From Germany to Texas, 9/11 Resonates
The Dirks family was thousands of miles away from New York City on 9/11, but it changed their lives all the same.
After the attacks, the family decided to leave their home in Germany and settle in New Braunfels. There, Gunther Dirks opened the Friesenhaus – a restaurant serving German food like Schnitzel in a typical German pub atmosphere. But he’s is not a trained cook. He used to run a travel agency together with his wife in Germany, until 9/11 changed their lives.
“I was in the travel agency and people came running in,” Dirks said. “‘Mr. Dirks, Mr. Dirks, it’s war.’ I said, ‘What’s up?’ ‘Yes, Manhattan is completely down and all is destroyed.’ And I put on the news and found out it was the truth.”
Dirks says he was shaken by the TV pictures. Only two years before he was standing on top of the World Trade Center with his two sons and his wife. As travel agents they had been to New York many times and made their living selling flights and holiday packages to the U.S. But 9/11 changed all that, Cornelia Dirks said.
“In the first months after that, every person that came into the travel agency canceled their reservations,” Cornelia Dirks said. “Not only flights to the United States, any flights. Even vacation homes in Denmark. It was terrible. We had such financial loss.”
Most European airlines dropped travel agent commissions after 9/11, and that left many travel agencies with hardly any profit. Out of 23,000 small travel agencies in Germany, only a third survived. Gunther says his business almost went bankrupt.
But having traveled a lot, the family remembered a trip to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the Texas Hill Country. Gunter says Americans love the German culture. They took their last savings and home recipes and opened up the Friesenhaus in New Braunfels. And now the family is back to making a living being self-employed.