German museum holds show on departing Soviet troops

Thu Sep 4, 2014 9:57am EDT
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By Alexandra Hudson

BERLIN (Reuters) - Museums usually show visitors a past securely consigned to history. The German-Russian Museum in Berlin is marking a harmonious event not long ago that hardly seems real when set against the tensions between the two countries today.

Twenty years ago this week, the last Soviet soldier left Germany after one of the biggest peacetime military maneuvers in history, a triumph of organization that ended the Soviet Union's almost 50-year Cold War presence in old East Germany.

The pullout, made necessary when Moscow's eastern communist ally merged with West Germany at reunification in 1990, smoothly repatriated 340,000 troops, 210,000 family members and 4,000 tanks by the pre-arranged 1994 deadline.

The museum, housed in the building where Germany signed the unconditional surrender that ended World War Two in Europe, has collected the bits and pieces the departing Soviet forces left behind, using these to evoke their way of life.

The last Soviet commander, General Anton Terentyev, got a warm reception last week at the opening of an exhibition on the pullout at the museum in Karlshorst, an east Berlin suburb once dubbed Karlowa for its strong Soviet presence.

The friendly banter there seemed far removed from recent German calls for sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis and regret for an era of cooperation now fading fast.

Retired Colonel Otto Freiherr Grote, head of a German liaison unit with Soviet forces, said the Western-Russian confrontation over Moscow's intervention in Ukraine showed the "prejudices of old enemies" had still not been overcome.

Joachim Gauck, a former East German dissident, cast off the diplomacy that normally goes with his role as Germany's president to castigate Moscow for closing off the cooperative period that the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in.   Continued...

Visitors stand in front of a bunker built for the German Wehrmacht and used after 1945  till 1994  by the Soviet army as the so-called "RANET" communications room in Wuensdorf, south of Berlin August 30, 2014. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch