Airlift vs Luftbrücke

Logistics have seldom been more important than during the Berlin Blockade 1 April 1948 – 12 May 1949. Aptly described in the book Armageddon, the insight that a plane not being able to land should return to base immediately instead of hovering over Tegel, Tempelhof or Gatow was crucial in establishing a flow of supplies. A procedure established when it was clear that the blockade would last more than the anticipated three weeks and by the operation commander Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner,

Aircrews from the US, UK, Canadian, NZ and South African air forces flew over 200.000 flights in one year, providing to the two million Berliners up to 8,893 tons of necessities each day. I suppose they also got a lot of experience in addition.

When I visited Berlin last week I was struck by the differences in the words used to describe this situation in English and German. I must say that I'm not really sure of what "lift" stands for in this case other than taking items from one place to another, often involving vertical travel.

The German word "luftbrücke" is similar to the Swedish one "luftbro", meaning "air bridge". I think this is a better word for the situation, signifying not the transport of goods but the connection between places. I can imagine that for the people starving and freezing in Berlin, it meant a lot from a psychological perspective to have this bridge. To know they were connected, know they were not forgotten.

I also suppose that the blockade helped the german people to become something else than nazis in the eyes of the other Western countries. Now they became victims, fighting against a common enemy: the communists. When the Berlin Wall came up in 1961, this image became even stronger leading to the famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech by John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Bridges are often used as metaphors for change. A bridge brings hope, closes gaps, allows us to travel to something better. Being on the bridge makes us to see both sides. Sometimes bridges are burned, making the transformation permanent. However, another aspect of the bridge metaphor is that it points to differences, emphasising separation between the two entities connected by the bridge. It allows two people to go their separate ways, with a flimsy potential of reconnection.

With its current strong role in the EU embodied by Angela Merkel, not the least demonstrated in the current negotiations with Greece and in the dealings with Russia, it's no doubt that Germany made good use of the Luftbrücke.
From Berlin 2015

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