Posts Tagged ‘Berlin Blockade’

Berlin Airlift Memorial

Monday, May 16th, 2016

 

The Berlin Airlift Memorial at Tempelhof Airport was dedicated in 1951 to honor those man and women who lost their lives in the Berlin Airlift. The 65-foot-tall concrete sculpture is shaped like an arched fork with three prongs at the top. Each prong symbolizes an air corridor used by Allied planes to airlift food, fuel and medicine from West Germany to West Berlin during the Berlin Blockade of 1948/49. http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-blockade-and-the-cold-war/The three prongs face west toward the former American, British and French occupation zones. Every year a wreath is laid down at the Berlin Airlift Memorial, which Berliners lovingly call the Hungerkralle (hunger claw). Two similar, but smaller, memorials were erected near the former West German air bases in Frankfurt Main (1985) and Celle (1988). Their prongs face toward Berlin.

Berlin Airlift Memorial at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport. The inscription at its base reads "They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service of the Berlin Airlift 1948/49", photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin Airlift Memorial at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. The inscription at its base reads “They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service of the Berlin Airlift 1948/49”, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Why the Berlin Airlift?

In 1948/49, when the Soviet Union blocked all roads and waterways to West Berlin in order to starve the city, Tempelhof Airport became the city’s lifeline. Allied planes supplied the city for a period of 11 months with food, fuel, and everything else that was necessary for daily life. Planes landed every few minutes. http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-airlift-unprecedented-feat/

Berlin Airlift Fatalities

As much as the Berlin Airlift was a feat of logistics, accidents did happen. There were 101 fatalities, which included 39 British and 31 American servicemen. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92597573

Most of the accidents resulted from hazardous weather conditions or mechanical failures. The remaining fatalities were comprised of civilians who perished on the ground during operational support or lost their lives when aircraft accidents destroyed their homes. Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the Berlin Airlift. Commemorating those men and women who lost their lives due to the airlift, an inscription at the foot of the Berlin Airlift Memorial reads, “They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service of the Berlin Airlift 1948/1949.”

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Gail Halvorsen – Berlin Airlift hero

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Retired US Air Force Colonel Gail Halvorsen was a First Lieutenant when he was told to help airlift flour, dried eggs, dried potatoes, dried milk and coal into West Berlin during the Berlin Blockade of 1948/49. The purpose of the mission was to keep West Berlin’s 2.2 million population from starvation. The Berlin Airlift was the biggest humanitarian aid mission in history, and Colonel Halvorsen remains one of its unforgotten heroes. The children of Berlin called him Uncle Wiggly Wings.

Why was Berlin blockaded?

Following Word War II, Germany was divided into four zones. American, British, French and Soviet forces occupied the country. Berlin, the capital, was also split into four sectors, and West Berlin ended up 100 miles inside the Soviet occupation zone. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-control-council-governs-germany/ By 1948, the Soviets tried to get the three Western occupation powers to withdraw from Berlin. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-blockade-and-the-cold-war/ To hasten the process, the Soviets blocked all land and water access to West Berlin. Now, trucks, trains and barges were no longer able to supply West Berlin with food and coal. In an unprecedented logistical feat, the three Western Allies decided to supply West Berlin from the air in what is commonly known as the Berlin Airlift. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-airlift-unprecedented-feat/ For eleven months, supply planes landed every few minutes at West Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. On 12 May 1949, the Soviet Union lifted the blockade.

How Gail Halvorsen became a Berlin Airlift hero

In a 2007 essay, the now 95-year-old Colonel Gail Halvorsen explains why the children of Berlin knew him as “Uncle Wiggly Wings.” In 1948, the beginning of the blockade, the U.S. Air Force ordered him to fly life-sustaining essentials into West Berlin. Day and night he flew a C-54 Skymaster filled with staples into West Berlin. He flew in thunderstorms, fog, ice and snow. Off duty, he slept in the loft of a farmer’s old barn. From his cockpit Gail Halvorsen could see the moonscape that had once been the  grand capital of Germany. Many buildings were mere shells. Rubble everywhere. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/legacy-of-rubble-women/

One day in July, when he was off duty, Colonel Gail Halvorsen walked to the end of the runway to film aircraft landings. A group of about 30 children stood behind the barbed wire fence. He walked over to the children, fully expecting them to beg for sweets as he had previously experienced in other parts of the world. But these children didn’t beg. They appeared so grateful for the flour he delivered that they didn’t think it proper to ask for more. Impressed, Gail Halvorsen reached into his pocket for some gum. But all he found were two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint – two sticks for 30 children. He broke them in half and passed them through the barbed wire. Now the children surprised him even more. They broke the gum into as many pieces as possible and shared them. They then tore the wrappers into pieces as well and handed them to the children who had gone without gum. The latter stuck their noses into the wrappers to savor the minty smell. Without fighting over the gum, every little face was lit with glee. Colonel Gail Halvorsen was so moved by the children’s restraint that he promised to drop more gum the next day so that every child could enjoy a piece. When the children asked how they would recognize his plane, he said he would wiggle the aircraft’s wings.

