the same values, and these are precisely the values that the terrorists wish to destroy," the ambassador said. "They have declared war on all of us: Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain. Freedom, decency, democracy, all of these things are worthless for these people."
The Germans see their vulnerability through a series of incidents. Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 terrorists, received an advanced degree in urban planning at the Technical University in Hamburg. Six months after 9/11, nine members of a Palestinian terrorist cell in Germany were arrested for planning attacks on civilians. In January, German police rounded up 20 men suspected of Islamic militancy. German officials foiled a number of attacks over the last three years. Germany has banned certain radical Islamic groups known to be active in England: Europeans call the British capital "Londonistan."
Berliners, like the American standing in front of the British embassy in Washington on the morning after, echo the sentiments of the mayor of Paris: "We are all Londoners now." Almost no one here thinks the terrorists are out to create a better world. In Die Welt, a conservative Berlin paper, Roger Koppel expresses a common perception that Islamist terrorists pursue total destruction to all "deniers of Allah's truths, who are not fit to live." The Suddeutsche Zeitung, a liberal newspaper in Munich, says the London attacks created an opportunity for the G-8 nations to speak up, finally, in "a unified voice on anti-terror policy."
Germans admire the British stiff upper lip and the "cool" of Britannia. They don't expect Britain to withdraw troops from Iraq, to fold like a paper fan as the Spanish did when they were victims of a terrorist attack in Madrid. They recall, with a certain rue, British toughness in the Blitz.
Whether the London attacks will pull the Germans and the British closer together in common cause is not so clear, however. The British have long memories, and Germans are still stereotyped and satirized in the popular culture as sinister Nazi officers. British children study the Third Reich extensively -- more extensively than German children -- but they don't learn much of what has taken place in Germany over the 60 years since the end of World War II.
"If you want to learn how the Prussian goose-step works, you have to watch British TV, because in Germany nobody knows how to perform it," Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, told a London audience not long ago. He scolded them for an obsession with Hitler and the Holocaust. Shortly after that, the German government brought 20 teachers of history from Britain to let them see the changes up close.
The teachers admired the beautiful glass dome on the Reichstag, designed by British architect Norman Foster, who describes his work as an optimistic symbol for Germany's future: "As night falls and the glass bubble of the cupola glows, the building becomes a beacon, signaling the strength and vigor of the German democratic process." Goose-stepping Germans are dead. Jihad is the new terror stalking the West with all the grim determination of the Nazi menace before it.