12/13/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Born In The U.S.A. - Expats Look Back


An excited, anxious mix of Americans and Germans crowded into the Babylon Theatre in Berlin last Tuesday to watch the election results roll in live on the big screen.

It was an eight-hour nocturnal marathon, with people switching between beer and coffee to calm their nerves and stay awake, respectively. As soon as the contest was called there was a storm of cheering, crying and dancing. It was 6 AM German time when Obama gave his acceptance speech. A new day was literally dawning.

"I want to apologize for using the word 'damn' earlier", said the MC, a slim black man with a broad smile, "but damn am I excited. I feel like I'm on Fantasy Island right now."

Our group finally stumbled out of the theatre at 8 AM, bleary-eyed and cotton-headed, and straight into a bakery for some rolls and coffee.

"Obama won?" asked a Turkish-German kid, in what seemed like mild disbelief.

"Obama won" I informed the bemused morning commuters on the subway-ride home.

"In case you were wondering, Obama won" I told a stranger I passed on the street.

For days after the election, there were parties -- and at least one American-style barbecue -- across Berlin, gatherings of Americans and Germans alike, all still reeling in various states of euphoria and disbelief.

The expatriates I talked to were proud of what had happened. People leave a country for various reasons but cultural and political disillusionment rank highly among them. These -- mostly young -- Americans described a new sense of optimism and possibility. Perhaps most importantly, many told me that Obama's victory made them more eager and likely to return to the United States. One Californian expat decided that same day that he would change his ticket and head home.

If America is indeed on the path to being cool again we might see a wave of this sort of voluntary repatriation. An estimated 100,000 Americans live in Germany alone and many are members of what the New York Times has dubbed Generation O, who volunteered, donated and voted in heavy numbers and who feel - to a degree rightfully so - that Obama is their president.

If he wants to keep their loyalty the new president will have to show them that he cares about their concerns. Even as he weighs which issues to tackle first, he'll have to work swiftly to promote a healthy economy that creates jobs for young Americans and he'll need to take bold steps to deal with the rising college costs that currently compound the effects of a poor job market by shackling graduates with debt before they can earn their first paychecks.

As Obama himself has acknowledged, it won't be easy. The honeymoon will end and it remains to be seen what sort of president he will be and what impact he'll have.

Nevertheless, come what may, come what surely will, America has made a bold move.

And to quote the Election Night MC - "Damn am I excited".