Berlin airlift ceremonies in works
The 60th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift is this June, and a number of commemorative events involving U.S. personnel and equipment are planned at several sites in Germany.
Many of the events will occur June 26-29, though some are pegged for the first half of July, according to German and American organizers. While cities such as Wiesbaden and Frankfurt plan to hold their ceremonies in June, Berlin intends to stage its official commemoration in May 2009, which would coincide with the anniversary of the lifting of the Soviet blockade.
U.S. personnel who supported the airlift “made an outstanding contribution to freedom in Germany, and freedom in general,” said Robert Payne, a spokesman for Frankfurt International Airport.
On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union imposed a land and water blockade on West Berlin, which, at the time, was under the control of the U.S., British and French forces. The blockade marked the end of the alliance that defeated Germany in World War II, though there were earlier signs of its erosion.
It also served notice that a new era — the Cold War — had begun, and that the three remaining allies, with the United States in the lead, would not abandon Berlin, let alone West Germany.
“The Americans of the Berlin Airlift gave us what money could not buy and what war had lost for our country — friends,” recalled Wolfgang Samuel, a Berlin teen who later immigrated to the U.S. and joined the Air Force.
Soviet leaders lifted the blockade May 12, 1949, though flights continued until the end of September.
For Americans in Europe, the closest place to partake in the coming festivities will be in Wiesbaden, where the airlift began June 26, 1948. A city fest is planned for the Kurhaus on June 28, followed the next day by a celebration at Wiesbaden Army Airfield.
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin is sponsoring a couple of activities for the July 4th weekend, events that will commemorate the airlift but also its new embassy building, said Wolfgang Hofmann, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
U.S. European Command in Stuttgart intends to hold a summer festival the following weekend, with the airlift being one of the main themes.
While there is no large-scale celebration this year in Berlin, the city’s Allied War Museum will offer an exhibition on the airlift until the summer of 2009.
Officials say details of the upcoming commemorations are still being worked.