What people in Germany are saying about Obama’s visit

July 23, 2008

obama.jpgObamamania has hit Germany hard, but many here are wary of the big show the Democratic presidential candidate will put on in Berlin on Thursday, when his speech at the “Victory Column” could attract hundreds of thousands.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Die Zeit magazine that the “young and open” Obama was raising hopes of a renewal in transatlantic relations and for that reason he should be heeded.

But Eckart von Klaeden, a foreign policy expert for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, recalled that Germans had seen big political events like Obama’s speech before. Hundreds of thousands had turned out for Helmut Kohl and Willy Brandt during during German unification , but the message was clear: “Euphoria in politics is an invitation to disappointment.”

Obama is at least not like Bush, seen by many Germans as a war-monger, said Manfred Guellner, head of the Forsa opinion polling group. “There is a lot of hope associated with Obama. People hope he’ll be a peace, rather than a war president.” But the charismatic Democratic senator will find that if he asks Germany to get more involved militarily in Afghanistan or even Iraq, “the positive feeling towards him could change very quickly”.

Josef Joffe, editor and publisher of Die Zeit, agreed that Iraq and Afghanistan could well lead to “dissonances” with Obama. “Germany’s Obamamania has disappointment written all over it,” he wrote in his Newsweek blog.

In fact, opined one official in Merkel’s office, it would be much better for Obama to give a low-key speech at a university or think tank. That way, the risk of disappointment will be lower.

Wolfgang Rossbach, a pensioner who lives near the Victory Column where Obama will speak, was rather more upbeat, saying: “He’s black and he’s new. And he promises to change things. I think that’s good.”

Thomas Schmania, sweeping the sidewalk near the Victory column,  expected Obama to try to create a “Kennedy moment” on Thursday, harking back to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in which he told a cheering Berlin audience: “Ich bin ein Berliner!”. “Obama won’t be able to top that. A line like that, you get that once in history,” he said.

So there you have it.  A new Kennedy moment or a disappointment waiting to happen. What do you think?


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I think another great moment in history, certainly. Obama is iconic, he stands for a generation of people who’ve been hungering for hope and peace. I’m supporting Obama. Please vote for Obama! VISIT WHYOBAMA08.oRG!

Posted by Aiken Blue | Report as abusive

Obama will visit Germany the country that has been an origin in number of cultural areas. it is difficult almost impossible to overestimate Germany contribution in the contemporary world culture and its influence.

Posted by Evgeny Epshtein | Report as abusive

Obama gives the world hope for lasting peace and represents the United States as a country openly dedicated to vibrant, positive change throughout the world. This is in sharp contrast to the vast disgust and outrage felt by the world with the present US administration. At this crucial time in history Obama brings to the world the first real possibility of a world working together for peace and safety rather than a world cowering in fear and loathing for one another. Peace is what I think Obama represents to a world tired of fear, hate and destruction.

Posted by David Leffler | Report as abusive

I believe Obama is much more sincere and peaceful in trying to listen and understand the different perspectives in the world in order to bring about a positive change.

Posted by Julie Eve Acan | Report as abusive

[…] Meanwhile Berliners steel themselves for Obamamania. […]

Posted by The Page – by Mark Halperin – TIME | Report as abusive

Ofcourse, America’s interest is not Europe’s. The main positive for Obama in Europe is the fact that he’s not the “you’re with us or against us” type. Obama is a social player, a true diplomat if you will.

I definitly think this speech will be a positive thing for Obama.

Posted by From The Netherlands | Report as abusive

This popularity contest that Senator Obama is promoting and consumed with is going to backfire along with him sucking up to the Israelis.

Posted by wine0339 | Report as abusive

I love the fact that we may have a president with an IQ higher than 2!… We are not the only people on this earth, and it is a GOOD THING when others like and RESPECT our leader… and most of all… HE IS NOT BUSH!!LOL

Posted by LeAnn | Report as abusive

What the article says, though, is that even if Europeans seem to lose all inhibitions when professing their love for Obama, there still might be some difficulty in building a working transatlantic relationship in the future. It is a cause for concern that people in Europe are judging Obama on his surface rather than on the potential directions that his administration will take. European good will towards him might not survive the first test of Obama, as president, having to defend US interests at the expense of European ones (and from trade to Afghanistan there are numerous potential disagreements).

