Two ghosts will loom large over Obama’s highly anticipated speech at Brandenberg gate today
John F Kennedy’s speech half a century ago promised US solidarity to West Berliners living on the chilliest front in the cold war
US president Barack Obama : his 2008 Berlin visit made Mr Obama look like a winner and anchored in German minds the hope that he could right everything they believed had gone wrong in the Bush era. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque
Two ghosts will hang over US president Barack Obama today when he delivers a highly anticipated speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
The first is of President John F Kennedy, half a century after his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech promised US solidarity to West Berliners living on the chilliest front in the cold war.
His words – grammatical error and all (the “ein” was superfluous) – were enough to banish lingering resentment some Berliners felt that the US had abandoned them two years earlier when the Berlin Wall was built.
The second ghost will be of a young political hopeful who received a rapturous welcome at the Victory Column, visible through the Brandenburg Gate’s pillars. Months before election day, his 2008 Berlin visit made Mr Obama look a winner and anchored in German minds the hope he could right everything they believed had gone wrong in the Bush era.
Conscious of avoiding comparisons with either the five- or 50-year-old ghosts, organisers of today’s address have placed Mr Obama on the more enclosed eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate with an invitation-only audience.
Mr Obama’s 25-hour Berlin visit is his first as president and includes talks and a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. But symbolism outweighs policy: on issues of disagreement, each side expects concessions the other isn’t politically in a position to deliver.
From Libya and Syria to the euro zone crisis, Washington is frustrated at Dr Merkel’s capacity to sit things out in a way they believe shirks the leadership role history has thrust upon her. Germans, meanwhile, share the widespread disappointment that Guantánamo Bay is still operational, expect little Middle East progress in Mr Obama’s second term and are uneasy about the long-term effects of Washington’s so-called “pivot” towards Asia.
The shadow of the Prism programme is likely to loom particularly large over Mr Obama’s visit to Germany, where past surveillance excesses – from the Gestapo to the Stasi – have made ordinary Germans distrustful of state surveillance.