A city cannot be brought down

new York In the “J” of “Juan Armando Ceballos” there is a Puerto Rican flag. The then 47-year-old had held the post in the World Trade Center when the second plane sped to the top floors of the southern tower. Today his name is engraved on the monument at Ground Zero.

Where the tower once stood, today water rushes into a deep, angular throat in the middle of the square memorial. The two fountains on the floor plans of the towers are framed by black marble, in which the names of almost 3000 people are immortalized who died here two decades ago.

To this day, it is difficult for me to enter Ground Zero and see tourists taking selfies in front of a mass grave. I myself was on my way to work only a few meters from the southern tower, where the name of Juan Armando Ceballos is today, when I saw the second plane coming to my left before it rang into the building far above me.

At that time the Handelsblatt office was in the One World Financial Center – on the other side of the street. The first tower had only just been hit when I stepped out of the Fulton Street subway station. Confused, people shouted, “A plan! A plan! “While the research papers of the financial houses trickled down onto the floor against the clear blue sky. Police blocked the entrance so that I could not take the usual route between the two towers, but had to go around the south tower, which was still intact at the time.

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When the plane hit me next to me, I ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction so as not to be hit by the falling parts of the building and the plane. Fearing further air strikes – we couldn’t have known at the time that only two were planned – I took shelter in the Bowling Green subway station at the far end of Manhattan and probably got one of the last trains out of Brooklyn. There were already injured people in there.

Joe Biden visits a city that has overcome many crises

To this day I don’t know where the subway stopped and threw us out and how I got home after a long walk. Months later, September 11th dominated my life and work. I will never forget the sweet smell of burnt human flesh that hung over the city for days.

Two decades later, on a late summer day as clear as it was back then, workers set up a small stage between the former towers. On Saturday morning, US President Joe Biden will visit Ground Zero to commemorate the victims of September 11, 2001 exactly 20 years later and after the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Ground zero

Lights shine over Manhattan in commemoration of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

(Photo: Reuters)

Biden comes to a New York City that is once again struggling with a crisis. 20 years after the attack and more than a decade after the financial crisis, the city is now busy coping with the effects of the Corona crisis. 18 months after New York became the epicenter of the Covid pandemic, the financial and entertainment capital of the USA is still struggling with offices that do not want to fill up, with rising crime rates and with empty national coffers. But New York doesn’t give up.

Klaus-Peter Statz is convinced that “New York cannot be beaten down”. The German headed the Deutsche Telekom branch in New York for a long time and was also there on September 11th. But he has also seen how the city has risen again after the terrorist attacks and has only mastered the financial crisis as a small dent in retrospect.

First live events while the bankers stay at home

“This city will come back this time as well,” says the New Yorker by choice, while on a late summer evening on the terrace of the “Tribeca Rooftop” he looks at the two strong rays of light that cast the dark behind the new “One World Trade Center” Climb heaven. An evening light spectacle in memory of September 11th.

Statz has come to the reception of the German-American Chamber of Commerce (GACC), which has invited its members to the first reception since the beginning of the pandemic. This is also an attempt to bring a bit of normalcy back to New York – and an attempt to arrange personal events with the virus: All guests had to prove their Covid vaccination upon arrival.

“We are pleased that we can finally see each other again in person,” says the chairman of the Chamber Dietmar Rieg. The reception is a test that more than 120 people gratefully followed. But there were also many members who did not yet dare to come. The Chamber of Commerce is like so many other companies in the city.

Terrorist attacks on September 11th

The twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

(Photo: AP)

Many bankers do not want to go back to their offices either – either because they are afraid of being infected or because they simply prefer to work from home. “We have room for 70 people on our floor and were just seven today,” reports a banker after his work over a drink in Bryant Park, right next to the famous Public Library. Here in Midtown, where companies like Bank of America, Salesforce and Schroeders have their office towers, it is no longer as eerily empty as it was a few months ago. But the area is still a long way from what it used to be. Empty shops and restaurants are the result.

Michael Bloomberg compares the situation today with the time after September 11th

The situation today is similar to the situation after September 11th, believes financial media billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who was involved in the reconstruction as Mayor of New York between 2002 and 2013. “The future of New York is being called into question, neighborhoods have lost residents to the suburbs. Shops had to close. People worry about public safety. And families mourn their loved ones, ”he said in a comment for the New York Times, describing the parallels between the situation then and now.

Unemployment is in the double-digit range, offices are empty and the tourism industry is suffering massively and the poor families in particular are feeling the pain. “Still, we have good reason to be hopeful because we can do what was done then again,” he writes.

Among other things, under Bloomberg’s leadership, the city became less dependent on the financial industry by relying more on tech companies and massively expanding the film and television business. That changed New York in the long term and helped during the financial crisis. Even before the pandemic, the number of tech jobs in the city had overtaken that of finance jobs. Even in the middle of the pandemic, streaming services like Netflix are massively expanding their studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Again and again, streets in New York are closed these days because film crews are shooting another series.

The real estate market is also pointing to a recovery. After more than 400,000 New Yorkers had left the city, at least temporarily, in the heyday of the pandemic, some of the homeowners offered two months of free rent to attract tenants. Sales prices fell by up to a quarter in Manhattan. But there is not much left to see. Young people in particular are flocking back to the city and driving prices up again.

New York has managed to reinvent itself again and again in its 400 years, says the renowned urban planner Mitchell Moss from NYU: after the cholera epidemic in the 19th century, after the Spanish flu, after September 11th and after the financial crisis. “New York has an extraordinary ability to respond to disasters,” says Moss, who has advised several mayors and governors. But he also warns: “It will be a slow, tough recovery. We don’t control the virus, the virus controls.” US”.

Delta variant spreads slowly

But there is also reason to hope with Covid: Since two thirds of all New Yorkers and 80 percent of adults are already vaccinated, many continue to wear their masks voluntarily and many have simply already had the virus, the Delta variant is spreading compared to others Places in the USA tend to be slow in the metropolis.

And while many bankers in the suburbs are still afraid of returning, New York nightlife is already back in full swing. Broadway theaters are already open to vaccinated people. And those who are out and about in the nightlife districts in the West or East Village, on the Upper West Side or in Brooklyn, do not notice much of the crisis. The restaurants are fully booked, the bars with their tables on the street are well filled. Only the masks on the elbow for going to the toilet are a reminder that the pandemic still exists.

New York will never forget this crisis, either, or that of September 11th. The fire brigade at Ground Zero “Engine 10 Ladder”, whose fire fighters were the first to be on site after the attack and lost many, sells anniversary T-shirts with the label “Never-forget”.

I will never forget September 11th. But I will not forget how the New Yorkers moved closer together in the aftermath of the attacks and brought their city back to life with a mix of defiance and pride. New York has been declared dead many times. This time it may take a little longer. But New Yorkers can’t be beaten and the city will probably celebrate its comeback this time as well. Different, reinvented, like every time.

More: New York is waking up from its coma – only companies are still hesitant.