In the surreal and foggy hours and days that followed 9/11, the shock and horror I felt gave way to dismay and despair, as well as a sort of numbness, as the death toll kept increasing of friends, loved ones and acquaintances lost on the planes that originated from Boston and in the offices of the Twin Towers. It was obvious that the world would never be the same again.

Exactly one week after the terrorist attacks, I was scheduled to leave for a friend’s wedding in Berlin. I was traveling with three other friends and a 6-month-old baby, and there was a lot of discussion of whether or not we should or would even be able to go. We all decided that missing our friend’s wedding out of fear would be just another win for the terrorists, and on Sept. 18th, we boarded one of the first commercial flights to leave the U.S. after the attacks.

We arrived in Berlin and were greeted by the Brandenberg Gate draped in black bunting with words of sympathy for the American people, American flags flying everywhere, spontaneous peace rallies, and strangers saying how wonderful it was to see Americans abroad after such a disaster.

The wedding was an elaborate affair—several dinners and late-night parties, a brunch atop the Reichstag and lunch at the Berlin TV tower, the wedding ceremony inside the National Gallery (which was closed for renovations, but the family had enough clout to host the nuptials there), and a feast at the family’s home, amid their vast art collection, capped by a toast with a vintage Chateau d’Yquem the groom’s parents had bought at his birth and put away for the occasion. Despite the opulence and the conviviality, the memory of the terrorist attacks cast a shadow over the proceedings, like a cloud periodically blocking the sun.

The last event of the wedding was a barge trip up the Wannsee to Potsdam, to tour Frederick the Great’s palace, Sans Souci, followed by a farewell dinner at Cecilienhof Palace. We were to be served the exact same menu that Truman, Churchill and Stalin ate after signing the treaty that ended World War II.

At the time, I still smoked, and my friend Joan and I went outside for a cigarette. Sitting on a bench and staring at the mock-Tudor palace, I marveled at the fact that if I’d been there 50 years earlier, I would have been killed on the spot for any number of reasons: I’m American. I’m Jewish. I’m gay. And I turned to Joan and said, “Just think—this is where all that madness ended.”

Just then, a Japanese couple approached us and asked if we knew where the bus stop was. As they walked away, Joan said, “Don’t forget. We were at war with them, too.”

And for the first time since 9/11, I laughed without feeling awkward or guilty, and felt a glimmer of hope for mankind.

I’ll never forget the friends and loved ones who died in the terrorist attacks: On the planes were my sister’s childhood friend, the father of a friend, a prominent socialite I knew well and admired, and the wife of a man who eventually remarried one of my closest friends. In New York, there were college friends and the father of an acquaintance, as well as a firefighter from Staten Island, married to my friend, whose wedding anniversary was that day and who jumped on the ladder when the alarm went off and never came home. In the weeks and months that followed, I’d learn of more and more.

9/11 left a gaping hole in the fabric of humanity, and for those hit the hardest, that tear will remain as fresh and raw as it was 11 years ago.

But for me, that trip to Berlin was the first stitch in repairing it.

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