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AIR TRAGEDY

Schoolmates of Germanwings crash victims return to Catalonia one year on

Düsseldorf students arrive to continue exchange program in which their late classmates took part

Alfonso L. Congostrina
A student watches the tribute to the late German exchange students.
A student watches the tribute to the late German exchange students.Cristóbal Castro

Germanwings flight 9525 departed from Barcelona at 10.01am on March 24, 2015. On board were one pilot, one co-pilot, four crewmembers and 144 passengers en route to Düsseldorf (Germany).

At 10.41am the co-pilot, a 28-year-old German national named Andreas Lubitz, deliberately crashed the aircraft into the French Alps. There were no survivors. Lubitz ended his own life and that of 149 innocent people.

Among the victims were 16 students and two teachers from Josep König High School in Haltern am See (Düsseldorf). The group of 16-year-olds was returning home after participating in a student exchange program at a high school in the Catalan town of Llinars del Vallès (Barcelona).

In order to avoid any comparisons, the German students this year flew out of Cologne, not Düsseldorf

It had been a memorable week filled with classes and visits to the cities of Barcelona and Girona. Tired but happy, the exchange students had said goodbye to their new Catalan friends. It was to be their last farewell.

This Tuesday morning, 16 days before the first anniversary of the Germanwings tragedy, 23 schoolmates of the deceased students traveled to Giola High School in Llinars del Vallès to take part in this year’s exchange program. The airline tragedy has not severed the bonds that link the two education centers separated by 1,500 kilometers, which have been participating in the student program for over 15 years.

“This year, there are more Germans here than ever,” smiled a student’s mother outside the school door.

In order to avoid any comparisons, the German students this year flew out of Cologne, rather than Düsseldorf.

Chaperoned by two teachers, the new group of teens came off the bus that drove them from Barcelona airport and visited the same classrooms that their colleagues had sat in a year ago. Outside the school, the entire school faculty, with principal Sílvia Genís at the helm, was waiting for “the Germans” to arrive.

An emotional tribute included the inauguration of a new promenade flanked by 16 cherry trees and two cypresses, representing the students and their two teachers

There was an emotional tribute to the dead teens that included the inauguration of a new promenade flanked by 16 cherry trees and two cypresses, representing the students and their two teachers.

“Those trees were planted by the schoolmates of those youths, who will be with us forever in this space made for meeting and for reading,” said the school principal. The spot has been named “El paseo de los alemanes” (The Germans’ promenade).

The principal of the German high school, Ulrich Wessel, was also present at the ceremony.

“The scars are very deep, and even more so now that the date on which our students died is approaching,” he said.

The mayor of Llinars del Vallès, Martí Pujol, admitted that the deaths had deeply affected his town. “We cannot bring them back to life, but we can remember them and ensure that they are always present among us,” he said.

English version by Susana Urra.

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