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By Anne Thompson and Alastair Jamieson

BERLIN — A pastor who comforted survivors after the deadly truck attack said Germans were saddened but defiant over the threat from terrorists, vowing: “We won't let them destroy Christmas.”

Justus Muenster, who is heading a crisis intervention team in Berlin and was a first responder at the scene of Monday night’s carnage, told NBC News the city was trying to live normally amid the manhunt for the culprit.

A woman kneels near the site of the attack at the Christmas market on Wednesday.PAUL ZINKEN / EPA

The Protestant pastor described the aftermath of the attack, which killed 12 people and wounded almost 50.

Some people nearby were “helpless,” he told NBC News. “Other people were very emotional, they were very sad, they cried all the time and we tried to … talk with them and … [offer] them a perspective for the next few hours and days.”

He added: “There were men from the fire brigade in Berlin and several police officers … but it was also very quiet.”

Muenster said Berliners would remain “very strong” despite the attack, which comes after years of warnings that terrorist activity is a major threat in public spaces and gatherings across Europe.

“They are very sad, they bring flowers … candles … and they're very sad about what had happened on Monday but they are also very strong,” he said. “There is fear but there has been fear for two or three years … we know that, if a crowd comes together, [something] could happen.”

He said the fear would not stop Germans enjoying the holiday season. “I don't think so. We won't let them destroy Christmas.”

Muenster explained: “I feel some fear about this but I also feel that the Berliners, they want to live their lives normally again, because their Christmas is in three days and they are happy about Christmas, they're happy about their families gathering together, they are happy about the food they are having, they are happy about the services they will go to.”

A memorial near the Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday.Michael Sohn / AP

He spoke as German President Joachim Gauck visited survivors in a Berlin hospital, telling reporters he was “surprised by their determination.”

"My visit is a symbol that millions of people across our country are taking an interest in the fate of the victims and those who are fighting for their lives and others who have a good chance to fully recover," he said.

"They should feel that they are not alone and that, apart from the doctors here, people across the country are hoping and waiting for them to recover."

The Associated Press contributed.