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Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift

An American aircraft drops food and supplies near a crowd of Berliners during the blockade of Berlin. © dpa / picture-alliance

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and 1949, which is widely considered a turning point in the German-American relationship.

After the end of the Second World War, Germany was divided into the American, British, French and Soviet occupation zones. Although Berlin lay within the Soviet occupation zone, the city itself was also divided into four sectors. In 1948, the Allied nations created a single new currency – the Deutsche Mark – for their occupation zones. The Soviets were displeased with this move, fearing that this new currency would devalue the Reichsmark they were using in the East. As a result, they began a blockade of West Berlin, hoping to starve the western powers out of the city. Without the intervention of the Allies, there would have been a humanitarian disaster and many people would have starved to death.

In response to the blockade, the Western Allies had to come up with a plan to provide food and supplies to the people of West Berlin. They launched the Berlin Airlift – an initiative consisting of more than 270,000 flights that brought up to 8,893 tons of supplies to West Berliners each day. After several months, the Soviets lifted the blockade in May of 1949.
This airlift saved many lives and was the start of a long-lasting friendship between Germany and the US. The German people are eternally grateful for the help they received from the US and the Western Allies during the blockade.

Last week, the German Embassy in Washington held several events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, including an event at the Air Force Memorial that featured a flyby of the C-54 Skymaster (the type of plane used in the Airlift), the A400M of the German Air Force and a C-17 of the US Air Force.

Our special guest was Colonel Gail Halverson, a veteran of the Berlin Airlift who was often called “Uncle Wiggly Wings” for dropping chocolate bars from his “candy bomber” plane.

“Colonel Halverson, we owe you and your comrades a great deal – the German people will always be grateful!” said German Ambassador Emily Haber at the Air Force Memorial on Sunday. In addition to attending the commemorative event, Halverson also spoke to school groups on Monday at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

“The airlift was a turning point in the relations between our countries,” Ambassador Haber continued. It also “marked a strategic battle in the beginning of the Cold War. The United States and its allies won this battle. They saved the freedom of Berlin. And they won the hearts and minds of the German people.”

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

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