When Germans Cheered US Soldiers | Current Affairs | DW | 08.09.2004
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Current Affairs

When Germans Cheered US Soldiers

A decade ago Wednesday, the United States closed one of its longest military chapters with the pullout of American troops out of Berlin.

The Berlin Brigade lowers the Stars & Stripes for the last time

The Berlin Brigade lowers the Stars & Stripes for the last time

The sight of tens of thousands of Berliners cheering American troops is something hard to imagine nowadays.

When the U.S. began its military invasion of Iraq in March 2003, hundreds of thousands of Berlin residents took to the streets to protest against the war. The German government's steadfast opposition to the US military invasion of Iraq in 2003 was anchored in the anti-war sentiments of its population.

Ten years ago, the story was a different one. After more than 40 years in which they kept West Berlin safe from the looming Soviet threat, the final 2,000 soldiers pulled out of Berlin on Sept. 8, 1994. Soldiers, both from the US and the former Soviet Union, were no longer needed in the reunified city and the Americans either went home or to still-existent bases in southern Germany.

Before they left, 75,000 Berliners lined the route upon which the US forces would parade for the last time. They cheered the soldiers and a Bundeswehr battalion was on hand to salute the outgoing troops.

The decades together in Berlin, the last bastion of West Germany in the middle of the GDR, had sparked a special relationship between Americans and West Berliners. At the latest, the love affair began in 1948 when the Soviet Union tried to hermetically seal off West Berlin and force France, Great Britain and the U.S. to give up on the city.

Berlin airlift seals love affair

The US responded by flying in humanitarian aid to Tempelhof airport. The so-called "raisin bombers" brought in desperately-needed supplies, flying their way into the hearts of the West Berliners in the process.

"Above all, we learned what solidarity in the most dire emergency means," former mayor Eberhard Diepgen remembered. "The desire for freedom on the part of the Berliners convinced the Western world of Germany's will never to live under tyrants again."

The Soviet Union eventually gave up its attempt on grabbing West Berlin. The allied troops stayed, dividing up the divided city into three different sectors. They did the same in the rest of Germany in an effort to protect the country both from the USSR and itself, according to foreign policy scholar Ingo Peters.

"Stationing the troops was important, as a sort of insurance, so that what happened here, Germany wouldn't do again," Peters told Deutsche Welle.

Germany's new role in the world

After reunification, allied soldiers were no longer needed. Upon their departure from the eventual German capital, Chancellor helmut Kohl told the troops that Germany had learned by their example.

"You can rely on us. Germany will never stand aside when peace and freedom are at stake in the world," Kohl said.

German foreign policy has made good on that promise. The country has come a long way from a policy of non-intervention under the protection of allied troops. Beginning with peacekeeping missions in Bosnia after the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, Germany took part in NATO military action against Serbia in 1999 and has thousands of troops stationed in NATO and UN peacekeeping missions, including Afghanistan, today.

American troops remain in Germany, in southern cities like Landstuhl, Rammstein and Kaiserslautern. But given recent announcements by the US military to move troops out of Germany, those, too, may close one day. But they most likely won't get the same send-off.

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