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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Says Farewell to Western Troops

BERLIN -- Germany bid farewell Thursday to the three Allies who marched in as occupiers 49 years ago, stayed as defenders and left as friends.


German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in a series of speeches to mark the withdrawal at the ornate Schauspielhaus theater warmly thanked his "dear friends," the Western allies, for establishing, then guaranteeing German democracy throughout the Cold War's most dangerous days.


"A period comes to an end today -- but that's too easy to say," said Kohl at the ceremony, attended by British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher.


"Forty years of history, 40 years of personal fate, 40 years of hope and struggle and at the end a successful outcome," Kohl continued. "Today, with your departure from Berlin, together we finally can call out to the whole world, to all those who are listening: Freedom has won," he said.


Earlier, an afternoon ceremony commemorated the 1948-49 airlift that rescued West Berlin from starvation during a Soviet land blockade. More than 70 airmen and helpers who died during the airlift were honored with wreaths, music and short speeches.


"Berlin, for so long the symbol of embattled freedom, is today not just a symbol of the new Germany, but also of the new European order," said Major at the event near the Tempelhof airlift memorial. "Today, one chapter comes to an end and another chapter begins. We never accepted that Germany was irrevocably divided in two."


Calling the airlift "an unprecedented relief operation (that) became a symbol of the steadfastness and solidarity of the Western democracies," Kohl promised: "We Germans will never forget this."


Stalin hoped "to bring the city under communist control and break the spirit of the people," Christopher said. "Stalin failed to judge the will of the Berliners, and the resolve of the allied powers to see them through," he added.


French Defense Minister Fran?ois Leotard, delivering remarks at the outdoor ceremony, which Mitterrand did not attend, said, "Here, the Cold War started, and this is where it ended."


A week ago, the last Russian soldiers left eastern Germany. Their commanders wanted to be included in Thursday's festivities, but were rejected as heirs to the Soviets.


There have been so many ceremonies, toasts, speeches and parades to honor the departing American, British and French soldiers in the formerly divided city this year that Berliners are growing nostalgia-weary.


Less than 200 people stood in front of the Charlottenburg Palace at the start of the festivities to watch Kohl, Major, Mitterrand and Christopher take salutes from a German military band playing the four national anthems.


That ceremony launched nearly 10 hours of celebrations, which were set to climax in the evening at the famed Brandenburg Gate with a "Grand Tattoo" with more than 400 torch-bearing soldiers in jackboots marching on a square formerly on the east side of the Berlin Wall.


With the ceremony, the Bundeswehr, the German army, symbolically takes full military sovereignty over Berlin, which became Germany's capital again after unification in 1990.


All 20,000 tickets for the event were quickly grabbed by Berliners and city police blocked off the area in anticipation of uninvited guests.


Groups of leftists threatened a march to protest the Brandenburg Gate ceremony, which they called an attempt "to restore the Prussian and National Socialist (Nazi) tradition."


The protest call was supported by leaders of East Germany's reformed communists, the Party of Democratic Socialism, whom Kohl has accused of trying to subvert the country's democratic order.


War started, and this is where it ended."


A week ago, the last Russian soldiers left eastern Germany. Their commanders wanted to be included in Thursday's festivities, but were rejected as heirs to the Soviets.


There have been so many ceremonies, toasts, speeches and parades to honor the departing American, British and French soldiers in the formerly divided city this year that Berliners are growing nostalgia-weary.


Less than 200 people stood in front of the Charlottenburg Palace at the start of the festivities to watch Kohl, Major, Mitterrand and Christopher take salutes from a German military band playing the four national anthems.


That ceremony launched nearly 10 hours of celebrations, which were set to climax in the evening at the famed Brandenburg Gate with a "Grand Tattoo" with more than 400 torch-bearing soldiers in jackboots marching on a square formerly on the east side of the Berlin Wall.


With the ceremony, the Bundeswehr, the German army, symbolically takes full military sovereignty over Berlin, which became Germany's capital again after unification in 1990.


All 20,000 tickets for the event were quickly grabbed by Berliners and city police blocked off the area in anticipation of uninvited guests.


Groups of leftists threatened a march to protest the Brandenburg Gate ceremony, which they called an attempt "to restore the Prussian and National Socialist (Nazi) tradition."