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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Making history

The United States will make history next week when diplomats begin working in the new U.S. Embassy in Berlin on the same site as the American mission that was destroyed in World War II, the U.S. ambassador to Germany said yesterday.

"This is the closing of a long circle dating back to before 1940. This is not simply turning a key on a new facility. This is history in the making," Ambassador William R. Timken Jr. told reporters in the German capital.

Although diplomats will begin working in the new building next Tuesday, the formal opening of the embassy is scheduled on the Fourth of July, with a fireworks display over the nearby Brandenburg Gate, the only structure in Berlin's main square, the Pariser Platz, that survived the allied bombing in World War II. An 18th-century landmark originally built as a symbol of peace, the gate became part of the Berlin Wall in 1961, when the Soviets built the barrier between communist East Berlin and Western occupied West Berlin. The U.S. Embassy site was a vacant lot in no man's land on the Soviet side of the wall.

The ruins of the embassy were "demolished to make way for a wall that divided a city, a country and a continent," Mr. Timken said.

The ceremonial opening of the $130 million embassy on Independence Day will feature German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former President George H.W. Bush, who was president during the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990.

Several American pilots who flew food and supplies into West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and 1949 are also expected to attend the formal opening and mark the 60th anniversary of the relief effort that foiled Soviet attempts to starve West Berlin into submission.

The pilots will include Col. Gail Halvorsen, know as the original "candy bomber." Col. Halvorsen was the first American pilot to drop candy attached to little parachutes to Berlin children. He would also dip the wings of his C-47 cargo plane to "wave" at the children, who gave him the nickname, "Uncle Wiggly Wings." Other pilots adopted the practice and, by the end of the airlift, had dropped 23 tons of chocolate, chewing gum and other candy on West Berlin.

"Those pilots were most certainly all too familiar with the original embassy, as it stood in ruins beside the Brandenburg Gate," Mr. Timken told reporters.

"I can imagine how moving the grand opening of our new embassy on the same site will be for these pilots who will be returning. Their sacrifice has come full circle."

Diplomatic threat

Diplomatic tensions increased in Zimbabwe after the foreign minister accused U.S. Ambassador James D. McGee of interfering in the country's internal affairs by raising an alarm over political violence directed against opponents of authoritarian President Robert Mugabe.

Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi summoned Mr. McGee to his office Friday to protest the ambassador's investigation into the widespread beatings and torture of supporters of Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Mr. Tsvangirai defeated Mr. Mugabe in the first round of voting in the March 29 presidential election. But the margin was insufficient. A runoff is scheduled for June 27.

The foreign minister complained that Mr. McGee made an unauthorized visit to hospitals to interview victims of political attacks and that he made "politically charged and inflammatory remarks."

"The summoning to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs constitutes the first warning to the U.S. ambassador that any interference in Zimbabwe's internal affairs will not be tolerated," Mr. Mumbengegwi said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.