Lufthansa's birthday highlights unusual status of Berlin

Nothing is ever simple in Berlin, not even anniversaries of airlines. Or perhaps especially such anniversaries, at least when the celebrant is Lufthansa, a firm that is barred from flying to Berlin, and -- in a further embarrassment -- won its early fame as the most extensive airline in Nazi Germany.

Still, Berlin was where Lufthansa was born, and Berlin was where Lufthansa celebrated its 60th birthday last week.

The anniversary served as a reminder of the unique status of Berlin, an island of a city in the middle of East Germany that is still formally occupied by the Allied victors of World War II, pending Soviet willingness to sign a peace treaty.

The first turbulence in the Lufthansa festivities came over an invitation extended to the head of its East German sister airline, Interflug. The second rough patch came with the ruminations of West Berlin's mayor about how nice it would be if Lufthansa really could fly into Berlin.

Both initiatives stalled over Berlin's peculiar political status. The Interflug executive was uninvited by the Western allies before he could ever attend the party. And the allies again quashed any hopes of Lufthansa's landing in West Berlin along with Pan American, British Airways, and Air France.

Both initiatives reflected a certain increase in frustration among West Berliners, as life has normalized since the d'etente of the 1970s, that they still do not have full sovereignty.

There are reasons for this dearth. West Berlin is indefensible militarily, surrounded as it is by 19 Soviet and six East German divisions. West Berlin's security is guaranteed only by the small American, British, and French garrisons in the city and by the certain knowledge that any interference with West Berlin's independence or access to West Germany will call forth an allied response. Hence the Western allies' insistence that their rights not be curtailed in West Berlin, or that the much weaker West Germany not take over any role in the city that could then make the Bonn government and West Berlin much more vulnerable to Soviet-bloc intimidation than the allies are.

The West Berliners are grateful for this security guarantee. But memories have faded of the 1948-49 airlift and the West's standing firm in the crisis over use of the land corridors to Berlin in the late '50s and early '60s.

By now the relative normality has therefore diminished West Berliners' worries about security -- and has increased irritation with all the anomalies that go with being protected by foreigners.

Today there is a call by West Berlin conservatives and leftists to throw out old provisions in the tangle of occupation regulations that proliferated over the years.

Today, too, there is a periodic call to let Lufthansa land in West Berlin. The latest articulator of the request was none other than the conservative mayor of West Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, on Lufthansa's anniversary.

He made the caveat that any flights must not compromise the guaranteed allied air corridors or disadvantage West Berlin's Tegel Airport. He indulged in some what-if dreaming, however, and the Western allies saw fit to repeat their ban on Lufthansa to anyone listening.

Lufthansa itself is rather more casual about these borderlines. It has expressed the wish to open regular flights between East and West Germany.

For a decade some West Berlin Social Democrats have been contending that the US, Britain, and France bar all airlines other than their own from West Berlin not for security reasons, but in order to maintain a lucrative monopoly on the trade.

In rebuttal, the allies point to East Germany's blatant bid to lure Berlin passengers away from Western airlines by offering cut-rate prices for flights to and from East Berlin and then busing passengers through the wall to West Berlin.

If Interflug and the Soviet airline Aeroflot could get away with this even in inter-German flights, the allies contend, they could endanger West Berlin's security by forcing all Western airlines off the routes commercially, thus weakening the West's use and access to the air corridors.

East as well as West Berlin is still under joint Allied occupation, the Western powers maintain, since Berlin remains a single, undivided city in its last commonly agreed legal status.

East Germany claims (East) Berlin as its own capital, however, and only a few residues of four-power occupation remain, such as periodic patrols of East Berlin by uniformed soldiers from the three Western powers.

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