Playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” on his piano for the mourners, restaurant owners and the wellwishers in the streets of Paris, Davide Martello became a symbol of the human kindness that shone through the horrors of the terrorist attacks.
And for a tiny moment, he also found himself, and others, lost in the song. With Parisians calling out their thanks, “It was a feeling like for a little moment you forget what happened,” he tells PEOPLE.
Martello, 34, was sitting in a pub in Constance, Germany, watching the awful events unfold in Paris 400 miles away, when he spontaneously decided to jump in an SUV with his trusty, well-traveled instrument and a friend, and head west.
Within hours, he was playing John Lennon’s peace anthem close to the Bataclan concert hall.
Arriving just before noon on Saturday, he says he “pulled the piano off the trailer and started seeing the blood on the ground.”
“I was upset about having to put myself next to the police gates and the images of the blood on the ground were all in my head. And there were so many people around me, with cameras, it was very high pressure!” he says.
“So I just played the song and then went back to my car and left because I couldn’t do any more. And I drove straight back to Germany.”
But by then his image, and footage of his impromptu performance, had been shown around the world.
Two days later, on the Monday morning, he was back in Paris – taking a tour of the sites of the city’s attacks, pulling his piano on his bicycle and playing the same song at each place. He was accompanied by a 58-year-old man called Marc, who managed to run alongside him, showing the way. “He was a kind of guardian angel,” Martello adds.
Ending at the Place de la République, where he added some édith Piaf and the Beatles’ “Let It Be” to his repertoire, he says the Parisians were thankful, shouting “Merci! Merci! Merci!”
For more on the acts of human kindness and heroes of the Paris attacks, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday