Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Berlin Airlift
Mary Barcroft
American History, World History, US Foreign Policy and Wars of the 20th Century
Time Frame:
This activity should last two or three days, assuming the teacher has already prepared them with background information on conditions in Berlin and the airlift.
Berlin Airlift

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

This will be a cooperative learning assignment using technology and primary sources, it can also be considered cross-curricular with Health classes, as it will require students to do some research on minimum nutritional requirements for various age/gender groups.  Since students will also perform calculations on calorie content and measurements, this can also augment Math classes.


Students remember things so much better when they can perform hands on type activities.  By actually creating recipes and cooking them, students will be able to hold, in their hands, the meals that people in Berlin ate during the Airlift, compared with the food that actually fulfills minimum requirements.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • National Standards for US History:  Era 9, Standard 2, How the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics 
  •  National Standards for World History: Era 9 The 20th Century Since 1945:  Promises and Paradoxes 

                        Standard 1       How post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up.

                        Standard 2     The search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world


Missouri Standards: 

2. continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

4. economic concepts (including productivity and the market system) and principles (including the laws of supply and demand)

5. the major elements of geographical study and analysis (such as location, place, movement, regions) and their relationships to changes in society and environment

6. relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. the use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

Kansas Standards

Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

1. (K) explains why the United States emerged as a superpower as the result of World War II.

2.(A) analyzes the origins of the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the Soviet Bloc, Mao’s victory in China, Marshall Plan, Berlin Blockade, Iron Curtain).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • School provided health textbook
  • Caloric value chart
  • Cookbooks or recipes either online or books
  • Powerpoint for background information: Berlin Airlift

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Copy of Operation Vittles Cookbook located at http://www.berlinbrats.org/books.htm
  • Photographs from the Berlin Airlift, showing conditions of the city during the airlift
  • Gail Halverson Presentation available on Truman Library website.

Technology Required:

Computer Access; Access to cooking facilities 

Full description of activity or assignment.

As an introduction to the activity, the teacher will provide students with the background information on the Berlin Airlift and the conditions in Berlin.  Show the students the Gail Halverson presentation available on the Truman Library website, and pictures of the German people working to help bring in food from the airlift.  Talk about the amounts of food that were airlifted and the number of people requiring food and coal.  Remind the students that a majority of the people in Berlin were women and children (who require higher caloric intake, as well as particular vitamins and minerals to sustain growth.)   

Divide the students into small groups of four to six.  Half of the people in each group will be assigned Berlin, the other half will be assigned modern guidelines for nutrition. The Berlin group will research  to find out what kinds of food goods were delivered to Berlin, and how much was available per person.  Using this information, the Berlin group will create a menu for one day, using those foods and the calories available.  If possible, it is desirable that the students cook the meals as planned for tasting and visual display.

At the same time, the students in the other group will research the minimum daily requirements recommended by the federal government for men, women, and children.  They, too, will develop a menu for one day utilizing calories and food available, and then cook the meals for class. Note:  Here, it might be desirable to have them pick breakfast, lunch or dinner (making sure you have each meal covered) rather than cooking all three meals in each group.

As the students present their menus and food to their classmates, the disparity between diets should become painfully obvious.  The teacher will then lead a wrap up discussion with the students about the hardships and courage it took for the Berliners to hold out, and discuss why they were willing to do so.  This is also a good time to revisit Gail Halverson’s presentation and reiterate that the desire for freedom and the hope provided by the airlift were the main components that inspired and kept the Berliners going during the blockade.  As a final act, and part of the assessment, students should write a short essay summarizing their work and what they learned from the project.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

As with most projects, this will require a scoring rubric that gives the students specific goals to reach their grade, they will be evaluated on the quality and extent of information, how well they do in utilizing their calories and use of authentic foods in their project.  The exit essay will comprise a part of the rubric score.