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Heroes Welcome

Fifty years ago, they worked around the clock to keep Berlin from starving. Now, in a year-long celebration, Berlin invites them back.

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Katharin Brandt and Waltraud Kuck say they will attend. And Werner Hauer is planning to fly in from New Jersey. Because Berliners are proud of living in what was the capital of the cold war and memorialize the airlift as a defining moment--they quote political speeches from the time in the same way Americans remember "Give me liberty or give me death"--Reese may just fill the stadium. Will the younger generation be represented? A translator in her 20s said yes, she thought she'd go; the people of her generation want to remember the airlift because it is something good. "They are tired of feeling the need to explain Germany's history in the second world war," she said. "It's nice to have something for a change that is positive and can make them feel some pride in being German."

In a small green park near Tempelhof Airport is a concrete sculpture, a heavy 1950s design intended to represent the flight paths of three aircraft--symbolic of the British, French, and American allies--in a steep climb. The paths emerge from a concrete slab and form three prongs; Berliners call the sculpture "the hunger claw." The memorial is dedicated to those who died during the airlift. Their names are inscribed on its base.

On an afternoon last September, a friend and I visited the memorial. Three boys lounged on the lawn in front of it, backpacks and a soccer ball in the grass nearby. My friend asked them in German what the memorial was and they all answered "Die Luftbrfcke," the air bridge. Yes, but what was it, my friend went on, what did it mean? Airplanes were flown into Berlin, the three spoke at once. And who was flying the airplanes? we asked. The Americans, the French, and the Russians, one said after a brief consultation, and another directed us to the sign that had been placed there for pesky tourists like us.

Poor old Bevin probably rolled over in his grave and the history teachers in Berlin wouldn't be overjoyed either. I wonder if the veterans who will fly to Berlin again this year would mind the confusion over who exactly the good guys were. There are some who would set those youngsters straight. But there are more who would, after all these years, welcome the Russians aboard. At least three Berliners already have.

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