I agree that Obama is rather an internationalist and plans to demonstrate US good will if he is elected. I don’t see, however, cause for irrational optimism. People in Europe today want anyone but Bush in the White House, and in doing so they’ve forgottern that US-European relations were frequently bad during the Clinton years and that in fact many disagreements then spilled over into the Bush years, worsened by the hearty dislike which Europeans took to Bush from day 1 nearly (that was well before “for us or against us, Iraq, etc). That has much to do with the fact that Europeans don’t really understand US politics any better than Americans understand European politics.

Obama’s job isn’t all cut out for him: he will need to broaden this insufficient understanding for the other’s point of view on both sides of the Atlantic, but it means that the Europeans will have some work to do as well.The economic competition, let alone frustrated political ambitions, are not going to vanish by magic. Only time will tell whether Obama and the people he appoints to govern with him are up to the task.

Posted by Paul Vallet | Report as abusive

[…] is in Germany, and Reuters compiles what some Germans are saying about his […]

Posted by Daily Tidbits: July 24, 2008 « Roadkill Refugee | Report as abusive

There’s another good question: if Obama were running for President of a European country, could he win that election?

I’m asking this in anticipation of the comments from Europeans that are to be expected if Obama doesn’t win on November 4?

Posted by Paul Vallet | Report as abusive

The image of America will suffer great damage if McCain is elected. It will send a message of approval for the Bush years.

Furthermore, the way McCain has conducted his rhetoric towards Iran, China, Russia, Asians and Muslims does not bode well for international relations. As does his illogical reasons for withstanding the withdrawel in Iraq, when numerous reasons point to the opportune moment to do so.

The world is halfway in turning their backs on America. If ever McCain is elected, the world will look at the american citizens through the prism of their leader. After three times there will be no doubt.

As for the question if Obama would get elected in Europe; One criteria to get in the EU is to ban the Death Penalty. The Death Penalty has been abolished in all other Western Countries and civilized societies, except the US. As is the right to carry a gun by a civilian. But that’s understandable, we don’t have the same constitutions. So no, I don’t think Obama would get elected.

Posted by From The Netherlands | Report as abusive

Kennedy was president – Obama is not yet. So let’s tamp down the expectations, ok?

I’m looking forward to a great event with an uplifting message that asks Germans and Europeans in general to renew their trust, confidence, friendship and respect in America.

Posted by DIAMOND | Report as abusive

1. I’ve noticed more naive support for Obama among Europeans than in the U.S., but also more bitter condescension — e.g. the anti-Obama rants by Gabor Steingart of _Der Spiegel_. Both sides are working off stereotypes because they don’t have much sense of U.S. political culture.

2. Perhaps a more interesting question is what will Obama actually say? How will he speak to his audience and what will he ask of them?

Posted by Colin | Report as abusive

[…] Meanwhile: Berliners steel themselves for Obamamania. […]

Posted by The Page – by Mark Halperin – TIME | Report as abusive

Friend from the Netherlands,

I indeed think that you are on to something. Europeans seem to have very much already made up their minds about which electoral result in the US that they will consider sends a positive message, and which one they will reject. To some extent it raises the stakes even more in this election and that is somewhat worrying. One can fear also that it can create more electoral complications for Obama.

As you point out, Obama still approves of the death penalty and is lax on gun regulation, stances that would make him unelectable in Europe but are necessary to hold to win election in the USA. However the big obstacle that Obama faces is not in these issues but in his ethnic origin, that is the biggest prejudice that a number of American voters (not just “white”) have to overcome in voting for him. I am glad to see that there is for the first time a very real chance that Americans will indeed overcome that prejudice. My question was, facetiously I admit, whether European voters would also be capable of this at this moment. I have some doubts, though perhaps some countries may be readier than others.

Obama’s youth and lack of experience is also questioned, even if it is also a very big asset too. This is why, if he becomes President, he will have to tread very carefully in policy decisions, domestic or international, as people will be watching his every step and since like any head of state he will be accountable only to his fellow citizens, not to world opinion. As we have heard, he must also fight suspicions that he is Muslim (which he is not) and unfortunately that may lead him to have to adopt a tougher language towards the Muslim world that may not seem like such a big change from the Bush days.

