The students attend Lucius D. Clay High School, or Clay-Oberschule, which is named after Gen. Lucius Clay, who commanded the successful Berlin Airlift in 1948 against the Soviet blockade.
Gen. Lucius Clay is the grandfather of Chuck Clay.
The group gathered at Chuck Clay’s law firm in Marietta on Friday afternoon in a room where three Time magazine covers with Clay’s grandfather’s image are framed, as well as a display of 20 medals he was awarded.
The students brought another piece to add to the collection, a picture of them holding a portrait of their school’s patron that hangs in the building in the town of Rudow, just outside of Berlin.
Olivia Kuhne, 15, Ozge Kayalar and Dominik Zeitz, both 16, received scholarships from the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, which was established by the Berlin legislature and funded by an endowment to support continued goodwill between America and Germany.
Chuck Clay said that with one look, Gen. Clay could strike fear in a person without a word. But, like most grandfathers, he told stories, except these stories were eyewitness accounts of some of the most important moments in history.
From 1945 to 1949, Gen. Clay was the military governor of Berlin, which means he played a lead role in rebuilding the city.
In 1948, the Soviets blockaded the western side of the city, cutting off food and electricity supplies for almost a year.
During that time, the United States and Great Britain flew more than 2,000 missions to drop supplies into the area.
Chuck Clay said this effort pulled Germans and Americans together after years of strain from World War II, and “fed two million people by air drops during all types of weather conditions.”
Chuck Clay said Berlin has embraced his grandfather by naming streets and schools after him.
After Gen. Clay’s death in 1978, he was buried at West Point. On his gravesite, in German, are the words, “We the people of Berlin thank the defender of our freedom,” according to Chuck Clay.
The students arrived in the United States on July 1 and spent Independence Day in Washington, D.C. before traveling to Atlanta.
The three winners were selected from nine applicants who completed essays and gave presentations that tested their English speaking skills.
Kayalar speaks German, French, English and Turkish, which is in part due to her father being born in Istanbul.
In an effort to further enrich their English, the foundation planned a date at The Goethe-Zentrum (German Cultural Center) in Midtown Atlanta, where the students gave presentations on German traditions, family life and the area where they live.
“I am proud to live in Berlin because it is one of the most cultural and modern cities I have ever seen,” Kuhne stated in his scholarship essay.
Chuck Clay showed the students some artifacts handed down from his grandfather, including a wine bottle holder from Hitler’s dining room and a silver box with carvings gifted by the Central Committee of Liberated Jews.
None of the students have ever been to America before, but that didn’t stop Kuhne from writing in her essay that he has a “passion for life in the USA.”
The visit started with one week in Washington, D.C., followed by one week in Atlanta staying at the home of Roger and Tine Verneir.
Although none of the students had heard of Atlanta before, Zeitz could end up back in the metro area since he wants to be a computer game designer.
Roger Verneir was stationed, with his wife, in Berlin from 1967 to 1969. They became involved with the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation while on a recent vacation to Germany.
On Thursday, the couple took the group to an Atlanta Braves game, and the students said they were thrilled with the energy of the crowd.
They also went to The Varsity, a landmark burger joint off Interstate 85 in Atlanta.
Kayalar said, with a giant grin, it was “delicious.”