BERLIN - Almost 50 years after marching into Berlin as victors at the end of the Second World War, American, British and French forces yesterday were given a rousing send-off, as they made their final farewells to the city, writes Adrian Bridge.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl led the tribute, praising the role of the Allies in the Cold War and their defence of West Berlin's freedom. 'We will never forget what our American, British and French friends did for us,' Mr Kohl said, at a ceremony commemorating the 70 servicemen who died in the Berlin airlift of 1948-49. 'And you in turn can now rely on us.' The British Prime Minister, John Major, the French President, Francois Mitterrand and the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, flew to Berlin for the day. Mr Major said: 'We came as adversaries, we stayed as allies and we leave as friends . . . War between us has become unthinkable.'
The most controversial event was a torchlit military tattoo at the Brandenburg Gate, at which the German Bundeswehr symbolically assumed military sovereignty over the city. Left-wing extremists staged a counter-demonstration, claiming the tattoo smacked of Prussian and Nazi militarism. Much of the emotion of the day, however, centred on a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial to the airlift outside Tempelhof airport. Elfrieda Herzog could not hold back her tears. 'We are so thankful for what you did for us,' she said. 'You have been very welcome here. This is a truly a sad day.'
During the 11-month airlift, caused by Stalin's decision to block the land routes between Berlin and West Germany, about 277,000 flights kept West Berlin supplied. It was a crucial moment in German history.
'I remember hearing the planes roaring overhead and having the great feeling of knowing we were not alone,' said Mrs Herzog, 77. 'I had a sister who got stuck in the east. In comparison to her, I was so lucky.' During the the Cold War, the Allies stationed 12,000 troops in the city. With more than 300,000 Soviet troops stationed in East Germany, they could not have resisted an attack. But their presence had symbolic importance.
Leading article, page 13
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