Monday, July 28, 2008

barack and berlin

Last Thursday, July 24th, Barak Obama came to town!

Senator Obama made his tour through Europe last week and made a significant stop in Berlin Thursday. I'm sure everyone has heard all about the visit and the speech he made in front of the Siegessäule. I really wish I had made the trip to Berlin to attend his speech (I did look into to a train ticket, buy they were pretty pricey that week) because I believe it was really a significant moment for the German-American relationship, and a significant moment for Obama, especially if he is elected President.

For decades, Germany has had a very good relationship with the United States. Ever since the end of World War II, the US has had a special place in the heart of Germans. Part of the reason for that is the famous Luftbrücke (Air Bridge) over Berlin. When Russia cut off East Berlin with West Berlin in 1948, known as the Berlin Blockade, the United States flew over the Russian occupied part of the city dropping supplies. Germans who were young at the time especially remember the kindness of the Americans to include candy and chocolate for the children in their supply drops.

The American Presidents who have visited Germany are always the most popular with the Germans. I think sometimes that Germans regard John F. Kennedy as one of their own presidents! In 1963 JFK made a significant speech in front of the Schöneberg town hall in West Berlin where he famously said, "Ich bin ein Berliner." I actually once live in an apartment for a few months just a couple of blocks away from the Schöneberg town hall and the square in front of the building, where there is a daily market, is now called John-F.-Kennedy-platz. And in 1987, Ronald Reagan made his famous speech in front of the Berlin Wall at Brandenburg Gate declaring: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Even Bill Clinton and the first President Bush made visits to Germany early in their Presidences which thrilled the Germans.

That relationship, unfortunately, has been significantly damaged with the current President Bush. Disagreements over the Iraq War, comments from Secretary of Defense Donlad H. Rumsfeld that Europe was "irrelevant," and the simple fact that Bush waited far too long to pay a visit to the country (not until 2005), all but ruined the traditionally friendly relationship between the countries. I can tell you from my own experiences that very often Germans that I meet here will eventually ask me the question "So what you do think of President Bush?" sizing me up as an American by my attitude toward our President and his policies.

But it seems that Barack Obama's visit last week is already doing a lot to help mend our relationship in the common German's mind. For the most part, the Germans were thrilled to welcome him to Berlin. His visit and his speech have already done a lot, I think, to lay a new, more positive foundation in the future German-American relationship.

And I know that there is a lot of criticism over Obama's European tour and his Berlin speech, and I don't pretend to think that this visit will create a canidate with sudden foreign experience nor a worthy JFK-pretender, but, no matter whom I intend to vote for this November, as an American ex-pat in Germany, I'm so glad someone in the States is considering this tense relationship between my two homes.

Missed the speech? Read a full transcript here. And all the photos came from here.


GrayEyedScorpio said...

Thanks for a refreshing perspective. Not enough Americans consider the important view from outside our boundaries.
Living as an ex-pat must offer a new set of eyes.

kim* said...

ha ha ha look at everyone with their if there arent enough photos floating around in cyber space.

Zachary said...

I actually met one of the pilots who helped fly in supplies to Germany. In fact...I met THE Candy Bomber. Amazing story...thanks for posting this!

Rachel said...

I lived just a few blocks from the Shoeneberg Rathaus! There is a Croatian restaurant across the street called Kennedy Grill! : )

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