Many of the historic Douglas planes had a long journey behind them before they flew over Berlin on Sunday. But 70 years after the first “raisin bombs” were dropped, the ceremony did not go as planned.
Around 20 so-called raisin bombers flew over Berlin on Sunday – in memory of the legendary Airlift 70 years ago. The vintage planes crossed over the Tempelhofer Feld, where they once landed, clearly visible to spectators and camera lenses. But they did not take a lap of honor. The authorities had not even approved a landing at the former Berlin city centre airport, which caused disappointment among spectators.
The Douglas DC-3 planes had taken off from Faßberg in Lower Saxony. From there, between 1948 and 1949, about 70 percent of coal transports were flown to Berlin. The historic aircraft and their pilots had previously made long journeys. According to “B.Z.” they had to make five stopovers during their flight across the Atlantic, including in Greenland and Iceland.
Berlin media described the disappointment of spectators on the Tempelhofer Feld about the short spectacle. The organiser, the Berlin 70 Airlift Support Association, had originally planned a flight over the Brandenburg Gate and a landing during a festival on Tempelhofer Feld. A spokeswoman for the Senate referred to incomplete and incorrect applications by the organizers in an interview with “B.Z.”. The Berlin local newspaper also spoke to US pilot Gail Halvorsen, who expressed his regret about the poor performance.
The now 98-year-old had dropped sweets for the children during the Soviet blockade of West Berlin and was the first “candy bomber” to become a symbol for the relief effort. “I would like to have thrown down candy. So that today’s children can get an impression of what it was like in the past,” the veteran told the paper.
Anyone who wanted to marvel at the candy bombers up close had to travel to the Faßberg airbase in Lower Saxony. There, on Saturday, the Federal Ministry of Defence Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) paid tribute to the Airlift on the Day of the German Armed Forces as a great help from the Allies. It is a symbol of solidarity that former enemies of war have become allies, von der Leyen told several tens of thousands of visitors. “The ‘raisin bombers were a gigantic logistical masterpiece, but also a sign that showed the whole world: West Berlin remains free,” said von der Leyen. The Minister also had a brief meeting with Gail Halvorsen.
Technical breakdown at von der Leyens speech
But von der Leyen had to stop her speech after ten minutes – due to a short circuit, no sound came out of the loudspeaker system. The Minister of Defense, who is under criticism because of numerous technical breakdowns in the Bundeswehr, gestured at the microphone with a shrug of the shoulder. Afterwards she handed over veteran badges on stage.
During the Soviet Berlin blockade from June 24, 1948 to May 12, 1949, the Western Allies had brought relief supplies by airplane to the western part of the city, which had been sealed off from the outside world – hence the affectionate term “raisin bomber. The Allies had decided to use the Airlift after the Soviets closed the highways into the western sectors of Berlin on June 24, 1948. All roads, railway lines and waterways to West Berlin were cut off.
In total, Americans, British and French supplied more than two million inhabitants with almost two million tons of vital cargo such as food and coal in almost 280,000 flights. The state of Berlin had already commemorated the Airlift with a ceremony on May 12.