Tear down this Wall – and bring a piece to Brussels

And how does civil-protection helicopter Christoph 4 fit in? The fact that the Berlin Wall is now history is thanks in part to the Federal Republic of Germany’s consistently transatlantic approach to security policy.

It was therefore only logical that the Federal Chancellor should dedicate a donated memorial commemorating that connection in front of the new NATO headquarters on 25 May 2017: two pieces of the Berlin Wall.

The Wall used to be a symbol of division and oppression; now, these pieces of history-soaked debris stand for cohesion and liberty.

This change was very much in evidence on the journey from Berlin to Brussels. There was of course no border control. “Of course”? When the Federal Republic joined NATO in 1955, normality was entirely different.

Fear of renewed war in Europe led to the logic of deterrence. Since it became a NATO member, the Federal Republic has organised the protection of its people and its independence according to the principle of total defence.

This means dovetailing civil and military measures. Civil protection in Germany is a coordinated system with many players:

  • The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance performs federal tasks pertaining to civil protection and disaster relief, in accordance with the Civil Defence Act etc.
  • The Federation puts civil-protection helicopters at the disposal of the Länder to use for civil protection and disaster relief.
    The orange helicopters are deployed at 12 air-rescue stations around the country, e.g. delivering direct emergency medical assistance on the ground as well as transporting patients to nearby hospitals.
  • In a state of defence, the various units of the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) provide technical assistance and perform search and rescue operations.

All of them also bring their capabilities to bear in times of peace.

Image 1 Enlarge image Civil-protection helicopter Christoph 4 as seeh by the THW volunteers (© Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance) The THW’s search and rescue capabilities were also required in this recent deployment. SAR operations often involve clearing away debris. Part of the civil-protection helicopters’ remit is to observe and guide movements of people.

It is sometimes necessary to set particular routes to protect people from harm. For example, when personnel need to enter an area at the same time as the inhabitants are trying to leave, it makes sense to organise traffic in such a way that they do not come into conflict.

When the specialists of the THW were given the job of transporting these famous pieces of demolition waste from Berlin to Brussels, they found that their route would take them through the deployment zones of several civil-protection helicopters.

The convoy route and timetable had been made available, providing an opportunity to conduct a little exercise – assuming that the helicopters were not called out to deal with an emergency.

In the event, helicopter Christoph 4 did meet up with the THW convoy, with the two sides in direct radio contact.

Image 2 Enlarge image The THW convoy as seen from civil-protection helicopter Christoph 4 (© Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance) In a real incident, the helicopter team would scout out the situation in front of the moving convoy. If any particular section of the route was not passable, they could make recommendations for detours.

This deployment was all about practising communication, and the teamwork between the experienced civil-protection personnel on and above the motorway went just as smoothly as the instalment of the Wall segments in front of the new NATO HQ.

With their work setting up the pieces of Berlin Wall, Germany’s civil-protection personnel subtly demonstrated to the Allies that the Commitment to enhance resilience agreed by the heads of state and government at the 2016 NATO summit is already being implemented in Germany. 

Image 3 Enlarge image Professional volunteers: the THW at work in front of the new NATO headquarters (© Permanent Delegation to NATO/Braun) This is the translation of an article published on the website of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance

For more information:

Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance

Leaflet Helicopters Rescue from the Air (download)