Berlin airlift divides city again

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The Independent Online
THE SKIES over Berlin will fill again this summer with flying objects of every kind, in salute of the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. There will be a series of commemorations, including a visit by President Bill Clinton, and a military tattoo performed by the Bundeswehr.

There are also plans, appropriately, for an air display, but this particular event has already hit turbulence. According to the screenplay, an international fleet of hydroplanes will take off from the Wannsee, the lake by which West Berliners cool off on hot days. When the hydroplanes are gone, the main attraction will begin: a fly-past of military hardware.

It is the latter, in particular the precise formation, that has triggered protests. For the organisers felt it necessary to invite not only the representatives of Britain, France, the United States and Germany, but also of the extinct Soviet Union and its East German satellite.

The choreography envisages an air force jet with East German markings flying side-by-side with the craft of the - contemporary - Luftwaffe. They are supposed to be pursued by fighter aircraft of the four powers that controlled Berlin until German unification, including a MiG-29 in the colours of the former Evil Empire.

The locals are underwhelmed and the politicians divided. "The participation of the MiG-29 will trigger hostility among many older Berliners," said a Social Democrat spokesman. Yet, the Social Democrats say Russia should be present at the ceremonies.

Their Christian Democrat coalition partners in the regional government are insisting, however, that no Russian aircraft should besmirch the local airspace. The left-wing Greens and the post-communist PDS, meanwhile, are accusing the critics of "Cold War mentality". To them, a MiG flying over Berlin represents peace and security in a new Europe.