Memories

Southern Bridge to Pag, Croatia, on September 11th, 2001That’s as close as I can get right now. I never had the chance to visit the place before the attacks, but I’ve been there last year during the Model UN simulation. The story began three and a half years ago. I was in Croatia, meeting my brother while he took a few days off from his internship at the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation office in Zagreb. On September 11th, 2001, we drove all the way down to the coast to meet with our aunt, to celebrate her birthday together. Like our uncle and her husband, she’s an architect who at that time happened to work on an infirmary at Pag, which is an island in the Adriatic Sea. The island is connected to the mainland with a long and high, newly constructed bridge. On our way there, I thought it looks much like the Moon, or perhaps Mars, because of the stone desert around us. It seemed dead, all of it. No tree, nothing but stones. The weather was warm, a blue sky, with a single cloud here and there, but it felt cold.

We met in the late morning hours, went out to eat sea food at a great restaurant and talked a lot about family stuff, how everyone was and enjoyed life. I think I’ve never eaten so much again. After a few hours my brother and I slowly had to drive back to Zagreb again, but just when we wanted to say goodbye, the radio was turned on but something wasn’t right. The reported said something about an attack on New York City, but after a minute or two it was still difficult to understand what was going on, just that it was a catastrophe. A neighbor ran by and we all went into his house. They had CNN turned on and we sat down, watching planes flying right into the World Trade Center. I can remember the shock when we watched it as if it was yesterday. I looked at my brother and he looked at me, in disbelief what we watched was real. I knew that when I looked at him, I saw what he saw. I watched myself.

We watched the reports for about an hour, the two building burning, people jumping out of the windows and in the end, how the towers collapsed. At a certain point we had to drive back. On the road, we listened to the radio: The first half of the day it played music as ever, but since the attacks were reported they only played slow, purely instrumental and melancholic pieces with the occasional interruption with the same news.

That afternoon I didn’t speak much, just looked outside the window … and perhaps tried to find something, not really knowing what I was searching. I could remember that a year ago, we had a ??? (party) in Shinya’s (one of our buddies) room of the international students dorm in Japan. Most of the nine Germans who were at Ritsumeikan University at that time were present, with one or two German girls who visited us. I don’t know why they started talking about it, but the ones who came from southern Germany/Bavaria exchanged their memories about where they were and what they did when Franz Josef Strauß died in 1988. One year later that afternoon I thought with this it is going to be the same way in the future.

I have a completely black T-shirt with New York City written in white letters. It was a present I got in 2000. The T-shirt’s meaning changed on September 11th, but that wasn’t the only thing.

Every year, I think of my aunt on her birthday as well as New York. Visiting the place itself last year made it much more clear what happened – although you couldn’t see much anymore (except a concreted square and memorial plaques), the feeling of being there was similar to an experience I had once in Germany. I was walking through a park when I noticed a small stone with a decayed inscription – it said that this was the place of a concentration camp outpost where people died in slave labor. A tragedy followed by six decades of history, but strangely it adhered to the place so that you could feel it – tonight I learned that the Ustaša regime established a concentration camp on Pag in 1941.

Where were you on September 11th, 2001?

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