Then First Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen surrounded by Berlin children, photo courtesy of archive.defense.gov

Then First Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen surrounded by Berlin children, photo courtesy of archive.defense.gov

The following day, Gail Halvorsen made good on his promise. He fashioned three little parachutes from handkerchiefs, attached packages of sweets to them and dropped the small canopies from his plane just prior to landing. From then on he continued to drop candy from his plane, even in the Soviet sector. His generous deed caught on. By the end of the Berlin Airlift, Colonel Gail Halvorsen along with many other pilots, had dropped over 20 tons of chocolate, gum and candy over Berlin. In 1974, Uncle Wiggly Wings was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit in Berlin for his role in the Berlin Airlift.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

 

Berlin Airlift – unprecedented feat

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

In response to the Berlin Blockade http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-blockade-and-the-cold-war/the Western Allies (United States, Great Britain and France) organized the Berlin Airlift. The miles flown to supply Berlin from the air between 24 June 1948 and 12 May 1949 equaled almost the distance between the earth and the sun.

Berlin Airlift Memorial at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport. The inscription at its base reads "They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service of the Berlin Airlift 1948/49", photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin Airlift Memorial at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. The inscription at its base reads “They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service of the Berlin Airlift 1948/49”, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

The Berlin Blockade meant eminent starvation

When the Soviets severed all land and water connections between West Germany and West Berlin in June 1948, there were only 35 days worth of food and 45 days worth of coal left in the city. The power generated provided only 2.5 hours worth of electricity during a 24-hour period. Starvation loomed. Convinced that the United States, Great Britain and France had little choice but to surrender West Berlin, the Soviet military administration celebrated. But their bash was premature.

To try or not to try the Berlin Airlift?

The Soviet Blockade had convinced the three Western Allies that remaining in Berlin was essential to stemming the spread of Communism. Since all surface routes to West Berlin were blockaded, the only alternative was to supply West Berlin by air. There were three previously negotiated air corridors. But the task was enormous. Never before had a population this large (2 million) been supplied from the air. Estimates indicated that about 4,000 to 5,000 tons per day would have to be airlifted to supply the city. And those were summer figures when there was no need for heat. During the winter months the total tonnage required to be airlifted would be closer to 6,000 tons per day. Nonetheless, the American and British military agreed to try a joint operation. The U.S. part of the operation was named Operation Vittles; the British one was dubbed Operation Plainfare. In September 1948, the Australian military joined with Operation Pelican.

The Berlin Airlift begins

On 25 June 1948, only one day after the start of the Berlin Blockade, the American military commander, General Lucius D. Clay, gave the order to launch Operation Vittles. http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/lucius-d-clay-berlins-defender-of-freedom/ The next day, 32 planes hauled 80 tons of milk, flour and medicine to West Berlin. The first British aircraft flew on 28 June. During the first week, the airlift averaged only ninety tons a day, but by the second week it reached 1000 tons. Then Major General William H. Tunner was put in charge of the operation. He quickly doubled the tonnage and hours flown. Supply planes eventually flew in five altitudes, starting at 500 feet. Every three minutes a plane landed in West Berlin. He replaced the unloading crews unloading almost entirely with local people.

Typical aircraft flown during the Berlin Airlift, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Typical aircraft flown during the Berlin Airlift, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

The Berlin Airlift ends

Although the Berlin Blockade ended on 12 May 1949, the Berlin Airlift continued until 30 September. The Western Allies stocked up on food, fuel, and other supplies, just in case the Soviets might resume the blockade. Between June 1948 and September 1949, the Berlin Airlift delivered more than 2.3 million tons of cargo on over 275,000 flights. Nearly two-thirds of the cargo was coal. Pilots came from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

Berlin Blockade and the Cold War

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Until the Berlin Blockade began in 1948, the United States had no intention of occupying West Berlin beyond the establishment of a new West German government in 1949. But the subsequent Berlin Blockade and ensuing Cold War kept the U.S. in West Berlin until 1994.

