Former British WWII pilot fights to save Berlin church

Former British WWII pilot fights to save Berlin church

7th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Charles Jeffrey Gray, a former British pilot, who carried out World War II bombing raids over Germany, has joined a campaign to rescue Berlin's most famous wartime ruin -- the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, near the Kurfuerstendamm.

The church, which was built at the end of the 19th century, was destroyed during a British air attack in November 1943. Only its gaping, ruined tower remained and was later restored as a dark reminder of the war.

The tower is flanked on either side by modern chapel extensions made of stunning blue-stained glass windows that glow eerily at night. But now, the tower is in a dire state of decay, needing repairs costing 3.5 million euros (about 5 million dollars).

When Gray, 85, read in a British newspaper about the crumbling condition of the tower, he promptly wrote a letter to Wolfgang Kuhla, the chairman of the church's advisory board, urging that the tower be restored, and a fund launched to help raise the costs of its repair.

"The tower has to remain in place as a permanent reminder for future generations of the horror of war," Gray warned.

Some 62 years after he dropped bombs over Berlin during nightly air attacks, Gray made his first post-war visit to the German capital last month, armed with a cheque for 500 British pounds (671 euros, 1,020 dollars) to help spur the repair fund campaign.

Berlin was the target

Gray was a 21-year-old when first involved in a bombing mission over Dusseldorf in November 1943. A month later Berlin was the target. "It was the time of the great air battles in and around Berlin and the attacks continued until the spring of 1944," he said.

The raids followed earlier nightly operations over London by German bombers. Gray's last bombing raid over Germany was on February 15, 1944. "At times 500 to 700 planes were involved in the raids," he said.

The retired pilot stated he could never be totally sure what targets had been hit. "We had scanners but they weren't very sophisticated in identifying objects far below us in those days."

After the 1939-45 war, he was employed for many years as a British Airways pilot, and later trained pilots in Bahrain for Gulf Air. On his return visit to Berlin last month Gray was accompanied by his wife Joan, 87, son Stephen, 56 and his German-born wife Gerlinde, 54.

Tower restoration campaign

In Berlin, they attended a church fund-raising concert at which German Chancellor Angela Merkel also took part in the "new" modern chapel, alongside the ruined tower on the Breitscheid Platz.

More events have since been taking place in Berlin, with numerous politicians and show-biz celebrities supporting the tower restoration campaign.

On Saturday, Berlin's opposition (CDU) leader Friedbert Pflueger and city entrepreneur Hans Wall were due to help raise cash for the project on the fashionable Kurfuerstendamm Boulevard and neighbouring Tauentzienstrasse.

The German Premier League club has also been involved in the overall campaign and Saturday's events. "I am certain we will be able to raise a five figure sum of money," said Dieter Hoeness, the club's chief business executive, confidently.

Meanwhile, Berlin's city government has also pledged financial support. "The Memorial Church ruin has great symbolic significance for Berlin," said development senator Ingeborg Junge-Reyer.

7th January 2008

DPA with Expatica

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