9:00 PM, BERLIN, 24 July 2008
Back at the Adlon and pondering the speech. Live blogging, you only capture a moment. I'll be thinking about Obama's introduction of himself to the Old World for a long time. Basically, he gave the speech that many of us Americans knew he would give, but that Europeans, for all their interest in U.S. Politics, were not ready to hear.
It's not going to be easy for a President Obama, should he win in November, to shape European mindsets. Likely it's a good thing that he found that out early -- today. After the speech, a Brit reporter and I listened and took notes as Director Smith of the American Academy in Berlin held forth. "The audience expected a rock concert," he said. "Instead they got a serious, nuanced speech on foreign policy." This was Smith implicitly addressing the fact that the bar had been set so high for Obama in Berlin that perhaps it was not surprising that, on first consideration, he failed to rise to it. But Smith found the speech thoughtful and beautiful, as well as surprising. "It was aimed at Europeans, not at Americans. That's not what we expected. We thought it would be a campaign speech directed at the American audience back home."
Trust Barack Obama for boldness.
At the beginning of his remarks, Smith said, "I wanted to see if he is real, if there is anything beyond the mythology." Smith got his answer -- he couldn"t praise "the subtlety and humility" of Obama's speech enough. Other Brits heard a different Obama. "It was a speech to Americans on foreign soil," one young man said. "To sharpen Americans' diplomatic skills."
The final crowd tally for Berlin is not in. Richard Wolffe says the crowd stretched to the Brandenburg Gate. Will check the many German newspapers tomorrow.
7:20 PM, BERLIN, 24 July 2008
Senator Obama takes the podium and at first many in the crowd don't recognize him, for one of the Secret Service checking the podium shortly before is African-American. Obama calls himself not a candidate but a citizen, a citizen of the world. Speaking in English, with no German phrases, he begins quietly, to subdued applause.
Immediately, he invokes freedom, complimenting Berlin, "this city of all cities knows the dream of freedom."
Now is the time to build more bridges across the world." Interestingly, Obama is echoing much of Bill Clinton's speech at the Brandenburg Gate on July 12, 1994. "Building bridges, not walls," Clinton had said.
Despite the distracting echo from the video screens down the Strasse, the crowd is slowly warming to Obama.
They aren't so enthused about "a new dawn in the Middle East," but they applaud on Darfur, nuclear weaponry and "saving the planet"--the latter most of all. Berliners take in politely Obama's call for more action in Afghanistan.
"People of Berlin, this is our moment, this is our time.". Now towards the end of his speech, the Senator weaves in common phrases from his campaign. "The road ahead will be long."
The crowd has liked some of what they heard, but clearly they are just getting to know Barack Obama. To what extent he has met their expectations remains to be seen. Obama himself seems tired. At one point, he even stumbled in his phrasing--a rarity for him. Persuading Europeans to his view of joint engagement in the world is going to be a long process. Tonight has been a wobbly first step (great expectations contributing to a sense of an underwhelming performance), but as Obama himself has just said, the road will be long.
Later I'll tally the parallels with Clinton's speech. Bill has yet another reason to be pleased.
7:00 PM, BERLIN, 24 July 2008
Gypsy music now -- must be in Europe -- not to mention the fact that I haven't heard anything but German for three hours. The German press are taking photos of one another.
Traveling press (American) has arrived. As well as the mosquitoes.
Police estimate the crowd at 3,000 around Lady Victory and another 30,000 in the Strasse outside the security perimeter. Giant TV screens are out there for the late arrivals. Likely more people are strolling and cycling forward. Berliners have taken a casual attitude about the timing of this event. It is a beauteous evening, calm and free.
Have been re-reading Kennedy's and Clinton's Berlin speeches. How often will Obama invoke freedom?
4:15 PM, BERLIN, 24 July 2008:
How can there be so many German reporters? And not most of them TV? This is a nation devoted to reading.
