Friends to the end

    AlliertenMuseum Berlin

    The first thing I see as I enter the Allied Museum in Berlin is a trio of bomb casingGehäusecasings. Leaning against a wall in the entrance, they are from raidAngriff, Überfallraids that killed 100,000 people during the Second World War. Then, stepping inside the main museum hall, a beige-coloured wedding dress and matching coat catch my attention. They were made from curtains for Ursula Lathrop, a German woman who married an American soldier, Thomas Lathrop, in April 1947. The display caseVitrine, Schaukastendisplay case also to featurehier: zeigenfeatures a ticket to the Berlin State Opera, saved in memory of the Lathrops’ first date. The picture is completed by plane tickets and a travel visa to Ursula’s new home in the US.

     

    How enemies became friends: the museum’s permanent exhibition

    Destruction and renewal: these are two aspects of the situation in Germany after 1945. The Allied Museum at Clayallee 135 in the Zehlendorf district, part of the former American sector, explores these themes, concentrating above all on the role played by the US and Britain in politics and in lives of Germans who were searching for a new normality. “How Enemies Became Friends” is the title of the museum’s permanent exhibition, and its meaning is not to be underestimated. With more than 55 million dead as a result of the conflict started by Germany in 1939, including six million victims of the Holocaust, this was a complex procedure.

    The museum shows how the Allies went about winning the hearts and minds of Germans

    The first room of the permanent exhibition in the Allied Museum concentrates on the immediate post-war era of 1945–50. Germany and Berlin were divided into four zones governed by the four victorious powers: France, Britain and the United States in the West, and the Soviet Union in the East.

    The museum does a wonderful job of explaining the details of Germany’s division with maps, facts and audio files. But it also demonstrates how the Allies, and above all the US, went about winning the hearts and minds of Germans on the ground. Brochures advertising German courses for American soldiers sit side by side with running shoes and boxing gloves from sporting events involving young people from both countries.

     

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    The Berlin Airlift

    A large part of the first room in the Allied Museum is to dedicatewidmendedicated to the Berlin airliftLuftbrückeAirlift. Early in 1948, the three Western Allies decided to to mergeverbinden, zusammenführenmerge the areas under their control and create one large zone intended to form the economic basis of a new Germany. A currencyWährungs-currency reform was put in place in June 1948. Fearing the creation of a new, economically strong German state and all that it to implybedeuten, beinhaltenimplied for the balance of power in Europe, the Soviet Union reacted with drastic measurehier: Maßnahmemeasures.

    Berlin lay in the middle of the Soviet zone. On 24 June 1948, Berliners woke up to find that the Soviets had closed down all road, rail and water routes linking Allied zones in western Germany with Berlin. The Berlin Blockade had begun. West Berliners had only one chance of survival: supplies had to be brought in from Allied airbases in western Germany by planes flying through three narrow air corridors.

     

    12,000 tons

    of supplies were delivered each day during the Berlin Airlift

     

    The Berlin Airlift was operated by US and British armed forces and lasted from June 1948 to May 1949. It was a massive effort, and the Allied Museum’s Airlift section details what it took to keep West Berlin alive with coal, dried goodsWaren, Gütergoods and good humour. At the height of airlift activities in April 1949, planes delivered more than 12,000 tons of supplies a day, landing about every 62 seconds at three airports: Gatow (British), Tempelhof (American) and Tegel. I hadn’t known that Tegel airport was built during the Berlin Airlift. But as the museum explains, Berlin needed extra runwayStart- und Landebahnrunways to receive these huge amounts of food and fuel. So 17,000 Berliners worked round the clock for 93 days, completing the airport in early November 1948.

    The museum’s large-scaleumfangreichlarge-scale slide show offers an informative introduction to the airlift, using statistics, chartTabelle, Grafikcharts and maps as well as photos of the people behind the politics, such as airmanPilotairmen and loading staffPersonal, Mitarbeiterstaff. If visitors step out into the courtyardHof, Innenhofcourtyard between the two main museum buildings and take a look inside one of the planes used in the airlift — a Hastings TG 503 — they will get some impression of what was involved. The TG 503 was the United Kingdom’s largest transport plane at the time and flew more than 12,000 missions to Berlin, bringing mainly coal to the blockaded city.

     

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    The Allied Museum’s Hastings TG 503 is open only on Sundays, “weather permitting”, so it’s worth timing your visit to look inside. The pilots who flew these planes to and from Berlin worked in all weather, as did the staff accompanying them. They sat on improvised seating around their vital cargoFrachtcargo in what, by today’s standards, must feel like a large tin box, risking their lives for a city they barelykaumbarely knew. My own father, Airman 2315411, was a flight mechanic doing his national service in the first months of the airlift. He told me once that fear and exhaustionErschöpfungexhaustion made the experience feel “like walking through wet sand”, although he also remembered the pretty German Fräuleins working at the canteen in Gatow.

     

    The Cold War begins

    The airlift ended in mid May 1949. The Soviet Union realized that its blockade had made relations between the Allies and West Germany stronger, not weaker. Not long afterwards, on 23 May, the Federal Republic of Germany was founded. Shortly after that, in October 1949, the German Democratic Republic was to establishgründen, bildenestablished in the Soviet zone. The Cold War had begun.

    Germans in both states, and especially Berliners, were at the heart of the Cold War. A guard tower from Berlin’s famous Checkpoint Charlie that still stands in the museum courtyard close to a section of the Berlin Wall is a cold, concreteaus Betonconcrete reminder of the realities of separation faced by families in Germany and Berlin between 1961, when the wall was built, and 1990, the year of German reunificationWiedervereinigungreunification.

     

    The Allied Museum

    Clayallee 135 
    14195 Berlin

    www.alliiertenmuseum.de

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