What is it like to live in Damascus

Everyday life in DamascusLive and survive in war

We had expected everything in Damascus, with war, fear, grenades - but not with spending a really romantic evening under the arcades of the old town. Every table in the restaurant is occupied. The waiters bring lamb and arak and now the lute player really gets going: "I haven't heard from you for 20 years," he complains. "Why do you want to see me all of a sudden?"

We are in Bab Tuma, the Christian quarter of the old town. The next front line is one and a half kilometers east of here in the Jawbar district. It is said that moderate rebel militias have holed up there. Three kilometers further south, behind the bombed-out Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk, is allegedly IS. A grenade could be heard twice outside. But that didn't bother anyone here.

A young man jumps from the table and stands in front of us: "This is our country. I am a Christian, the one next to me is a Muslim, the other a Kurd. We won't let ourselves be torn apart. It's all a political problem."

Damascus in the fifth year of the war. There are still niches in which you can withdraw, small rooms in the middle of a war, where you can be filled with arak and illusions. The next morning comes the awakening in the Syrian nightmare: a quarter of a million Syrians are dead, four million have fled abroad. The government army suffered such high losses that it would hardly be able to fight without Iran-controlled Hezbollah and Putin. While Russian planes are firing at IS positions in Palmyra and Raqqa, Iran-dependent Hezbollah is fighting for Assad on the ground. Syria is the epitome of violence. But sometimes it seems that Damascus refuses to take notice of the state of the country.

The rump state still works

A few days ago, for example. The Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmed Hassoun, gives a speech to invited guests to the Syrian youth. He says: "Your greatest adornment is your leader. Bashar dedicated his life to God and the country. Many Arab leaders fled after five days of uprising. We have been at war for five years and Bashar is still with us."

At least for the guests, this is consolation: "Life goes on, says MP Maria Saade. We live and survive. We do not surrender to the terrorists. We are a resilient society."

Is that really the resilience that enables the Damasceneers to organize something like a regular everyday life during war? The authorities of Assad's rump state are functioning, the schools and universities are open, the markets and street cafes full of people.

Sometimes, however, they look tense up at the sky because something suddenly happens up there that they cannot influence: "Nothing is normal here, everything is bizarre, pretended, says a Syrian who has to remain anonymous. Inside, things are boiling for them People. The tension is enormous. "

"There is military, secret service, roadblocks everywhere"

Most Damascene people know how things are in Syria that state propaganda has nothing to do with the military situation. IS controls large parts of the north and east of the country and has its real retreat in Iraq. He will not allow himself to be wiped out by Russian air strikes any more than by American ones. It may be that the massive Russian intervention will now provide relief for the beleaguered regime. She doesn't end the war. She heats him: "Nobody knows what is happening. You are walking around on the street and you can be hit by a grenade at any time. When you come home, you say: Thank God, I am safe. There is military, secret service everywhere "Roadblocks ... Maybe some people pretend not to worry. But they are afraid, very afraid."

We then got to feel it firsthand, the fear. All of a sudden it attacked us. From one moment to the next: It was a Katyusha that met our hotel in the afternoon. The missile hit a stairwell two stories below us. Nobody was injured. But 15 minutes later, Syria's Minister of Tourism, Bashir Yazji, stood in our room and said he had come to calm us down: "Good to see you. Something like this happens here, this is not the first and will not be the last. This is completely normal."