An important omission in the Potsdam Agreement

In the summer of 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, the three victorious powers (the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union) signed the Potsdam Agreement. This document laid down the legal framework for the occupation of Germany and re-affirmed rules previously hammered out at the Yalta Conference. Specifically, the Potsdam Agreement addressed the terms of the military occupation, division, territorial changes, reparations and reconstruction of Germany. Accordingly, Germany was divided into three zones. Berlin, the capital, was also divided into three sectors, despite the fact that the city was located 100 miles inside Soviet occupation territory. Three air corridors from West Germany to West Berlin had been negotiated in the Potsdam Agreement, but rail, road and water access were never discussed. This omission was to be the basis for endless frustration.

Quadripartite administration of Germany and Berlin

The Allies established the Allied Control Council http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-control-council-governs-germany/ to execute resolutions concerning Germany and the Allied Kommandatura http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-kommandatura-governs-berlin/ to implement resolutions concerning Berlin. When France joined the Allies as the fourth occupation power, its territories of Germany and Berlin were carved from the American and British occupation zones and sectors. The four Allies agreed to govern their respective zone and sector as they deemed fit, but unanimous agreement would be required in matters that concerned all of Germany or all of Berlin.

Events leading up to the Berlin Blockade

By 1948, the relationship between the four powers had gone sour. The three western powers wanted to help rebuilt Germany to stabilize the European continent, with the hope that it would prevent Communism from spreading. The Soviets preferred a weak Germany and an unstable continent, with the hope that it would provide fertile ground for the spread of Communism. It did not take long before the Soviets regretted having agreed to share the city of Berlin with the Western Allies. Now they wanted nothing more than for the three western powers to get out of West Berlin. Quadripartite control became unworkable. On 20 March 1948, the Allied Control Council met for the last time. On 16 June 1948, the Allied Kommandatura assembled for the last time. The Soviet delegation walked out for good.

After the Soviets had left the table, the three Western Allies made decisions concerning their occupation territories without Soviet input. On 21 June 1948, the Western Allies introduced a new currency in the western zones and sectors. They introduced the Deutsche Mark. The Soviets, who had not been consulted, objected vehemently. On 22 June 1948, the Soviets also introduced their own new currency in the eastern zone.

From Berlin Blockade to Berlin Airlift

On 24 June 1948, The Soviets blocked all rail, road and water connections between West Germany and West Berlin. They offered to lift the blockade only if the Western Allies agreed to withdraw the Deutsche Mark from West Berlin. The Western Allies refused. The Soviets stopped supplying agricultural goods to West Berlin and cut off the electricity generated in the Soviet zone and relied upon by the three western zones of Berlin. There was only enough food to last for 35 days and enough coal to last for 45 days.

With surface traffic between West Germany and West Berlin severed and in the absence of negotiated ground access rights to the city, the only remaining possibility was to try to supply West Berlin from the air. On June 26, 1948, American military commander Lucius D. Clay http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/lucius-d-clay-berlins-defender-of-freedom/ had the first planes in the air. The Berlin Airlift began and the Cold War heated up. The Berlin Blockade lasted from 24 June 1948 to 12 May 1949.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

Lucius D. Clay – Berlin’s defender of freedom

Monday, April 18th, 2016

General Lucius D. Clay died in 1978. At his gravesite at West Point you’ll see a memorial. It was erected by the people of West Berlin and reads: Wir danken dem Bewahrer unserer Freiheit (We thank the defender of our freedom). Those words were spoken from the heart because General Clay literally saved West Berlin from starvation during the Berlin Blockade. I was only three years old when the blockade started in 1948, but I am keenly aware that I would not write about it today, had it not been for the actions of General Lucius D. Clay. Years later, when President John F. Kennedy dispatched Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson together with Lucius D. Clay to Berlin to shore up the spirits of Berliners during the Berlin Wall crisis, it was Clay whom we went to see. It was Clay whom we trusted.

General Lucius D. Clay and the Berlin Blockade

So how did the Berlin Blockade come about and what did General Lucius D. Clay do to earn the respect and the hearts of West Berlin’s population? Following World War II, Germany and the city of Berlin were divided into four sectors and occupied by British, French, American, and Soviet forces. On 23 June 1948, in an attempt to revive the German economy, the three western Allies issued a new currency, the Deutsche Mark. The Soviets vehemently opposed this action and in return blockaded all land and water access routes to West Berlin. With this move, they hoped to force the Western Allies take back the new currency and subsequently hand West Berlin to the Soviets. By blocking all deliveries of food and electricity they hoped to starve West Berliners into submitting to Soviet control.

