Few visitors to the Intercity Hotel at Frankfurt Airport know the base once had a different sort of clientele. It was once part of Rhein-Main Air Base used by the U.S. Air Force. The base was established in 1945 and played a key role in numerous moments in history, most notably the Berlin Airlift of 1948 was launched from here.
That operation saw American and allied pilots resupply West Berlin with the food and other supplies necessary to maintain a semblance of daily life in response to a Soviet blockade. The daily tonnage that was being lifted from the base (largely by DC-3 transport planes) was not matched again at the airport until 2005 – ironically the year the base was closed.
Within walking distance of the hotel is the Berlin Airlift Memorial where a Douglas C-54 Skymaster and a Douglas C-47 Skytrain sit next to a prolonged arch and visitor information.
The hotel’s dining hall and its small rooms (flat screen tv’s aside) still betray their original military purpose. A visit to the dinner buffet found a neatly made out place setting for a Berlin Airlift commemoration event.
Outside in the parking lot a small snack shack with a sign that reads “Snack Point Charly” – a reference to the famed checkpoint between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
A small pub on the site is often lively and keeping with the aeronautical theme is named after an aircraft the iconic Ju-52. That German built plane entered production in 1931 and undertook a number of roles from military transportation to bomber. The plane was used to carry potentates (Both Adolf Hitler and Chinese leader Chaing Kai Shek), saw service with the French military during the French-Indochina War and flew in Swiss military service well into the 1980s.
A model of the plane hangs above the bar and it’s not hard to imagine Cold War pilots enjoying shots of Bourbon or tall glasses of locally produced Apfelwein cider here. For the non-drinkers the hamburgers are legitimately good.
During the day guests can peak out at cargo planes landing on the site. Though downtown Frankfurt is only a short drive away the bar is popular at night with everyone from airplane crew to members of a local motorcycle group stopping by. During an evening visit a bartender impressed a Korean businessman with his knowledge of a few Korean pleasantries that he had learned from Korean airlines stewardesses.
The bar also contains a wall of badges from various American units who passed through the Rhein-Main Airbase. There is no doubting the sites history. During the Cold War, American units in Germany were there largely in a defensive capacity. Much of NATO’s operational planning assumed a Soviet offensive through the so-called “Fulda Gap”, a strategically important area along the border between East and West Germany.
That war never came; but, the mission was not always a safe one. In 1985, a terrorist bombing killed two Americans and injured 23 people. The attack was perpetrated by two communist terrorist organizations the Red Army Faction (or Fraktion) and French Action Directe.
When American diplomacy succeeded in the Middle East and the Iran Hostages were brought home in 1981, they first arrived at Frankfurt airbase. When American diplomacy failed the site played a different role. The site supported U.S. military operations in in Iraq and Afghanistan this century before its closure in 2005.
With the end of the Cold War, many foresaw a need to reduce America’s military presence in Europe. The Frankfurt Am Main was one of the bases which was shuttered in redeployments which saw a 62% reduction in U.S. airmen in Europe.
Elsewhere in Europe the U.S. Air force is set to close a major airbase at Mildenhall in the United Kingdom in 2024.
That closure will mark the first major Air Force base elimination in Europe since the closure of the site at Frankfurt Am Main. However, ongoing tensions with Russia may further delay the scheduled closure.
“Yes, we used to have a lot of more Americans around, you could always tell who was an American because of their preference for really big cars and SUVs they drove,” says Mohammed Effat a political science student and taxi driver in Frankfurt.
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