Berlin Reactions to Obama’s Pending Visit

Some EuroSavant entries virtually write themselves. What’s the hottest thing going on now on the American scene – or, put another way, where can you find all of America’s top TV anchor-persons?

Super Star!

Super Star!

Traveling with Obama, of course! And while the itinerary to the first part of his overseas trip – to the Middle East and South Asia – is somewhat unclear, deliberately for security reasons, we can be more sure about where he is going to be in Europe during the second half, and when. Everyone knows already that the high point – the only public address he is scheduled to give – will occur in Berlin next Thursday evening, 24 July. There’s already been somewhat of a controversy over where he is to be allowed to give that speech. That has now been resolved, but let’s take a look at what further details are available from local Berlin sources.

The German press is of course all over this event, but the best place to go is Der Tagesspiegel, which is the German capital’s leading quality general-interest newspaper. The paper set the mood for Obama’s visit with an apt analogy in the article it published (without by-line) on Saturday: European [Football] Championship Mood for Obama’s Speech. (It also provides with the article a neat Photoshopped picture envisioning what Barack Obama orating in the shadow of the Siegessäule, or “Victory Column,” will really look like.) Local readers can identify with that, since the European Football Championships, in which the German national team finished as runner-up to Spain, happened only last month. And indeed, just like happened then, a huge throng of people is expected and there will be giant video screens so everyone can see the “action,” together with the usual food- and drink-vendors. What has already been billed as Obama’s “significant speech” about US-German relations will take place on the east side of the Siegessäule – the better for cameras to be able to pick up the background image of the Brandenburg Gate in that direction, located only 2.5 km away down the broad Avenue of the 17th of June – and will take place in the open air. (Another case here of good planning, or perhaps luck: the Northern European weather has been atrocious over the past week and weekend, but forecasts assure us that proper hot and sunny summer weather should arrive in about two days’ time.) Unlike for the the European Championships, though, security measures will be somewhat tight: no bags allowed, and no banners. Then again, just like for the football event, no tickets will be required either – it’s come one, come all!

Give Us All the Details!

Further reporting comes in an accompanying Tagesspiegel article by Jörn Hasselmann, Rita Nikolow, and Christian van Lessen: Obama Plans a Walk through the City. How many people do city officials expect to be there for the speech? Could be up to a million, says city councilor Ephraim Gothe. About that “walk”: that is scheduled to happen after Obama first meets at noon next Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by a separate meeting with her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier at 2:00 PM. (The Steinmeier meeting has to happen that way: the current German government is in fact a “grand coalition,” so that Merkel is head of one of the two largest parties (the CDU) while Steinmeier is head of the other (the SPD).) Maybe Obama’s meeting with Steinmeier won’t last that long, since he’ll be eager to go out and see a bit of the city. But what will he see? That has not been determined yet (at least publicly), but naturally the place or places need to have some sort of significance, preferably in an American context. So it could be Checkpoint Charlie, the site of the crossing-point through the Wall that was in the American sector; and/or it could be Tempelhof Airport, scheduled to close down next October because Berlin residents recently voted in a referendum not to pay for it anymore (it is too small an airport and too surrounded by city buildings), but at the same time the main (if not only) airport involved in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. And/or there is speculation that he might want to visit the special memorial to Berlin Wall victims at the Bernauer Strasse in the middle of the city, not very far in fact from where he then is to give his speech a few hours later, at 7:00 PM. (Public admitted to the grounds starting at 4:00 PM.) Afterwards, the Democratic candidate will presumably retire to his hotel to recover from a very busy day – and that will be the Hotel Continental on the Budapester Strasse, a five-star installation situated right at the southern edge of the big Tiergarten park, inside of which Obama is to give his speech. It’s only a kilometer away, down a wide park-lined avenue! If Obama turns out to make like Jimmy Carter at his 1977 inaugeration and eschew his motorcade in favor of walking back to his hotel amid the admiring throngs, then just remember – you heard it here first!

[Update: It turns out that Obama actually stayed at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski while in Berlin – truly the most prestigious address, situated as it is right by the Brandenburg Gate (and the new US Embassy). It’s a bit further away from where he spoke in the Grosser Stern, but he still could have walked back to his hotel along a broad avenue (the Street of 17 June) with park on either side, along with mobs of spectators – but, of course, he didn’t.]

Anticipation . . .

Finally, today’s Tagesspiegel continues its coverage with an article by Christian van Lessen entitled There’s No Holding It Back Any More. In that reporter’s eyes, it almost looks as if Obama intended to surprise everyone and fly into Berlin to give his speech today: the barriers are already up and the police are already massively patrolling the area in the Tiergarten around the Grosser Stern (“big star”) plaza where the Siegessäule is located. The tower-monument itself, however, is not yet closed, and in fact is doing great business, reports the lady manning (no pun intended) the cash register at the entrance. The stylish Café Victoria, along the side of the Grosser Stern, is also still open for business – what will be its fate on Thursday? No one knows yet. But one thing is for sure: Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit will definitely get his own face-time with the candidate, most likely by accompanying him on his “private walk” to whichever Berlin landmark he ultimately chooses to visit during that late-afternoon time-slot on Thursday. After all, Wowereit was ready from the beginning to give Obama anything he wanted for a speaking platform, including the Brandenburg Gate – it turned out not to be the latter mainly because of reservations coming from Angela Merkel over whether that really would be appropriate. Obama’s staff accommodated those in the end, even though ultimately it was Wowereit’s authority to decide where Obama could speak and not that of the Bundeskanzlerin. More to the point: it’s the Berlin city government which will pay the bills for all the stepped-up security and special infrastructure that will have go be laid on for the visit.

(A somewhat misguided article by Heidi Plougsgaard in the Danish newspaper JyllandspostenIs Obama Europe’s Poodle? – speculated that Obama’s campaign had actually chosen the Brandenburg Gate deliberately because they knew that it was an ultra-sensitive location for a speech and so was likely to draw objections from the German authorities. That way, there could be a whiff of confrontation and negotiation, and Obama could show the American electorate right off the bat that he has his own disagreements with the Europeans – i.e that he is not “in their pocket” or “their poodle,” something that supposedly was a mistake that John Kerry committed four years ago. I don’t really think so. If he actually were looking for a good old-fashioned dust-up with a European leader, he probably would not choose Angela Merkel, whose (very successful) negotiating approach within the EU and vis-à-foreign leaders generally is more like that of a kindly aunt than anything else. You would think that Nicolas Sarkozy would be a better candidate as someone to pick an argument with, so we’ll see, since Obama visits Paris right after Berlin – except that these two met each other (in the US, when Sarkozy was still France’s Interior Minister) two years ago and supposedly became best buddies.)

By the way, you might have seen the piece by Der Tagesspiegel’s Washington bureau chief, Christoph von Marschall, in yesterday’s Washington Post entitled “Snubbed by Obama,” complaining about the limited access the Obama campaign is granting to foreign-based journalists these days. As you would expect, the German newspaper posted the very same article on-line, on Saturday even – the German version, of course. But the piece’s title is half English: “Yes, he could – but he don’t [sic]: Obamas Umgang mit ausländischen Medien.” Isn’t that a scream? (The second half of the title means “Obama’s Relations with Foreign Media.”)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.