Dienstag, 12. Juni 2018

In the face of liberty

In English, by popular request

I almost didn't come here. Out of sheer laziness; it's been a long day, and I'm exhausted. But I'm not in this town that often; the last time was 29 years ago. So, I pulled myself together and went over here. To the World Trade Center Memorial. To Ground Zero. And it is proving to be the most important, the most moving stop of my all-day walk through this inimitable, ravishing New York.

The two large basins, which are set into the ground exactly where the two towers used to stand, are wonderfully condign and live up to the significance of the location. From a distance, they are rather inconspicuous, focusing more on profoundness than on being monumental. They only unfold their grand, touching effect when one stands at their edges that precisely retrace the basic shape of the original World Trade Center and imprint it forever into the ground of the city. This place is determined and impressive enough, American, self-confident, yet modest and humble, a steady swoosh of silence and commemoration.

The black metal balustrade with the many, many names, in whose letters roses or flags are stuck here and there, creates respectful distance and makes the area of the horrific event of 11 September 2001 inaccessible like sacred ground. Water falls from the walls of the basins, several metres down into the deep, rushing, unstoppable, almost quoting the sound of collapsing buildings, steady though, not bringing about a terrible, incomprehensible final state, but permanent, so that it calms and reconciles one in a touching way, as eternal, as unflinching and powerful as freedom itself, which the insane act of that day could not destroy.

In the middle of each basin is a rectangular shaft, deep enough that one cannot see any ground, any physical end from the edges, which creates an illusion of infinite depth, but not a desperate depth of irretrievable oblivion, into which the water collecting flatly plunges down a second time, but a depth that leads directly to the ground of our being, into the foundation of ideas our life is based upon, to freedom itself that carries us powerfully without us seeing it.

There I stand, deeply moved, and at once three time levels start overlapping like milky pictures: The day in the summer of 1989 when I was so proud to go up to the World Trade Center and felt so urbane as I enjoyed, even absorbed the uplifting view over a sunlit Manhattan; today, this hazy day in June 2018, when the houses that excited me so much back then no longer exist, and instead I find two deep, swooshing basins in their place, in their shape, on which the names of thousands of dead are engraved; and that horrible 11 September in between, when the world I knew changed irrevocably. Here I stand looking up. It seems unimaginable that in this very airspace above me people once worked, chatted, joked, hoped and acted; unimaginable that somewhere up there, 415 metres above me, there is a piece of space that I once filled with this body that now stands at a rushing pool and looks up in disbelief and anxiety to its former self, which stands upon the old World Trade Center ghostly rising in front of me, and feels wonderful. Everything becomes one; I feel as if I look up from below and, at the same time, down from above onto the basins in the ground, hardly comprehending what I’m seeing when suddenly the first airplane approaches and hits the foggy tower below me and above me, and my vision dissolves in a ball of fire. The fear, the certainty of death, the last calls and text messages to the loved ones, the falling and jumping people, everything screams out loud in my head in horror – and dies away in the swoosh of the basin where I am standing today, in 2018.

Silently I walk down the Esplanade for quite a while and sit down on a bench. In the distance I can see the Statue of Liberty, this symbol of how we want our lives to be – free, hopeful and without fear and threat. And in the face of liberty, I feel a fearful uncertainty within me, the hushed question of whether the atrocities of 11 September have not reached their goal after all. So many people, here as in Europe, seem to be willing, out of sheer fear for their freedom, to paradoxically restrict it for the sake of a deceptive safety, and entrust themselves to the preachers of putative strength, simple solutions and clear concepts of enemies. Many people have absorbed the hatred that drove the terrorist acts and see hostility even in a language, a skin colour or a religion. The world has become more suspicious, more aggressive and inhumane, and this has always been the greatest threat to freedom. Greater than terror, greater than religious or political fanaticism.

Twilight sets over New York; Lady Liberty lights her torch. And I hope quietly that what she stands for will prevail against all temptations:

Our freedom.