At that time, Clay was military governor of the American section of occupied Germany. He decided to supply Berlin by air. Lucius D. Clay gave orders even before having received authorization from President Harry S. Truman. Within three days of the start of the Berlin Blockade, the Berlin Airlift started. It was an incredible logistical feat because never before had a population of 2 million been supplied from the air. But with the help of a man by the name of William H. Tunner, Clay fine-tuned the Airlift until planes landed every three minutes, twenty-four hours a day. Over the course of the next eleven months, General Clay directed some 277,800 flights, carrying 2.3 million tons of food and fuel to West Berlin. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1793.html.

The Berlin Airlift lasted 324 days. When the Soviets realized that the Western Allies could supply West Berlin indefinitely, they threw in the towel. The Berlin Blockade ended on 12 May 1949. It was Clay’s decisiveness and tenacity that saved Berliners from starvation.

General Lucius D. Clay(1898 to 1978)

General Lucius D. Clay (1898 to 1978)

Who was this man, General Lucius D. Clay?

Born in 1898 in Georgia to U.S. Senator Alexander Stephens Clay and Sarah Francis, Lucius DuBignon Clay was the youngest of six children. He graduated from West Point in 1918, became a military engineer and held various civil and military engineering posts during the 1920s and 1930s. During that time, he earned the reputation of being a hard-charging, chain-smoking, tireless and decisive worker who could turn chaos into order.

From 1947 to 1949, Clay was commander in chief of the U.S. Force in Europe and the military governor of war-torn Germany’s American Zone. General Lucius D. Clay also directed “A Report on Germany,” which became one of the source documents for The Marshall Plan. After retiring as a four-star general in 1949, Clay went into the private sector and became a successful business executive. Over time, he served on 18 corporate boards and became the principal architect of our Interstate highway system.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Currywurst – German Cousin of the Hot Dog

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Currywurst is a German national Schnell-Imbiss, a fast food. It is the German cousin of the American hot dog. In the beginning, Currywurst was an inexpensive, filling meal purchased from street vendors. Today, it is also available in many upscale restaurants from Germany to New York.

What is Currywurst?

Currywurst is a grilled sausage that is cut into slices (when I grew up, it was split lengthwise) and dowsed with a sauce. The secret lies in the sauce, which in essence consists of stewed tomatoes, curry, and spices. Depending on the vendor, the sauce may be flavored with sweet Indian curry, powdered mustard, hot chili, lemongrass, paprika, or chopped onions.

Currywurst success story

Made from grilled pork or beef, this quick meal originated in the bare-bones kitchen of a Berlin woman during the Berlin Blockade and Airlift of 1948/1949. Herta Heuwer was a hands-on woman. When Berlin lay in shambles at the end of World War II, Heuwer did her part by becoming a Truemmerfrau (rubble woman). She became one of the many women who are credited with putting Germany’s war-torn cities back together by separating reusable building materials from tons of useless debris so that reconstruction could begin. http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/legacy-of-rubble-women. Herta Heuwer became a Truemmerfrau who helped to put Berlin’s district of Charlottenburg–the district I grew up in–back on its feet in 1946. A couple of years later, during the Berlin Blockade, she bartered with her British occupiers for a few spices. Condiments were largely unattainable in those days. After she had traded spirits for a little Worcester sauce and ketchup, she experimented with these spices at home and ended up with a sauce that she poured over boiled pork sausage. The dish caught on with the working class. Soon Heuwer opened a street side stand and sold Currywurst with a slice of whole grain bread on the side. Her business took off. Six years later, her sales amounted to 10,000 servings a week. After patenting her sauce under the name of “Chillup,” Heuwer opened a fast food restaurant at Kaiser-Friedrich-Strasse 57 in Charlottenburg, not far from where I grew up. Ms. Heuwer never disclosed her original recipe and never sold out to mass-production food companies.

Herta Heuwer plaque installed at Kaiser-Friedrich-Str. 57 at the corner of Kantstrasse, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Herta Heuwer plaque installed at Kaiser-Friedrich-Str. 57 at the corner of Kantstrasse, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Currywurst consumption today

The Deutsche Currywurst Museum estimates that 800 million Currywursts are consumed in Germany every year, 70 million in Berlin alone. Even the Volkswagen car manufacturing plant in Wolfsburg produces 3.5 million Currywursts per year in its own butcher shop.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.