18 July 2008

No He Can't

Should Barack Obama give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin? German politicians and press are getting themselves tremendously worked up over this question.

Obama is stopping off in Germany later this month as part of a whirlwind tour designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials. Evidently, someone in his team suggested the Brandenburg Gate might make a suitably dramatic backdrop for a planned speech.

President Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate during his visit to the city in 1963. It was here, too, that President Reagan gave his famous, 'Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall' speech in 1987.

The Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made it known through a spokesman, that she was not entirely happy with the idea of Obama adding himself to this list. According to Deutsche Welle, Merkel's spokesman said:
It is unusual to hold election rallies abroad. No German candidate for high office would even think of using the National Mall [in Washington] or Red Square in Moscow for a rally because it would not be seen as appropriate.
Merkel clearly understood that the Obama speech was not aimed at Germans but at Americans back home. Despite Merkel's concerns, she has no say in the matter since the decision lies with the Berlin state government rather than the federal government and the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, seems keen.

Perhaps it's just as well that the federal government isn't involved since it turns out that Merkel's increasingly shaky and divided coalition government is divided on this issue as well. Merkel's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - a Social Democrat who will probably be Merkel's main opponent in next year's federal elections - welcomed the prospect:
The Americans contributed decisively to saving the city of Berlin; that is why we should make historic sites such as the Brandenburg Gate available to them.
Adding to the story, there were suggestions that Merkel had been encouraged by the Bush administration to prevent Obama speaking at such an illustrious venue. Merkel denied that her opposition was a result of pressure from the US administration.

Now one of Bavaria's most influential politicians has joined the dispute. Erwin Huber, leader of the CSU and Bavaria's Minister of State for the Economy said:
Obama didn't do anything for German unification. That's not a criticism, but as a result there is no reason to grant him such a privilege.
It now appears that the speech will be delivered at the Victory Column, which is about 1.5 miles from the Brandenburg Gate at the other end of Straße des 17. Juni. No doubt Obama's handlers will attempt to ensure that the cameras get at least a few shots of their man with the Brandenburg Gate in the background, no matter how distant.

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