BERLIN – Barack Obama may be itching to tell the world ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ in the same city that fell in love with John F. Kennedy for his famous 1963 address to frightened West Berliners in freedom’s most famous outpost.
But Obama’s possible trip to the German capital later this month has provoked a German domestic free-for-all — drawing page one headlines and putting new strains on the governing coalition.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany’s No. 1 conservative, sent her spokesman out on Wednesday to say she’s against any “electioneering” in Berlin, while Vice Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, leaders from the center-left Social Democrats, said the exact opposite — that Obama would be warmly welcomed to speak in the German capital.
From the protocol perspective, Merkel has no say about who visits or speaks at the Brandenburg Gate — it’s the Berlin’s mayor decision. Neither does Steinmeier, who is the SPD’s likely candidate to run against Merkel in next year’s federal election.
So it’s remarkable that the two German heavyweights have waded into the debate with their different points of view on Obama.
Their disagreement surfaced in a tense government news conference Wednesday in Berlin where the respective spokesmen openly contradicted each other
Obama reportedly wants to come to the heart of Berlin — just a few weeks after the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-led Air Lift — while U.S. President George W. Bush spent only a few brief minutes in Berlin airport getting off his plane and into his helicopter on a two-day visit with Merkel to an isolated village 60 miles north of Berlin.
Bush never returned to Berlin after facing 10,000 anti-war protesters on his one visit to the German capital in 2002. Still very unpopular in Germany, Bush went to the provinces on his four other trips. A German opinion poll, showed recently that Obama would win 72 percent of the vote in Germany if Germans could vote in the U.S. election.
Photo credit: Top: Reuters/Tami Chappell (Obama speaks in Georgia on Tuesday) ; Bottom: Reuters/Ho New (Merkel with Bush at G8 meeting on Wednesday)