60 years on, Berlin thanks Airlift pilots

13th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Guests in their 80s from the United States, Britain and France were joined by those from allied nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa at the ceremony on a windy spring day.

Berlin -- Around 80 ageing US, British and French pilots joined Berlin Tuesday in celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Soviet blockade of the western sector and the Airlift that rescued the city.

"I would like to express the Berliners' sincere thanks today to the representatives of the Allies and the veterans," Mayor Klaus Wowereit said during the commemorations at now defunct Tempelhof Airport, the legendary hub of the 11-month-long Airlift.

Guests in their 80s from the United States, Britain and France were joined by those from allied nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa at the ceremony on a windy spring day.

They laid a wreath before the Airlift Memorial in honour of the 78 people, mainly pilots, who lost their lives during the extraordinary mobilisation.

"We will never forget the victims who fell for the freedom of our city," Wowereit said, as a 1940s-era cargo plane similar to those used in the Airlift swooped overhead.

As the Soviets put the western sector of the still bombed-out city in a stranglehold in June 1948, Germany's western wartime enemies began an unprecedented mobilisation to ensure West Berlin did not succumb.

The Americans and their Allies ferried 2.3 tonnes of supplies over 11 months to save free West Berlin as Stalin blockaded the population of 2.5 million and tried to starve it into submission.

Germans bid a mournful goodbye in October to Tempelhof Airport after more than 80 years of service when it was closed ahead of the planned expansion of an existing airport on the city's southeastern outskirts in 2011.

The airfield opened in 1926 and a monumental terminal built by the Nazis a decade later as a majestic portal to the capital of the Third Reich still ranks as the largest building in western Europe and an architectural masterpiece.

Its future use is uncertain but the site was re-opened to the public later Tuesday for the Airlift anniversary festivities.

AFP/Expatica

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