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, but then 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 realized that we both saw Kennedy on that day. I was standing in a crowd on the sidewalk and she was upstairs in a nearby building in the office of a friend’s father. 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.