It’s interesting to notice that McCain’s language evolved too, even though the European audience has already long dismissed him. A few months back when he won the nomination, McCain was not at all the natural choice for those Republicans who wanted a continuation of the Bush years. He promised that the USA would sign the Kyoto protocol, that it would listen closely to European allies on matters of defense and trade and wanted to make more use of multilateral institutions. Since then, to win more Republican votes, he has had to move away from these stances that could have brought him more sympathy in Europe.

Now the question is whether American voters will vote so that the rest of the world can approve of them or for the candidate they trust better to manage their affairs? It’s sad to say that there too European enthusiasm is not enough to sway the balance.

Posted by Paul Vallet | Report as abusive

Everythng you said rings true Paul. Europe is paying carefull attention as to wich choice America makes.

Posted by From The Netherlands | Report as abusive

To tell you the truth, I live in Berlin and the media has been crazy about Obama the whole day. Not an hour went by without a report on the radio of what is likely to happen tonight, how many people will come and who he has met so far (Angela Merkel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier). In so far one of the comments above is to a certain degree right. “Meanwhile Berliners steel themselves for Obamamania.” Media has been coving Obama’s travels throughout the Middle East and a whole lot more with the prospect of him coming to Germany to give a speech in Berlin.
It started already with the local discussion that Obama would come to Germany to give a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Basically, there is nothing wrong with the fact that he should speak to the “Berliners”. However, he is not yet a President that has been officially elected by the American People. To speak in front of such a sight as the Brandenburg Gate that is loaded with historic memories (especially meaningful for Germans and their view on history), it requires some significant importance for American-German relationship which Obama and his trip not yet has. That way, it first appeared to be odd that a candidate should speak to people who are not able to vote for him. However, I´ve heard that there are quite some American citizens visiting Germany in the crowd who also want to hear him talk.
To the question of what is going to happen – a disappointment or great success – I cannot tell, it surely depends on the size of the crowd and on what he says and his ability to get his message across – tough it is commonly known that he is a persuasive and charismatic talker.
And regarding the question whether Obama might be elected president of a European country, I must say that he would have to sharpen his profile a lot to stand a chance.
I absolutely agree with the last paragraph of Paul Vallets first comment, that only time will tell whether Obama is able to improve transatlantic relationships – not exempting the combined and diplomatic efforts on the European side and particularly the ones of Germany.
However, Europeans in general and Germans in particular are likely to judge from opinions that only but scratch the surface of possible directions of US foreign policy because of the disappointment felt after the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004 and with it the failed hopes of a change within foreign policies might have come with the new administration (especially after the disagreement concerning the war on Iraq). That might be the reason why Obama, who not yet has a sharp and clear cut agenda, – it is only emerging and I mean this with regard to general perspective and public German opinion – has been viewed with certain and slight skepticism of whether he is able to bring about the change he never gets tired to promote.
If Germans had the choice between Obama and McCain I think they´d surely made Obama President. However, this is judged by the mere choice between the two candidates and what they stand for in terms of foreign policy so far. I doubt that anyone would assume to be able to judge on their abilities to solve the problems of American interior politics let alone their abilities to find solutions for explicitly German or European problems.

Posted by Marike Winter | Report as abusive

another, hopefully somewhat shorter comment 😉
Sure, Europe pays close attention to the decision on how American votes will turn out, but this is because of the significance and symbolic nature that the office of an American President has by now on the stage of world politics (not only in affairs that regard the Middle East, Iran, Iraq but also world economic, poverty and environmental issues.)

Paul, to the question of ethnic origin: Regarding this special fact, I sincerely hope that the US will overcome their prejudice since this would be a symbolical proof that racist sentiments have definitely ceased to a level of little significance within the US. At least I hope so.

Posted by Marike Winter | Report as abusive

The posting above from The Netherlands describes Obama as a Social Person. Obama’s wife Michelle says he is empathetic. From what I hear in his speeches and read in his books etc. this appears to be accurate. This empathy could just possibly help him be one of the great presidents. Franklin Roosevelt had it and Lincoln had it. It is probably asking to much to hope for another Lincoln; but another Roosevelt would be just fine. It would be nice to find out if this possibility is fulfilled.

Of course I won’t vote for Obama because Europeans approve of him. I think he will likely be a better president than John McCain. McCain would be much better than Bush but not, I think, a great president.

Posted by John Herbert | Report as abusive

Why is Obama ‘campaigning’ in Germany/Europe at this point in time? He finally clinches the democratic nomination after months of hard struggle, and has decided to (as one of his first acts as a U.S. presidential nominee) leave his own country, which is currently suffering from low morale, lack of faith in the government, and severe economic hardship, in order to gain unnecessary overseas support?

Is he perhaps going overboard in his effort to entirely distinguish himself from Bush?

Maybe he should have gone into international affairs if that’s where his main interests lie?

Posted by From Canada | Report as abusive

For some reason I thought that this comment section was for Germans. All I read is a bunch of trash from people who have no understanding of the German poeple or Europe as a whole. Just because Obama and Kennedy share the same political party does not mean that they are in any way similar. Quit guessing what is going to happen. Obama will say anything to anyone…this speech is going to bite him in the *utt!!!

Posted by Karl Wilhelm | Report as abusive

Still blaming President George Bush for all the World’s problems? This world is sadly misguided. It is precisely the Bush gunslinging cowboy mantra that keeps all these chump dictators hiding in their underground bunkers because it’s quite clear that if they ever chose to back up their words of hatred and animosity with military action they would clearly be slaughtered without hesitation. The dear continent of Europe, which I have deep respect for, has a tendency to sit by and watch world events unfold while not really lifting a finger to help. Witness the Rwandan and now Darfur crises in Africa. Do you Europeans think you should be helping out in Africa? Does the violence and bloodshed move you in even the least bit? Will the images of starving and maimed African children ever spur you into action? How about the rampant slaughter on your own continent during the 1990’s (Kosovo). It took American-led military action to end the genocide. America is not perfect but neither is Europe. I put forth the theory that European inaction oftimes results in American action. Perhaps if you Europeans took care of business and exhibited a little leadership once in awhile we Americans would not be forced to constantly carry the load (only to be villified thereafter as hawkish warmongers). Just remember this…for every finger you point at America there are three fingers pointing back at youself. If you think Obama will be a good leader then by all means elect him as the President of the EU. We here in America certainly welcome European involvement in helping to solve the world’s problems but all to often we wind up taking on much larger burden than all of Europe combined. Perhaps you should take a deeper look at your own behavior before so eagerly bashing America.

Posted by Ralph | Report as abusive

This morning Obama arrives in Paris… To follow up on Marieke Winter’s comments about the atmosphere in Berlin, it’s interesting that over here (I live in Paris) there is excitement but not in the same league as in Berlin. For instance there has not been any debate about whether Obama should give a public speach at a famous landmark. In any case the agenda for the visit seems shorter, meetings with some political leaders and then he is off to London this evening!

Posted by Paul Vallet | Report as abusive

Hi Karl Wilhelm and other compatriots. I understand the German people…I am their daughter.I understand that as a German I am not allowed to feel patriotic; that I am required to kill off any social/political prudence or deference to tradition because it might tarnish me with a shimmer of political ‘right’-ness. I understand that therefore I must, under all circumstances, present a socialist conscience to the world in order to be socially acceptable (at least in public) in my country. This despite the meanwhile self-evident fact that marxism FAILED big-time. I also understand however, that the majority of my Landsbrueder have not the faintest idea about international politics and slavishly follow Der Spiegel (if we’re lucky) and Bild (if we’re being realistic). Those 200 000 people were out by Hitler’s victory column to show each other and ‘the world’ (as they imagine) how virtuous (sprich ‘Links’) they truly are….all this in the shadow of a symbol of Nazi imperialism. Nicely ironic.
BTW…Obama’s crap about ‘tearing down the walls’ made me sick. St Obama needs to stop plagarising pathetically and get over himself. A few thousand German uni-students shouting has much more to do with their psyche than with his (unquestioned) charisma.

