December 10, 2017

1949. Berlin Prepares for Its First Christmas After the Blockade

Another Christmas in West Berlin
Construction begins for the upcoming Christmas market in the Berlin Lustgarten, November 10, 1949 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

December 24, 1949

I don't know whether or not it is possible to overdo Christmas, but the Americans in Germany today have reached a new high in something or other this holiday season.

The main achievement is the entertainment of some 200,000 German kids in our occupation zone. And particularly here in Berlin there have been so many parties sponsored by the GIs and civilians that one German said she felt her seven-year-old daughter had become a social butterfly.

I've been to a number of these parties—and the American soldier has lost none of his ability to charm any living thing under the age of twelve. They also do pretty well in the higher age groups, too. But to see a surly sergeant getting chocolate on his uniform, or a tough MP making faces at convulsed kids, or a clumsy-fingered officer trying to tie a doll's hair bow—well, it's something not included in the National Military Establishment's basic training manuals.

This is the fifth Christmas that Americans have spend in occupation in Germany, and it most certainly is the best. The emphasis this year has changed. In the past, Christmas brought what was called "chocolate casualties," kids who got sick because of the unused, too-rich food dished out at these parties.

In those days a package of cigarettes was a better present than the most ingenious toy in the country. The cigarettes could be traded for food. Clothing was at such a premium that soldiers were pirating their own GI blankets and slipping them to families to make coats and trousers for the kids.

And last year, of course, there was the airlift. Its Christmas contribution was Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen's "Operation Little Vittles," which dropped candy bars by handkerchief parachute on the children of Berlin. It also was a dangerous procedure.

But this year has been more of a Christmas for its own sake. Most of the 40,000 children in Berlin have been entertained by now. Tonight and tomorrow the community will sing its carols. There are special dinners at the masses, dances at the clubs, and a special stateside Christmas show will play here tomorrow night featuring Jeanette MacDonald, Gene Raymond, Maxie Rosenbloom, and others.

Although in divided Berlin it is hard to see such "peace on earth," there is plenty of "goodwill toward men." Perhaps the peace will follow.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.