A normal afternoon in New York: As a student, I suddenly have to hide from an armed man. Attacks, protests, personal fears – how the once vibrant metropolis has become a dangerous place for me.

It was a normal March afternoon in New York when I suddenly realized how much this city has changed. I was walking down 34th Street to rent a camera for a class at the New School. When I stepped back onto the street, I found myself in an aggressive pro-Palestine demonstration.

Suddenly a woman grabbed me by the front of my collar and dragged me behind a hot dog stand. “Duck! That guy has a gun!” she screamed in my ear and pushed me to my knees. The strange woman, the salesman and I took cover while four police officers ran after a man. The shock that my life might be in danger has not completely left me to this day.

After the man was out of sight, I ran five blocks until I found a taxi and called my roommate. Agitated, I tried to describe what I had experienced. When I got home, I kept thinking about what had happened.

How could it be that I had to fear for my life from one minute to the next in a city as modern as New York? There have always been demonstrations here, that’s part of freedom of expression. But it was new to me that the protests could become so dangerous.

After two years as a student in New York, I’m back in Germany for my semester break to work in Munich – and I’m surprised to see how happy I am to be back home. The Big Apple may be the most exciting city in the world, with many advantages, especially for a 22-year-old aspiring journalist always looking for new topics.

But in the midst of a metropolis in which the number of shootings has decreased, but according to New York surveys, the majority feel increasingly threatened, I too have to admit: I no longer feel as comfortable as I did when I started my studies in 2022.

I had my first shock experience a year ago. I was ambushed by two masked men on a motorcycle at a green light on the Upper East Side. I can still see exactly how the whole thing went down. It was a beautiful day and I wanted to meet a friend in Central Park.

Headphones in, favorite song on, I was running through a green traffic light full of euphoria when I saw a motorcycle coming dangerously fast towards me out of the corner of my left eye. There were two men; one drove, the other hit me in the back of the head, pulled my hair and ripped my headphones off my head. Luckily my purse was hidden under my coat. A tip that a friend had previously given me (“Always put your handbag under your jacket on the subway!”).

The incident lasted ten seconds at most. When I got to the other side of the street, I tried to unlock my phone with shaking hands. I called my friend who was only five minutes away. A man walking by asked if everything was okay. I thought about the fact that people in my hometown of Hamburg would probably talk about such an incident for days. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is considered completely normal in New York.

The friend, a native New Yorker, immediately came and called the police. In the NYPD car, the cops explained to me that this was the fifth robbery recorded today. I described the perpetrators and together we searched apartment buildings on the Upper East Side for surveillance camera footage. Unfortunately, the perpetrators were not caught.

There are probably many reasons why the mood in New York is so heated. The Donald Trump trial, the upcoming elections in November, the war in the Middle East. In the weeks following the Hamas attack on Israel, many of my friends were ordered to work from home. For safety reasons.

According to the latest census, New York has 1.6 million Jewish residents. Americans, especially New Yorkers, can hardly be accused of being overcautious after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011. Nevertheless, as a native of Hamburg (and raised in a sheltered environment), it was strange to me to suddenly be told to stay at home.

Then came the student protests. The more aggressive they became, the more uncomfortable I felt. According to US news channel NBC, more than 2,000 university demonstrators have been arrested across the country to date. 43 of them at my university, the New School. Not long ago, I passed a group of loud but peaceful protesters handing out questionnaires and shouting “Free, free Palestine” through their megaphones.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere that has pervaded the past few weeks has been depressing. As an international student, I was looking forward to an open, happy atmosphere at New York universities. Instead, I noticed peer pressure growing. It was almost expected that as a student you would join the pro-Palestine movement.

The question “What are you doing tonight?” increasingly turned into “See you at the encampment.” Some students stopped showing up for class altogether and criticized fellow students who did not join the strike after the arrests. Having your own opinion that deviated from the mainstream was suddenly no longer allowed. At least that’s how it seemed to me.

Sure – tensions can also be felt here in Munich. Just a few days ago I was walking along Ludwigstrasse. An Israeli flag flew on one side of the street, and on the other there were around 20 tents in solidarity with Palestine. But the way we deal with the opposites seems to be different. Less aggressive.

I watched a lot of clips on TikTok where New York students were asked why they were protesting. Shockingly often, it turned out that the demonstrators knew little or nothing about the background to the war in Gaza.

Returning to Germany feels like a welcome break from this crazy scenario. It remains to be seen how the situation will develop and what lessons I can learn from it. But one thing is clear: I have a lot to think about.