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Cold War Monument

05/13/08 5:55PM By Olin Robison
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(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison is a past president of both Middlebury College and the Salzburg Seminar, and today he's reflecting on the end of a Cold War monument

(ROBISON) A short time ago there was a referendum in Berlin, Germany, to decide whether Templehof Airport should be kept open or closed - because in today's world of aviation it is no longer cost effective. Why, you may well ask, should I have the slightest interest in that? Well, there is a reason.

Way back in 1948-49, virtually everyone here in the U.S. and in Europe knew the name well. Templehof, you see, was the main airport used in the truly dramatic Berlin airlift.

It happened like this: In June of 1948 the Soviet Union decided to blockade all access to Berlin. That meant, first, barring the British, the French and the Americans from access to the City and second, starving the West Berlin population into submission. It almost worked.

This was only a short time after the end of World War II. The Berlin Wall dividing the City into East and West had not yet been built, and the Soviets were seeking to consolidate their hold on Eastern Europe. The city of Berlin was not defensible in any conventional military sense.

There were at that time no agreements on road or rail corridors into the City from the West, but agreements had been reached between the four powers regarding three 20 mile wide air corridors between Berlin and the West; one to Frankfurt, one to Hanover, and one to Hamburg.

So the Allies, first the U.S. and the British and later including the French, decided to try to supply the City by air. It was a truly extraordinary effort - by any standard. The planners thought it would be brief. They proved to be wrong. It lasted almost an entire year - through a bitter and extremely difficult winter.

The Airlift involved a plane landing at Templehof every three minutes around the clock. If a plane, for any reason, missed its one and only landing opportunity, it had simply to turn around and go back. The unloading of planes was handled by former Lufthansa workers, and they eventually got the unloading drill down to less than ten minutes to unload up to 10 tons per plane. Crews were not permitted to get off their planes at Templehof, so that they could minimize ground time.

They delivered everything from coal to fire the City's boilers to fresh milk for babies to chocolates for kids.

All in all, there were some 278,000 flights flown, which delivered over 2 million tons of supplies into Berlin in the first test of wills between East and West.

On May 11, 1949, Stalin ordered the blockade lifted. The West had won. A really big one.

The effort had cost many planes and almost a hundred lives - plus more money than anyone at the time could even imagine.

And most of that tonnage was flown into Templehof Airport.

But now it is going to be closed. In today's globalized world where money is almost everything, most Berliners just stayed home and didn't even bother to vote.

Oh, I of course understand that there was a kind of inevitability about this; but I still hate to see it happen.
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