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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berlin Still a Siren to Allied Soldiers

BERLIN -- Berlin's improbable post-war love affair with the western Allies came to a grand denouement on Thursday, but the Allies' presence will leave a lasting impression on the once-divided city.


Although American, British and French forces marched into the defeated Nazi capital 49 years ago as conquerers, the western Allies became the West Berliners' protectors, friends -- and very often fathers and husbands.


Unlike Soviet troops stationed behind the Berlin Wall, who were rarely allowed off their bases, the western Allies and West Berliners alike reveled in their fraternization.


"They not only saved our freedom, they saved our evenings," wrote Mai Lefers in Berlin's irreverent Tageszeitung daily in article entitled "Sex and the Allied Forces."


"There will still be 'souvenirs d'amour' being born up to nine months after the last (un)known Allied soldier has left town," she wrote.


Over the years, thousands of American, British and French soldiers have stayed behind in Berlin after finishing their service careers, giving several parts of the city a distinctly un-German flavor.


The Americans clearly left the deepest imprint.


Their sector of the city now has grand shopping plazas, U.S.-style school buildings, streets named after famous Americans, disc jockeys with American accents and countless offspring.


The U.S. Embassy Office in Berlin estimates there are about 15,000 Americans living in the city, perhaps half of them former servicemen.


"There's something special about being an American in Berlin," said Blane Gish, a former infantryman married to a German.


He owns a popular bakery in Steglitz, a neighborhood in southwestern Berlin where the U.S. troops were based.


Gish, a Denver native stationed in Berlin between 1981 and 1983, is the president of the local chapter of the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars. With 432 members, it's the largest VFW chapter outside the United States.


"There's still a strong interest in American things," he said, observing the popularity of the U.S.-style brownies and glazed doughtnuts he sells at his bakery.


There were about 100,000 U.S. troops who spent part of their careers in West Berlin between 1945 and 1994. There were a similar number of British troops in the city, and about 6,000 have remained in Berlin.


Ben Hamar, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve who elected to stay in Berlin, said he cherishes the city's nightlife as well as its relative safety.


"There is always something going on in Berlin," he said. "There's a great atmosphere here. And you can walk on almost any street at 3 o'clock in the morning and not have to worry about anything. You can't do that in a lot of places in America."


Another retired officer staying in Berlin said it's easy to understand why American servicement like the city. "If you're a black American, you'd probably be going home poor and in a lot of places, you'd probably face discrimination.


But in Berlin, being an American is good, and being a black American is even better because it's such a novelty."