In the cobbled market square, in front of the cathedral, and on street corners the citizens of Erfurt gathered yesterday, full of questions but with few answers as to how an appalling massacre could have occurred in their genteel city.
Until Friday's calamity, the city where Martin Luther studied was brimming with civic pride at having cast off some off the worst hangovers of East German communist rule: neo-Nazi violence, mass unemployment and pollution.
The scene of the crime is a picturesque residential area in the old town, popular with retired people and renowned for its stately, turn-of-the- century Gymnasium, the German equivalent of a grammar school, with a reputation for handing a bright future to its 700 pupils.
All day yesterday pupils and parents convulsed with grief laid wreaths and paid their respects at the ornate carved stone doorway to the school.
Others gathered in a spontaneous act of mourning outside Erfurt's towering 12th-century Gothic cathedral where they wept, lit candles for the dead, shared sorrowful embraces or tried to recall fond memories of their favourite teachers.
"They were all really good teachers and we were really attached to some of them," said sixth-former Christian Tolks, 17. "It's incomprehensible that somebody could do this to them." Tolks said his maths teacher, Herr Schwert-feger, was his favourite because he brought otherwise dry material to life.
Others singled out the school secretary, Frau Schwerdner, always a friendly source of useful information. "She was a fantastic person who always had a way of solving problems no matter how big they were," said Jutta Kaufmann, 33, the mother of a student. …