September 11, 2005

Berlin, September 11, 2001

It was the trip of a lifetime, planned, on board the SS Marco Polo with hundreds of fellow veterans, all courtesy of USAA travel. We had landed in Copenhagen, traveled to Tallinn, Estonia; to St. Petersburg, Russia; to Finland and Stockholm and then to Warnemunde, Germany where we were to take the train to Berlin. I was excited, taking my wife to Germany, land of my birth, home of many fond memories of my youth.

We disembarked at Warnemunde at 7:00 AM, for a three hour train ride to Berlin Arriving at 10:20 AM; 3:20 AM New York time a 7 hour difference. A cab ride shared with friends to the Brandenburg Gate. Walking through the Brandenburg gate, visiting Checkpoint Charlie and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Making a purchase of a piece of the Berlin Wall for my brother and other Berlin souvenirs for other family. Walking down Unter den Linden with a rain squall having made the street's damp and muggy. Waiting in line at the Bundestag but giving up when the rain started.

Grabbing a late supper we desperately hunted a cab to get back to the train station on time for the return trip and the cabbie, thinking we were just stupid tourists took the long way around. He was a little surprised when I let him know that I wasn't going to pay for the extra miles. Getting to the train station with a few minutes to spare, I looked up at the at the TV overhead and noticed a building on fire, but the train was boarding and I didn't have time to listen. It was probably just as well, my German was pretty poor anyway.

Settling down in the car with two others from the ship that we had befriended the train started on time. One of the passengers came in and said, America had been attacked. "What?" Confusion! By who, what happened? Questions flashing through my brain, concern on my wife's Face, rumor flashing from train car to train car!

Finally, one of the German guides came in and told us that the Twin Towers in New York had indeed been struck by planes and had since collapsed. Fear was on every face in the train.

It took longer than the trip down to get back to Warnemunde, a time that while only close to four hours, seemed like twenty four. All the time cut off from additional information. Worry traveled with us the whole way.

Arriving in Warnemunde we were warned that re-boarding the ship would take a while, and that we needed to be sure that we had no contraband and plenty of identification as everything would be closely checked. Our Guide said that the Deutsche Bundeswehr (German Army) was now in control of the port at Warnemunde and would be in charge of our safety. Walking the three blocks from the train station to the dock in the dark with only the occasional street lamp to guide us, and fear and worry accompanying us, we arrived safely to long lines.

Soldiers with grim faces and submachine guns at the ready stood guard along the dock and massed at the gangplank of our ship and the other cruise liner docked there. Two military vehicles were at the head of the dock with stern looking soldiers manning what appeared to be close to .50 caliber machineguns on the top of the armored personnel carrier type vehicles.

We slowly made our way to the ship, presented our passports and had our bags searched. On board at last, we made our way rapidly to our stateroom and turned on CNN. The scenes of the Twin Towers being struck, on fire, collapsing was played again, and again, and again. America! Struck by an enemy that cared not who he killed. Innocent civilians going about their jobs wiped out in a matter of minutes. Finally dropping off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning of the 12th, I slept fitfully, with images of fire and disaster haunting my dreams.

The rest of the trip was somewhat of a blur. I know we cruised the Kiel Canal to Amsterdam and then to Dover for the bus ride to London. In London, finally, at a hotel where we could decompress, the emotions hit, the tears flowed and anger coursed.

The next day, we traveled to the U.S. Embassy and went to the memorial garden set up by the peoples of England at the base of the statue of General Eisenhower. Some of the flowers and items left tore at my heartstrings, especially a little fire truck left by some small English child. Some of the photos of the memorial are below. The memories still haunt me from time to time. For the citizens of New York, it can only be worse.

Half Mast.jpg
The Flag at the Embassy, Half Mast

candles and flowers.jpg
Candles left by the Wonderful People of England

Cards of Condolence, expressions of Love

flag in flowers.jpg
The Flag in Flowers

The firetruck of a child reading in childish script "to all the firemen who died," the one photo that then, as now breaks my heart.

Thank you London, Thank you People of England, you took some of the pain away and left memories. Some bitter, some sweet, all worth having!

Posted by GM Roper at September 11, 2005 12:01 AM | TrackBack

So you were on VACATION when this happened? Is that right? WOW.

Posted by Cao at September 11, 2005 09:38 AM

I was seven months pregnant with my daughter and waking up to what was, I thought, a perfect Colorado sunrise. I was greatful for my husband to be home as he had been on a lenghty business trip on the east coast... more specifically, Boston. He had just arrived home late the evening before. I allowed him to sleep-in that morning as I imagined ....he was exhausted.

I was blow drying my hair while WATCHING the morning news.. (can't really listen with the blow dryer on now can you).. I couldn't hear what was happening but there was live broadcast from outside of the Trade Center right after the first plane struck, although I didn't know it at that time. The camera was pointed at the Towers as I was guessing something had just happened.. Smoke was seen. I thought it might had been an explosion of some sort... As I was there drying my hair trying to guess what was being said and what was happening, I witnessed the 2nd plane strike. My heart immidiately dropped to the pit of my stomach as the blow dryer crashed to the tile floor. I froze for a minute in disbelief as to what my eyes had seen, live on National TV.

I somehow knew that this was no accident. Maybe it was my previous military (US ARMY) expereince. I ran to wake my husband shaking him saying, "Wake up, we are under attack!" Bewildered, he popped up and joined me watching the TV. A few hours later they speculated the origin of the planes. By that time, we had heard about the Pentagon crash and Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. I received a call from my baby brother who was interning as a budget analyst in Washington DC at the Pentagon. Noone from my family had heard from him taht morining and we were pretty worried. THANKFULLY, he was playing hookey that day taking in some sun at Virgina Beach. He called to make sure my husband (John) was home safe. He had heard that the planes were originating from Boston and knew that John was just there.

John suddenly turned white during that conversation and politely ended the call with my brother. He squeezed my hand that he was holding. Then he turned to me and my big pregnant belly and said that it could have been him on one of those planes. With tears in his eyes and a hand on our baby, he explained that it was by pure luck he got home the night before... His flight from Boston on 9/10 was overbooked and he almost gave up his seat for an upgrade on a United Airlines flight for the next a.m. (9/11). But I had called him and, without knowing it, had convinced him to get home earlier. (Score one for the hormonal, pregnant, nagging wife).

Ironically, today is 9/11 and my husband is on a plane home at this very moment. Again, he was not to be home until tomorrow. But, again, i was able to convince him otherwise... but I think our daughter, now 3 1/2, helped.

Posted by Carla at September 11, 2005 01:29 PM

Thank you sharing this "snapshot" of 9/11 from abroad.

(By the way, USAA is a great company.)

Posted by civil truth at September 11, 2005 05:54 PM

I would have hated to have been away from America when that happened. How helpless I would have felt...(I felt helpless anyway..but I was here for my family and friends..and all that)
Thank you for sharing this GM.

Posted by Raven at September 13, 2005 06:17 PM

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