The afternoon of 9/11

My office in 2001 was on the fifth floor of a six-story building in the unfashionable Gallus quarter of Frankfurt. At around three in the afternoon (German time) on a Tuesday my colleague from the next office came in and told me she had just received a strange phone call from her son in New York.

“Don’t worry, Mom, I’m all right,” he had said. She started to answer “Of course you’re all right, what are you talking about?” but then the line went dead.

Then my wife called and said there were strange rumors floating about her school, especially from parents coming to pick up their children.

At that time, I was the only person on our floor who had an office internet connection. So I went online and soon found an American television network (ABC or NBC, I think) that was streaming from New York, showing a plane crashing into a building and later a second plane crashing into a second building.

My office was soon full of people watching this, and wondering if the same might happen to one of the skyscrapers in Frankfurt. Some of us knew people who worked in those skyscrapers, and we were worried for their safety. For once, we were glad to be working in an inconspicuous low-rise building that was unlikely to be the target of such an attack.

After work I stopped by the repair shop, only to be told that my bicycle wasn’t ready yet. I remember being extremely upset about this, and telling myself I shouldn’t be upset about such a trivial matter. All it meant was that I had to take the tram to my evening appointment, which after all was no great hardship.

My colleague didn’t hear from her son in New York for a day or two, but then it turned out he really was all right, though quite shaken. Since he both worked and lived near the World Trade Center, he had been stuck in his apartment without electricity or telephone.


As I child, I was perplexed when my uncles and grandparents insisted on telling me exactly where they had been and what they had been doing on December 7, 1941, when they heard the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Little did I know that later, as an adult, I would also retain vivid memories of what I was doing when I heard about various catastrophic events, starting with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Friday, November 22, 1963. On that day I was in Fort Knox, Kentucky, getting ready to go out on what promised to be a cold and wet weekend bivouac at the end of our eight-week basic training in the US Army.

When the news came in, all activities on the base were cancelled, including (to my relief) our bivouac. We spent the weekend warm and dry in the day room, watching the news on television. On Monday morning we all had to line up in the rain and were marched onto a large open square, where we stood at attention while a general made a speech over a defective loudspeaker system. None of us understood a word that he said. We were then marched back to our quarters, and that was the end of our basic training.

Six months earlier I had seen John F. Kennedy when he was being driven through the streets of Frankfurt in an open car (eerie in retrospect), standing and waving to the crowds. My wife and I later figured out that we had both been standing in the same crowd on the same street, about a block apart, so we theoretically could have met that day, but we didn’t actually meet until five years later in California.

My photo in this post is from 2006. I wrote the text in 2020.

See my posts on the Frankfurt Skyline Countdown.

8 thoughts on “The afternoon of 9/11”

  1. I was preparing for my birthday in lovely Versailles to have a walk in the gardens by the petit trianon, and walking there once at the property someone told me about the incident. I have the entire brokerage firm of AON on that second building most of pro collegues died and as a tribute their sons continue the career of their fathers as of today. Sad indeed but it can happened just the US got spare lots of time.

  2. On the west coast near Los Angeles, we were sound asleep when the phone rang. At first I thought it was the alarm but quickly realized it was the phone. Our son was calling from Michigan to tell us the news and we quickly ran into the living room and turned on the television. We sat glued to it most of the day. Our oldest daughter was in the Air Force in Idaho at the time and called at some point to tell us she was fine and not involved at all. We actually watched the two buildings collapse on television. It was horrifying.

    1. Hi Sally, thanks for your visit and comment. The person I knew who was most involved in 9/11 was a former Berkeley colleague from the 1960s who left Berkeley about the same time I did and returned to New York. After 9/11, she went to ground zero every day for six months to report on it for NPR.

  3. I was very young when 9/11 happened. I don’t remember much about the event itself, but I clearly remember the aftermath the following year when then-president George W. Bush declared the “war on terror” and sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. I pretty much grew up watching such news on the TV, and it’s incredible just how it’s affected the nation’s perspective on other countries, including those in the Middle East. Such effects remain today, and whether or not one thinks it’s for better or for worse, I think we can all agree that 9/11 really shaped our nation to how it is today.

    1. Thanks for your visit and comment. I haven’t lived in the United States since 1970 — and haven’t even been there since 1989 — so I can only look in from the outside and try to make sense of what is going on. But I’m sure you’re right that 9/11 had a major influence on how the country and the world have developed since then.

  4. I was terrified watching the news on TV. Discussion about this disastrous event went on for weeks in my circle. Security and intelligence organizations were put on high alert and traveling to US had become difficult. In 2011, the perpetrators were found and punished.

    On 26/11, Mumbai was attacked by a terrorist group and I was in my Management class and my mother made a panic call asking me to return. We had no idea what had happened until we reached home. Origin of both these barbaric attacks were found to be the same country.

  5. It’s amazing how this event stunned everyone in the world simultaneously. I remember I had just come back from dropping my children off at school in Louisiana and how in shock I was as I watched it all unfold on television. Should I go pick up my children? Were we all in danger? Everything suddenly became suspect and the world previously so calm and safe seemed menacing and dangerous. I feel like our current administration in the USA is like a prolonged case of the stunned surrealism we experienced that day. Not as graphic and gripping, but just as menacing and dangerous. Thanks for sharing your experiences from Frankfurt.

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