I was sitting on the couch in the living room of the house where I was renting the upstairs loft in Aarhus, Denmark watching CNN International around 3 pm local time when the breaking news alert came through. The initial story was that a small commuter plane had crashed into one of the towers. Moments later we all saw for ourselves that it wasn’t a small commuter plane as the second plane on live TV.
I immediately called my dad back in the states. His first comment was “oh you know already”. This was a time before even Myspace most people were still on dial up for that matter so information didn’t travel nearly as fast as it does today. In fact if I hadn’t had CNN international on I probably wouldn’t have known for some time yet. We didn’t stay on the phone long. I know this because I called back just after the Pentagon was hit about 30 minutes later after this call it was impossible to get a line across the Atlantic for sometime.
It was after the Pentagon hit that the reality of what was happening began to set in. The first thing my dad said to me this time was “How did you know?”. What he was referring to was something I had emailed him just days prior.
I had been in Denmark since August 7th of 2001. I had been dating a Danish exchange student and really had nothing better to do so I went to spend the fall over in Denmark with her. In the bizarre world of Nero my best friend, who you all know as Cocaine Bear, was dating a French exchange student and having nothing better to do he was going to spend the fall in France with her. The email, sent on September 9, my dad was referring to was “(Cocaine Bear) leaves for Europe tomorrow so look for WW3 within the week”. I had been saying for months that WW3 would break out when both myself and Cocaine Bear set foot on European soil at the sametime and here we were.
Cocaine Bear had landed at Charles De Gaulle International Airport in Paris sometime before the first plane hit. He got his luggage and boarded a train to Toulouse in the south of France. It was during that train ride that the entirety of the time that the attacks took place. His then girlfriend informed him of what had happened at the train station and he did not believe her because how could this have happened?
Questioning how this could have happened was also what was on my mind in Denmark. As we learned what had happened I was so confused as to how the nation had become so complacent in terms of security over the years. I recalled my flight to Europe not five weeks earlier. Sitting next to me on the plane was a man named Ali. He was a Saudi national who was working in the states and was going over to Europe for vacation. My immediate thought was this guy isn’t getting three steps if he tries to hijack this plane and I didn’t relax until he drank enough wine to pass out. This was the Reagan 80’s mentality I still had in 2001 and I was considered pretty damn liberal at the time.
I spent the majority of my time over the next week, maybe longer, glued to CNN international trying to come to terms with what had occurred. At one point my then girlfriend talked me out of going to Copenhagen to go to the embassy and join the CIA. She did say to me at one point that she could tell I felt I was missing out on something by not being in the United States when this occurred. It definitely was strange being away during this time period missing the shared national catharsis in the months that followed definitely had an effect on me.
My experience during that time period is still important to note though. For the rest of my stay in Denmark, until early January of 2002, my money was no good in bars once they found out I was American. Regardless of what you may think the people of Denmark not only truly love Americans they want to be more American. Prior to 9/11 there were more American Flags per capita to be seen in Aarhus than in anywhere in the United States. Towards the end of my stay one of “Nisse” (Danish for elf) that was delivering the Christmas Beer, this is a thing, to bars gave me his Christmas Beer hat even though he wasn’t supposed to because his boss would be happy it went to an American.