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Daniel Berg: 9/11, Ten Years After

As an expat New Yorker Daniel Berg is a bit miffed about not being invited to the official commemoration services for the anniversary of 9/11, yet he still finds a lot to muse about as we cross the decade line since the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Image for Daniel Berg: 9/11, Ten Years After
Courtesy of The Library of Congress

Born and raised a New Yorker, I passed the World Trade Center stop twice every day, on my way to and from school. The morning of September 11, 2001 was no different, and perhaps if I had caught the next train or slept a little longer I would not be writing this today.

As it happened I only heard the news later, as we watched the TV screens in the auditorium in collective shock. The images are now universal: flashing fire engines, brokers slumped over in shock on sidewalks, people covered in dust and debris fleeing the streets of the Financial District.

Such pictures of terror are presented at the exhibition Unheimlich Vertraut (Sep 10-Dec 4 @ C/O Gallery). Over 200 images are on display, from the archives of Der Spiegel to works by such artists as Thomas Ruff, Walid Raaf and Natalie Czech, among others. As the name (“eerily familiar”) implies, these images have become matter of course in the past decade.

Concurrently Berliner artist Bärbell Möllman will display photographs from the summer of 2001 in the exhibition “Visions NYC – Afterthoughts” (Sep 9 @ Art Laboratory Berlin.The pictures comprise a body of work documenting New York as a city of dreams, and were taken shortly before the attacks. A year later Möllman returned to interview her subjects, when the city and its dreams had been thrown into chaos and disarray. Yet it is an accepted journalistic truth that images of disasters and tragedies are propagated with the most ubiquity.

Beyond the immediacy and violence of the pictures, words can help further. Humans need self-analysis and reflection – for catharsis’ sake. A decade after the fall of the Towers, we wake up to a different world then we did 10 years ago. It is difficult to think of a single aspect of our lives that hasn’t been touched, of a corner of the world that hasn’t felt the tremors of 9/11.

It is a more cynical world, a darker world surely, but perhaps it is a more self-aware one as well. We can see this self-awareness in action at the panel discussion Ten Years Later, organized by the Berlin International Literature Festival (Sep 11 @ Haus der Berliner Festspiele). Fourteen different authors from around the world will come to the stage to share some enlightened thoughts about 9/11 and the last decade. Moderated by Berlin based novelist Pryia Basil, the authors will speak in various languages – mainly English, but also German, French and Arabic.

By that time former Morrocan Minister of Culture Mohammed Achaari will have read from and discussed his novel The Arch and the Butterfly (18:30) chronicling the life of a Muslim family torn asunder by the global lashing out against Islam in the wake of the attacks in a thought provoking look at the other side of the coin.

Beyond the Berlin cultural world, Germany will be paying its official respects to the tragedy. At 10am on Sep 11, American Ambassador Philip D. Murphy will attend a special Commemoration Service at the American Church Berlin, where the Amitayus Duo will perform Ernst Bloch’s “Prayer”. Also present will be Chancellor Merkel and President Christian Wulff, along with anyone else who has enough pull to get an invite, as the event is closed to the public.

Not being one of the privileged few, I will be left to my own thoughts and devices come that day. I will no doubt recall the surreal months following the attacks when an unnatural grey cloud hung over the city, and wan-faced figures drifted about in surgical masks with fear in their eyes.

Surreal as that was one thing trumps it: the fact that 10 years have passed and 9/11 has now become history. However insurmountable the obstacles seemed at the time, however much we thought there could be no future after such a monumental blow, we learned to keep calm and carry on. A generation grew up, a war was fought, the bad guy’s dead and the clock keeps ticking.

The most jarring thing about it all is that one day I will find myself sitting in some Norman Rockwell-esque tableau, and suddenly a high pitched voice will ask the inevitable question:

“Grandpa, where were you on 9/11?”