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Speech by German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth at the opening ceremony of the Andrews Air Force Base Joint Service Open House 2008

17.05.2008 - Speech

Secretary Wynne,
Major General Gorenc,
Mr. Koenig,
Colonel Halvorsen,
Distinguished Visitors,
Dear Guests of the Joint Service Open House here at Andrews,

I.

Today, Berlin is again the capital of the united Germany. And modern Germany is again a free country under the rule of law, a country that stands for the values of the enlightenment, for freedom, justice, human rights and tolerance throughout the world. But 60 years ago, freedom and the democratic future of West Germany were at stake when the Soviets blockaded the city of Berlin.

The United States and her Allies saved the freedom of Berlin. They saved more than two million men, women and children in West Berlin. They saved them in what is one of the greatest humanitarian efforts of all times. Together with the Marshall Plan and the millions of CARE-packages sent by people from all walks of life to hunger stricken German children, women and men, this unique effort, the Berlin Airlift, built the base for the enduring friendship between Germans and Americans.

II.

I stand in awe before what these Americans did for my country: for 322 days, in more than 270.000 flights, the US Air Force, working with the Army and the Navy, brought more than 1.7 million tons of supplies into the city – everything from potatoes to an entire power plant.

The heroes of the Airlift – and I use that term deliberately - accomplished the impossible. For almost a year, they supplied the citizens of West Berlin by air. They won a strategic battle of the beginning Cold War. As early as September 1948, the Air Force Magazine grasped the historic significance of the Airlift. An article read: “For the first time in history, the United States is employing its Air Force as a diplomatic weapon”.

And not only did they win the battle for freedom, but they won the hearts and minds of the German people.

Their victory of freedom was a triumph of friendship:

To save more than 2 million men, women and children and the freedom of West Berlin, the pilots flew and the ground crews worked almost incessantly. They were driven by dedicated leaders like President Truman, General Lucius Clay, and General Tunner. They toiled together with the Berliners – sometimes to the point of total exhaustion. It was a truly heroic effort inspired by the will to preserve freedom. The common effort made allies and friends out of former enemies that had fought each other during World War II.

That transformation was a miracle of friendship.

That way, by keeping alive the hopes of the people of Berlin, the Airlift laid the foundation for the friendship between our two peoples. The deep bond of friendship between the United States and Germany endures.

Let us always remember that it was a victory not without costs: engraved in the foundation of the Airlift Memorial that reaches to the skies in the midst of the city of Berlin are the names of those who gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin.

III.

What drove these men and women to work so hard for former enemies? What brought about the miracle of friendship?

It was the helping hands and the humane heart. In essence, I believe, the heroes of the Airlift - men like Gail Halvorsen, who I'm happy to see is with us today - teach us what it takes to change the course of history:

It takes your hands: hard work and ingenuity, And it takes your heart: sacrifice and perseverance, the will to be free and stand together as friends.

The men and women of the Airlift, their helping hands and their humane heart, inspired my generation. For us, The United States of America not only stood for freedom and democracy, but also for forgiveness and generosity.

IV.

After them, there came other great Americans whose dedication to freedom and friendship inspired the German people:

Remember that the Soviet blockade was not the only challenge to the freedom of Berlin. In 1961, a wall was built, cutting the city in half – dividing families, parents and children, brothers and sisters in East and West Berlin and then in East and West Germany. My family was just one of many.

But when President John F. Kennedy came to Berlin in 1963 and said: “Ich bin ein Berliner”, he gave us hope. Because his words told Berliners and all Germans: “We are friends. America will stand by you to preserve freedom.”

The Berlin wall was still up when President Ronald Reagan came to Berlin in 1987 and said: “Mr. Gorbatchev, tear down this wall. Mr. Gorbatchev, open this gate”. He gave us hope. His words told us: “We are friends. America will stand by you to preserve freedom.”

And in 1989 the wall came down. Freedom triumphed, just as it had triumphed during the Airlift. To me, that is another miracle of freedom and friendship. And then, in 1990, the United States played a crucial role in helping us to regain German Unity, to overcome the division of Europe. I know from first hand experience: I had the privilege to participate in the so called 2-plus-4 talks that brought about German Unity. We will not forget.

Americas helping hands and humane heart changed the course of history for my country. They brought about miracles. The German people will always be grateful.

V.

The helping hands and the humane heart of the men and women who did the Airlift can inspire future generations.

Future generations face new challenges: it will take hard work and ingenuity, sacrifice and perseverance, the will to be free and stand together as friends to face the great challenges of this centuryto prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to combat international terrorism, to ensure energy security,and to fight climate change and preserve the planet for future generations.

Just as Germany and the United States stood together on freedom’s front line 60 years ago and throughout the Cold War, we will confront these challenges together.

The men and women of the Airlift left us with a legacy of friendship. They tell us: “Our friendship is based on shared fundamental interests and values. We will face the challenges of the future together.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I trust that we will live up to this legacy. I trust that we will be what we made our motto for the 60th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift - we will be: FRIENDS ALWAYS.

Thank you.

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