Crowd in front of the monument has reached parity with press. They appear to be Europeans, mostly. How to tell -- other than the cigarette smoke blowing towards the podium set in front of Victory? Shoes. Energy level. Obama crowds stateside are never docile.
Of the few people I've questioned in the Tiergarten, everyone says they like Obama because they believe he will take the lead on climate change. "He is very close to Gore," a young Fraulein confides while her toddler stands quietly at her side.
Now here's an irony: Germans themselves have already set an example. No frigid air conditioning here -- not even at the Adlon. Despite wurst and beer, moreover, Germans are fit. Take the commuter train out to Potsdam, and you'll notice the absence of parking lots at the stations for the towns along the way. People walk to and from, even in winter.
Thank God some live reggae. It's kinda tentative though.
4:00 PM, BERLIN, 24 July 2008:
More press than people at Siegessaule, which needs one of those good European monument cleanings, by the way. Once again I've talked my way into the press compound. Although I've been credentialed for this event, my name is not on the list. Furthermore, the German Obama volunteers are a seriously bossy group of women. "Nein! You have left the working space" -- frowns accompanied by tapping of a watch face -- "it is four o'clock. No return." Three wardens confirm this decree among one another in rapid German. Too ridiculous. There's a press path to our own special porta-potties and snack bar (not as yummy as the ones along the Strasse.) I push past them.
Derivative Euro techno-music is playing. Just last week I'd said out loud, to no one in particular at a McCain meet in Albuquerque, that if I heard canned Bruce Springsteen one more time at a campaign event I'd spit. Be careful what you wish for.
3:00 PM, BERLIN, 24 July 2008:
No million for Obama in Berlin. Bill Clinton, who used to brag about the size of his crowds (a mil in Africa once), will be pleased. When I broach this possibility with Dirk Minow, he spews a torrent of laughter-punctuated German consonants -- something about a synapse-crazed German newspaper editor fostering the possibility. "Everybody will stay home and watch on TV," Dirk says. The man from Kiel should know. He's been assiduously following Obama on TV and YouTube.
With a sunflower in his straw hat, Dirk is standing at the corner of 17 Juni and Y. Rabin Strasse. He has the "welcome standard" he made at 2 AM as the gathering point for Americans Abroad. He's holding a sign urging Obama to run for Chancellor. Despite the sign, the standard and the sunflower, enthusiasts have yet to appear. A Japanese TV reporter is not detered and repeatedly thrusts his microphone at Dirk. More laughter. Clutches of Americans are racing by us on bicycles.
The action -- really the lack of it -- is back up the road at the Adlon. Stepping out the front entrance, I was taken aback to see, behind barricades, several hundred people standing as still and quiet as small animals caught in headlights on a country road. "They're waiting to see Obama arrive," the doorman tells me, before adding with hauteur, "but of course he's already inside."
Dirk and a new pal Heiner are disappointed that I "haven't met Obama in a small group." They are counting on him to bring major change to German-American relations. When I say that could mean more German troops in Afghanistan (and not just in the relatively peaceful districts), they don't seem to hear me. In fact, both men can not quite get beyond the fact that I come from the land of Bush. Guilt by association is seductive, I suppose.
Continuing through the Tiergarten, I find that the Obama food at this event is going to be the best ever: Pilsner, wursts and grilled summer mushrooms. Berliners are doing a brisk business.
5:00 AM, BERLIN, 24 July 2008:
"Be Obama, be change, be Berlin," the Berliner Zeitung babbles on the morning of the American Senator's visit to this city. The newspaper goes on to extol "the openness of the city," and how Obama will be showcasing Berlin to the world. Gary Smith, the director of the American Academy in Berlin, tells Zeitung, "For America, Berlin is the most interesting city..." Not sure that the folks back in the States would agree. But we all can see that Berlin, and Europeans farther afield than the River Spree, are caught in the grip of Obamamania. "Hurra! Barack Obama ist da!" Or, as the editorial page of Zeitung puts it, "Yes, he comes."
