Clearly illustrating that Barack Obama can work his magic on German crowds as easily as he can Stateside, the presumptive Democratic nominee brought downtown Berlin to a standstill as more than 200,000 people thronged the city’s main Strasse des 17. Juni thorough way and surrounded the city’s Victory Column monument to hear and see the man most people here hope will be the next president of the United States.
With live concerts by Afro-German reggae star Patrice and local rock band Reamonn to entertain the multitude, which included native Berliners, tourists, immigrants and a huge contingent of American expats, the event became a massive street party, a Strassenfest reminiscent of the Love Parade, the techno music festival that for years attracted hundreds of thousands of young Berliners to the same spot every summer.
“There is something special happening here,” Rea Garvey, Reamonn’s Irish frontman, told a sea of people. “We are honored to be part of this, to be here for a great man who is bringing hope to the entire world.”
Obama’s mere presence in the city seemed to electrify the throngs more than his concise 30-minute speech, in which he touched on a number of familiar themes that he has regularly addressed throughout the campaign.
Obama has dazzled the German media with his optimism and rhetorical skills, not to mention his youth, charm, exotic background and good looks.
“Germany Meets the Superstar” read the cover of this week’s Der Spiegel magazine, the headline stylized to look like the logo of RTL Television’s local “Idol” version, known here as “Deutschland sucht den Superstar” (Germany Searches for the Superstar).
“I come to you as a citizen of the United States, and as a citizen of the world,” Obama told the crowd in his opening remarks, eliciting whoops and applause in what was the senator’s first European stop on his current international trip.
Speaking of Berlin’s Cold War history, he said, “This city knows the dream of freedom. People of the world look at Berlin.”
Obama pointed to the city’s long division and the fall of the Berlin Wall, saying it was time to tear down the remaining walls that divide races, religions and countries, and he called for renewed cooperation and partnership between the U.S. and Europe, stressing that it was the only way to achieve goals such as piece in the Middle East, confronting climate change and eliminating nuclear weapons.
“We cannot afford to be divided. On both sides of the Atlantic we have drifted apart and forgotten our shared destiny.”
The senator drew thunderous applause when he said now was the moment to finally bring the Iraqi war to a close — a war that has met with massive opposition here since the very beginning and strained relations between the U.S. and Germany more than at any other time since the end of World War II.
Again and again Obama stressed the need for unity between Europe and the U.S. “America has no better partner than Europe. True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice, it requires allies who will learn from each other, listen to each other and most of all trust each other.”
After the speech the senator approached the crowd to shake hands and embrace fans.
“Obama talks about hope, he inspires people,” said one spectator, a 35-year-old Berlin doctor. “He’s completely different than Bush, who uses fear in his speeches and to achieve his goals.”
Earlier in the day Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as well as Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit.