Germany Becoming One Again
WEST BERLIN (AP) _ The Western Allies lowered their flags today and ceded their occupation powers to German authorities in a final formality before East and West Germany unite at midnight.
″Today is a great day in the history of Berlin,″ West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper said as he acknowledged the handover of powers from American, British and French generals.
″It is a day of thanks to our Allied friends and partners in Berlin, in Bonn and in Washington, London and Paris. We thank you for standing on our side dependably and true all these years.″
Buglers from the three Allied armies played as their national flags were lowered in front of the Allied Kommandatura, a dark, red-brick building where the top allied generals and diplomats had just held the 618th and final meeting since the end of World War II.
″At midnight tonight the task of the commandants will be done,″ the Allied generals wrote Mayor Momper.
″We three commandants will shortly leave Berlin and we shall carry with us a feeling of satisfaction that our collective efforts have been successful. The Berlin which we leave will be whole and free.″
The generals later went to West Berlin City Hall to deliver the letter to the mayor.
In other developments today:
-Arsonists carried out overnight attacks against two of Berlin’s largest department stores, causing extensive damage. The attacks apparently were carried out by radicals opposed to unification. No one was injured, but police were bracing for more violence.
-Nationwide, Germans prepared for the party of the century to ring in unification at midnight.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl will lead the revelers, who are expected to party into the early morning hours in Berlin and throughout Germany. The Berlin festivities have been threatened by violence from leftist and rightist radicals.
At this morning’s ceremony, the outgoing U.S. commandant, Maj. Gen. Raymond E. Haddock, said: ″The determination of France, Great Britain and the United States of America to guarantee and protect freedom and democracy in this city has been crowned with success.″
His counterparts - Maj. Gen. Robert J.S. Corbett of Britain and Maj. Gen. Francois Cann of France - also congratulated their fellow allies and Berliners for their determination to keep West Berlin as a democratic island amid the Soviet-held East Germany for more than four decades.
The Soviets, as one of the victorious powers in the war, were equal members of the Berlin Kommandatura until 1948 when the Cold War started and turned Berlin into a flash point of a deeply divided Europe.
One flagpole outside the Kommandatura building remains vacant for a Soviet flag. Inside, the photographs of the current outgoing Allied commandants share a wall with a photo of the last Soviet general of 1948.
People in a crowd of about 100 watched the flags being lowered and said they were sad to see the Allies leave.
″Our three friends are going, not four,″ said Juergen Mirschenz, 56. ″When the Russians went away long ago, that was good, the Western Allies were our good friends. Without them perhaps we would not have our freedom.″
The three Western allies will keep troops in Berlin, however, until the Soviets finish withdrawing their forces from East Germany over the next four years.
Unification will bring many changes. Scores of foreign diplomats will lose their host country and a new united Germany of almost 78 million people will arise at midnight to start celebrating and to match its strengths with its many problems.
Kohl told a convention of his Christian Democratic Union in Hamburg that Germany faces three immense tasks: the reconstruction of formerly Communist East Germany, the completion of European integration and the taking on of a greater international role.
″We still have a difficult way ahead of us. And for the huge tasks which lie before us, we will have to make sacrifices,″ he declared.
″Everyone must know that there is no withdrawing into a comfortable niche of world politics.″
The convention confirmed the merger of the Christian Democratic parties of the old East and West Germanys and set the 60-year-old Kohl at the helm of the conservative party for the elections expected in December that will determine the political course for Germany.
Unification seemed impossible only a year ago, and the Berlin Wall appeared to be a permanent fixture. Then East German demonstrators, emboldened by the belief they would not be put down by force, began calling for unification with the West.
In a dizzying rush of events, the Berlin Wall was opened in November and the hard-line Communist government of Erich Honecker fell. Free elections were held in East Germany in the spring and voters sent the Communists packing.
The new East German government, propelled by economic collapse, agreed to join West Germany, and the Soviet Union accepted NATO membership for the united Germany.