Every German newspaper today has devoted several pages to the Obama visit. "Obama, Obama, Obama -- kaum ein Blatt in Huseyin Dimirs Kreuzberger Zeitungsladen," says the Berliner Morgenpost, reporting that there are no papers left in the shops in Kreuzberger, the Turkish quarter of the city, an unwitting reference to the strained relationship between Germany and its Turkish immigrants. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung analyzes the pictorial differences between (the now discarded) Das Obama-Siegel and the U.S. Presidential Seal. (After all, this is the culture that introduced the discipline of art history.)
At 5 AM, this far north the sun has been up for a while, and I'm standing at my bedroom window on the top floor of the Hotel Adlon and looking out at a completely empty city. At home, early commuters would already be to-ing and fro-ing on the streets and sidewalks. This is but one example of how Berlin and Amerika don't really have all that much in common. Yet we share some history. This bond, as well as other histories, will be the prism through which everyone views Senator Obama's remarks this evening. By now, likely everyone knows he is speaking at the most unlikely of venues, the Siegessaule, a monument to German victory in the Franco-Prussian War and more generally to Prussian militarism itself. The statue has given its name to the best-known gay newspaper in Berlin. It is the destination of the annual Love Parade. In a strange way, therefore, the Siegessaule is right for Obama, in peace and in war, for it seems likely that if he is our next President, he will be known both for "love," in the adoration of supporters, and for "war," since he is determined to re-direct the war on terror to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This early I'm thinking not so much of Barack Obama as Dirk Mirow, the self-described German Obamaniac "from Kiel at the Baltic Sea" who is organizing the Americans Abroad for Obama gathering at the Siegessaule. Kiel reminds me of German submariners. And it always seems strange, as a baby-boomer, to be standing on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate. Growing up during the Cold War, I had "night thoughts" about the evil designs of Russians and East Germans, whom I perceived completely through the lens of American propaganda. The eastern part of Berlin, for example, is nothing like the grim picture the Stalinist apartment blocks near the Wall presented to the world. With its lovely parks, old churches and Art Nouveau apartment blocks, the former East Berlin, and not the tired 60's architecture in much of the western part of the city, is the favored haunt. An historical irony -- the German papers today are making much of irony -- it will be interesting to hear if Senator Obama invokes it.
Obama's presence here is campaigning -- of course. I'm guessing that many Americans will take a dim view of his traipsing about Europe. So exactly what he is campaigning for is unclear. Leader of the world? Curiously, the Obama postcards that volunteers have been handing out in Berlin are completely in German. Certainly, many young Europeans embrace him as . . . some kind of leader. "It [Obama's visit to Berlin] symbolized [sic] the good relationship, which Obama will have with all Europeans and citizen [sic] of the world," writes one European fan on the Obama website. Later today I'm talking with some of these European Obamaniacs, for I'll be live blogging from Strasse des 17 Juni, the part of Unter den Linden renamed after a 1956 East German uprising in which hundreds of people were killed. The boulevard leads from the Brandenburg Gate westward to the Tiergarten, where Obama has that rendezvous with German history.
The Senator will get his Tor experience, after all -- and not just because spectators will go through security at the Brandenburg Gate and then walk the blocks west along Strasse des 17 Juni to the Tiergarten. (The closing of the ancillary streets will be a massive undertaking. No wonder Obama is costing the city of Berlin so many euros.) Obama meets Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit this afternoon here at the Adlon, in an upstairs room overlooking the Gate. By 6 AM, security is putting up the first of the barricades outside the hotel. By 8 AM, the concierge staff has beautifully arranged an arrivals table for the traveling press, and the requisite German Shepherd is heading upstairs to secure the floor. The lobby, full of other reporters, could be a harbinger of just how big the afternoon's stroll along the Strasse will be. I can't wait to find out. Stay tuned.