Liberty Street is a short street. It is quite possibly the shortest little slip of a street on this Grand Tour of Manhattan. In fact, it doesn’t even go the whole way across the small island, but morphs into Maiden Lane, three quarters of the way through.
It does, however, play host to one of the most significant monuments in New York’s recent history – Ground Zero, the site of the late Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Today, they are being commemorated by twin pools of water where they used to stand; and One WTC, a completely new skyscraper, taller than they used to be, and clad with thousands of sheets of reflective glass so it seems to blend right in with the sky and its clouds.
Our walking tour starts off on the Maiden Lane side of the street, at the South Beach Seaport waterfront, where old clippers sit silent, clipped off their wings, and where the 19th century landscape of downtown Brooklyn looms across the water. We then take a dive into the landscape of Wall Street – synonymous with New York’s Financial District (and not literally the Street itself) – where we are engulfed by towering edifices of steel, glass and BIG MONEY.
Soon enough, we are confronted by Death, in the form of WTC One, and the 9/11 Memorial, the latter we must skirt around, being too packed with pilgrims for us to enter. Finally, we end off at the serene but sterile environment of Battery Park City – a coda of sorts, to Death – where clippers of a more modern variety again cling to the waterfront, and where another city, seemingly paradisiacal, shimmers in brilliant shades of green and gold.
The soundtrack for our brief tour is Franz Schubert’s 19th century lieder, Der Tod und Das Madschen, or “Death and the Maiden,” where a young maiden repulses the advances of Death himself; but the latter reassures her that in his arms, she shall find peace.
(For information on specific buildings on Liberty Street, I am indebted to the awesome New York Songlines: Virtual Walking Tours of Manhattan Streets, at http://www.nysonglines.com)
“Vorueber! Ach, vorueber! / Geh, wilder Knochenmann! / Ich bin noch jung! / Geh, lieber, / Und ruehre mich nicht an. / Und ruehre mich nicht an.”
“Gib deine Hand, du schoen und zart Gebild! / Bin Freund, und komme nicht, zu strafen. / Sei gutes Muts! ich bin nicht wild, / Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen!”
Franz Schubert, Der Tod und das Maedchen, D.531, February 1817, text by Matthias Claudius