White-gloved Russian troops marched down an east Berlin boulevard past 30,000 Germans on Saturday in their last parade before departing this city their fathers liberated from the Nazis.
"Live well Germany, homeland here we come," sang the 1,500 soldiers of the elite 6th Motorized Defense Brigade, based in Karlshorst.Some 40 armored vehicles took part in the parade, and flowers protruded from the barrels of anti-aircraft guns. The Russians had wanted to include T-72 tanks but were not allowed to because their tread would have chewed up the street.
The Americans, French and British held a joint farewell parade in the center of Berlin on June 18, but Germany turned down Russia's request to participate.
The last Russian soldier is due to withdraw from this formerly divided city and the rest of eastern Germany at the end of August, when Russian President Boris Yeltsin comes to Berlin for a wreath-laying ceremony with Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
The former Western allies must leave Berlin as well under terms of the 1990 unification agreement. But they are keeping forces in western Germany.
The 1990 agreement also obliges the Germans to care for and protect the memorials to the several hundred thousand Russians killed in World War II on German soil. Soviet graves are periodically vandalized by rightist extremists.
Gen. Matvei Burlakov, commander of Russian forces in eastern Germany, told the crowd that the Russian army never carried its hate for Hitler's fascism over to the German people.
But contact was always minimal between east Germans and Russians during the 45 years of Soviet occupation.
Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen thanked the Russians for liberating Berlin from the Nazis in 1945. He didn't mention that they stayed on for 45 years to enforce Kremlin control over East Germany.
"We are friends and will remain friends," said Diepgen, who called the Russian soldiers "ambassadors of peace and freedom."
More than 540,000 Soviet soldiers and civilians were at 128 bases in East Germany before its collapse and all but several thousand have left, along with 2.6 million tons of military materiel.
Thousands of Russian officers have no homes waiting for them back in Russia and will have to move in with relatives or live in crowded barracks until new housing - much of it paid for by Germany - is finished.