What people in Germany are saying about Obama’s visit
Obamamania 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?