Berlin hails its army of occupation

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The Independent Online
'THE soldiers are leaving, but the friendships remain. Please: in your hearts, remain Berliners.' Thus, Eberhard Diepgen, Mayor of Berlin, paid tribute to the Allied troops at a farewell parade in Berlin at the weekend.

Seventy-five thousand Berliners turned out for the parade and showed considerable enthusiasm for their protectors, in past decades. There was talk of the 'pain' of the Allied departure.

In one of the final moments of the parade, there was a flypast by a DC-3 Dakota, known to Berliners as 'raisin bombers' because of their part in the airlift that broke Stalin's blockade of West Berlin. For older Berliners especially, the raisin-bombers, and those who flew them, are remembered with fondness. As one 70-year-old woman said: 'I still feel good when I hear those engines.'

The final farewell to the Western allies will be at the beginning of September. The parade on Saturday was the last official Day of the Allied Forces, and continued a tradition which began in 1964, shortly after the Berlin Wall was built. At that time, the joint parade through the heart of West Berlin was seen as an act of defiance and solidarity against Soviet threats.

As before, the Russians were not part of this private celebration. More controversially, they will not be part of the final farewell ceremonies for the Western allies on 8 September, either. Moscow pressed for only a single ceremony, with no West-East divide. But the farewell to the Russians will now be a week earlier, on 31 August.

Germany does not wish to humiliate Russia, not least because Germans are grateful that unity took place without a Russian shot being fired.

None the less, they are unwilling to put the Russians on the same footing as the Allies, who were initially perceived as occupiers when they arrived in 1945 but soon came to seem as protectors.

As a reminder of the changes that are still continuing, the German Defence Minister, Volker Ruhe, confirmed that German and Russian soldiers would hold joint exercises in Russia next year and in western Germany, in 1996. He said: 'Europe grows together best when people come together.'

(Photograph omitted)

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