Posted by Stefanie Lorimer | Report as abusive

Obama sounds Great
Let Iraq citizens man their security – with American training

No preconditions neeeded for his talks – a good idea

Posted by Baryomu VKR | Report as abusive


Obama sound to have great ideas about Iraq natives manning their security

Posted by Baryomu VKR | Report as abusive

Obama has a great opportunity to go down in history as a truly great leader. And it will take a great leader to begin to mend the damage Bush/Cheney has wrought on our country and future.

I say to Germany and the rest of the world that when Obama takes office it will be the beginning of a new dawn around the world. America will begin to shine once again and begin moving out of the dark oppressive nightmare of the Bush/Cheney neocon regime.

Posted by BushGuiltyAsSin | Report as abusive

i would like to know what makes hem such agreat leader?and why this campaign so strong out of the country?is runing for Eu also and i did not know about this?
Or does he wants the same big publicity as Bush had, beacuse from what i see, the only diffrecne is that he did not get to make some demage yet!and for the americans i hope that he won’t ever get to do damage!

Posted by Burca Alice Larisa | Report as abusive

why Obama is saying everywhere around EU ,that he is gona send all the american troops in Afganistan?I wonder does any of those leaders ask the american people what he wants really?Because they had many victims and now the big priority are the economic problems!I want to see again US like it was in “80.

Posted by Burca Alice Larisa | Report as abusive

I am not German but as I know the country well, the post above by Stefanie Lorimer does ring some familiar bells. There’s no doubt Obama has captured public imagination in Germany, and it is the case in other European countries too, but in the massive adhesion to his person without much of a critical relfection on his program and eventually the issues he will have to tackle, I detect a certain form of political correctness. That is especially true on the part of people who will not vote in the US election.

The Berlin speech did make a certain number of points to the Europeans, especially on matters of international security, which the crowd cheered but which it will have some difficulty backing up. This is especially true in Germany where the polls indicate that the population is in great majority opposed to any form of exterior ilitary intervention, even peacekeeping operations sanctionned by the United Nations or more infrequently by the EU. Pacifism is the consensual view and obtaining either a favorable vote in the Parliament or support from the opinion is very difficult for any German leader, so it is doubtful that even Obama’s present charisma could sway Germans from their convictions.

Could Obama succeed in convincing them on other non military issues, like trade or environment? Perhaps, but one also has the fear that the feeling of innate European moral superiority will there again kick in and that people will consider that it is for the US, under Obama, to “do penance” and to concede, rather than for Europeans to make some sacrifices.

Posted by Paul Vallet | Report as abusive

I am particularly interested in the views expressed by Ralph. I am wondering what exactly qualifies America to be in the leadership role around the world? Is it the falling dollar/economy, the unemployment, the pushy pro-life views that are not shared by a lot of countries around the world, the understanding of religions around the world, or the amount of money they put into bringing their own troops resulting in statistics that state that you are as likely to be shot by your own army mates as by the people you are fighting. From my personal experience, America never/currently had an appropriate understanding of European or any other politics, enough to actually intervene in foreign affairs and do some good. In Europe almost every country has more than 2 neighbors that are also powerful. Hence nations have to be careful and smart about whose foreign affairs they stick their nose into.

It is so easy for US to stay on their own continent and try and bring order to chaos in affairs of countries that they do not understand. This is not to mention that fact that states cause more problems and then try to fix them blaming someone else. Where not Afgan soldiers trained by the US during the cold war? Yes, they were. But hey, now America needs to go back and try and settle the chaos that has been going on for ages by spending their own money and risking lives of so many of their young men. Truth is that no one in US understands life style and beliefs of any other countries enough to make a positive impact.

This is the problem with North American thinking: “it took American-led army to end the genocide”. Yeah because to this day that is mostly what America has to offer: army and force. As we are currently witnessing that kind of thinking doesn’t exactly gain many fans in today’s civilized world. As for sitting around and not getting involved, let’s go back to World War II when states didn’t get involved in 1939, when the events stirring up the war actually started. Monetary and materialistic help was to the allies was of course there, but let’s not kid ourselves war propaganda is a great way to make business until Pearl Harbour.

Posted by Elena | Report as abusive