Die Luftbrücke | The Berlin Blockade & Airlift
It was the Cuban missle crisis of its day. The building of the Berlin Wall may be more famous, but few Berlin events brought about as much world tension as the Berlin Blockade of 1948-1949. The Allied reponse to that Russian attempt to take over all of Berlin was one of the greatest events of the Cold War.
The Soviet Union’s occupation zone included the eastern section of Berlin as well as the East German territory surrounding the city. West Berlin, occupied by Britain, France and the United States, was a land island completely surrounded by what was known in German as die Ostzone (the East Zone).
What Stalin had failed to anticipate was U.S. President Harry Truman’s stubborn “the-buck-stops-here” determination to thwart any communist takeover. Nor were the West Berliners prepared to give in to the Russians. Two days after Stalin’s blockade began, Allied aircraft began flying supplies into the city. On June 26, 1948 the Berlin Airlift—die Luftbrücke (air bridge) in German—began operation. Everything the Berliners needed to survive — from groceries to gasoline—would come to them only by air until the end of September 1949. The airlift lasted over 15 months and cost more than $224 million.
Tempelhof closed down as a working airport in October 2008, but during the many months of the Berlin Airlift the airport was ground zero. A U.S. or British plane landed there every few minutes (and later also at another airfield that had been built just for the airlift, today’s Tegel, Berlin’s main airport). There were no giant Galaxy transports in those days. Most of the supply flights were made by tiny C-47s (DC-3s). The “big” planes were four-prop C-54s (DC-4s). But over two million tons of goods were flown into Berlin in a huge logistical operation under the command of the American General Lucius D. Clay. A veteran C-54 aircraft stands at the edge of Tempelhof Airport today as a silent witness to the events of 1948-49. This classic four-engine “Rosinenbomber” (“Raisin Bomber” or “Candy Bomber”) is its own small memorial to the Airlift. (See photos.)
Today there is a struggle going on over the fate of the historic Tempelhof terminal (the third largest building in the world), designed by the Nazi architect Ernst Sagebiel and built from 1934 to 1936. With the planned opening of Berlin’s new Berlin Brandenburg International (BBI) airport in 2011, the German capital wants to have a world-class airport worthy of a major European city. It will also close Tegel, but the city was being crushed by the millions of euros it took to keep Tempelhof operating as an inner-city commuter airport. Long before it closed, the terminal looked abandoned — with few flights and its huge passenger hall virtually deserted.
Back in 1999 Tempelhof was made part of the architectural project “Europa der Lüfte, drei Flughäfen der 30er Jahre”—which commemorated three European airfields of the 1930s: Berlin’s Tempelhof, Paris’ Le Bourget and Liverpool’s Speke. More recently, the Tempelhof terminal has also been proposed for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (see link below), but its future status is very much up in the air. Berliners have been debating Tempelhof’s fate for over a decade without any agreement. The building is under landmark protection, but how it and its extensive grounds may be used in coming years is the big question. - Guided tours of the Tempelhof building complex are available by prior arrangement for a modest charge.
NEXT > Airlift Landmarks (Photos)
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Related Pages - Berlin Airlift
- Airlift Landmarks - Present-day and historic photos of Berlin Airlift landmarks.
- Berlin City Guide - What to see in the German capital
- Tempelhof Airport Photos - Includes Airlift photos
- Berlin Photo Gallery - Historic and more recent Berlin Wall and other photos by the author of the German Way.
- East Side Gallery - An artistic section of the Berlin Wall that’s still standing. New 2008 photos.
- Recommended Reading - Selected travel books, some related directly to Berlin
- Our Expat page offers links of interest to those now living or planning to live in the German-speaking world.
- Alliierten Museum - The Allied Museum in Berlin. Appropriately, this useful, interesting Web site is available in English, French or German.
- Berlin Airlift - Background - From the Truman Electronic Whistle Stop. Maps help clarify the story.
- Berlin Airlift Veterans Association
- Airlift History - It all started in June 1948.
- The Candy Bomber - Gail Halvorsen - Flew his famous “Raisin Bomber” missions over Berlin. AKA: “Der Schockoladenflieger” (“The Chocolate Plane”)
- Gallery - Pictures from the Airlift
- The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation
“A Mission of History and Education”
- Berlin Airports Online - The Web site for Berlin’s three airports: Tegel, Tempelhof and Schönefeld.
- Europa der Lüfte “Drei Flughäfen der 30er Jahre.” This 1999 architectural project commemorated three European airfields of the 1930s: Berlin’s Tempelhof, Paris’ Le Bourget and Liverpool’s Speke. What do these historic airfields mean for the future? (Sadly, this site is no longer online.)
- Operation Vittles - This was the U.S. nickname for the Airlift.
- Rescue Tempelhof - Interesting Web site about the attempt to protect the airport terminal by adding Tempelhof to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. In English and German.
- USAFE: Wiesbaden Celebrates Berlin Airlift Anniversary - 2008 article from the U.S. Air Forces in Europe site.
- Story of Berlin - A museum and Web site devoted to Berlin’s 800-year history. “Eine Zeitreise durch Berlin...” and great graphics! In German.
NEXT > Airlift Landmarks
MORE > Tempelhof Airport Photos