Soviet soldiers on Friday began hauling away what used to be West Berlin's Cold War food reserves for shipment to the Soviet Union.
In all, the German government is sending the Soviets 250,000 tons of food and other supplies by rail, sea and air to help ward off shortages this winter.Organizers are seeking private donations from ordinary Germans to back the relief efforts. Some Germans have even taken to the streets with tin cans, seeking contributions for the Soviets from passers-by in Potsdam.
A telethon on Germany's ZDF television has helped raise $21 million to date, while companies are rushing to take part in the relief program.
Some of the biggest contributions will come from the Berlin reserves, which were stockpiled with the aim of feeding West Berliners for several months in case of another blockade like that off 1948-49, when the Soviets tried to choke off the city.
The stockpiles of food and other supplies are being given to the Soviets free of charge.
Andreas Schuldenzucker of the government press office said Friday that the Berlin food reserves alone total 214,500 tons. All of it is being sent to the Soviet Union, she said.
Shaking off freezing temperatures, Soviet soldiers and German workers began loading 100 tons of powdered milk onto Red Army trucks before sunrise Friday.
The trucks bore the familiar red star and the initials "CA," the Russian alphabet abbreviation for Soviet Army.
Clearly emblazoned on the sacks of powdered milk were the words "Made in the Federal Republic of Germany."
Escorted by German police and army personnel, the first convoy of 16 trucks then drove to a Soviet military airfield about 20 miles south of Berlin.
There, the cargo was loaded onto planes for the flight to the Soviet Union. Kremlin officials have said they badly need the powdered milk.
Bush urged to help Soviets
Six senior House Democrats urged President Bush Friday to provide emergency food, medical and technical help to the Soviet Union to help in its current crisis.
"The United States has a profound duty as the leading democracy . . . of the world to demonstrate its commitment to the reform of the Soviet Union and to the eventual democratic prosperity of the peoples of the Soviet Union," the group wrote in a letter to Bush.
The Bush administration has said that it does not believe the Soviet Union faces famine, and that the Soviet economy will muddle through the winter.
"We would remind you that the United States remains the richest agricultural producer in the world," said the letter to Bush, signed by Majority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and these committee and subcommittee chairmen: Leon Panetta of California, Budget; Kika de la Garza of Texas, Agriculture; Tony Hall of Ohio, Hunger; Lee Hamilton of Indiana, Joint Economic; and Dan Glickman of Kansas, the grains subcommittee of Agriculture.