Monday, July 28, 2008

Barack Obama in Berlin: How we in Germany experienced the visit

I witnessed the July 24th Berlin speech by US presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama like millions of people here in Germany and all across Europe experienced it___ glued to our TV screens viewing our favorite news channel(s) and being mesmerized by what was yes, an outstanding young American politician at an historical point in his political career and in world history. Five days after the speech at Berlin’s Siegessäule (Victory Column) Germany is still buzzing with the news, the numerous editorials, and debates about the candidate Barack Obama.

This post and my personal views expressed here are not intended to be an endorsement for either Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain. In fact I have great respect for both men and the decision to choose which would be best for the office of President of the United States is not an easy choice for me, particularly when all people around the globe are facing such dangerous and challenging times. But I must reveal to my readers that I am firmly in the Obama-for-President camp at present and this probably won’t change unless some wholly unexpected and/or tragic event makes me change my mind, and my vote.

My friend Jörg Wolf over in Berlin, the editor-in-chief at the Atlantic-Community.org website, has been feeding me news and updates re: Barack Obama’s Germany visit for the past week. Jörg, a Fulbright Scholar alumnus and co-author of the popular Atlantic Review blog is an “avid transatlanticist”, a person who is highly focused on the transatlantic relationship between Germany, Europe, and the USA and foreign policy issues. So today I will begin with the excellent work done by Jörg and the team at the Atlantic Community in covering the visit of US presidential candidate Barack Obama to Germany. Following are viewpoints, feedback, and information from the German people and from other nationalities that live and work here. I think that for the majority of my fellow American countrymen and women this feedback is important to have and perhaps even uplifting in these troubled times.

The Berlin Visit Pre-Game Show
Days before Obama had even arrived in Germany the fur and feathers was flying in the German mainstream media and press and in the German blogosphere. The Atlantic Review published a series of posts about the senator’s visit and I took the time to pipe-in with my thoughts and opinions. Following are comments I made at the Atlantic Review in response to questions raised by some readers:

What Do You Want to Know from Obama’s German Fans? – 07/21/08

My questions submitted to Jörg in preparation for the Obama visit to Berlin:

“You are right Jörg in stating that there is a great deal of excitement building here in Germany re: Barack Obama's visit to Berlin. I think it would be hard to predict how many people will actually attend this event but the number of people who would like to attend number in the millions, no doubt. One thing is for sure, the press coverage and media coverage of the candidate's visit will reach millions of people here in Deutschland and Germany's Der Spiegel magazine already has Obama as a cover story this week.


Re: what questions you should ask people on the street in Berlin tomorrow here's two for you:

Question Nr. 1
Why do you think there is so much excitement and attention in Germany for this particular US presidential candidate vs. US presidential candidates from years past?

Question Nr. 2
Do you think it could ever happen here?

Clarification: That Germany could elect a Bundeskanzler/in of color or someone with a different ethnic background than the stereotypical German that is "branded" into so many people's minds. After all, there are an estimated 750,000 "black Germans" here and some of these young people shall rise through the ranks of German political parties over the next decade. Could it happen here?”

Another comment I wrote further down in the post in response to another reader’s questions for the crowd at the Berlin speech:

“I think that many people will attend out of curiousity (did I spell that right?) or they just want to be part of a big "event" like the Love Parade or the Fan Mile during football championships.

Conversations that I have had with many "average German" citizens and residents about the US presidential campaign and the upcoming elections are often interesting and animated with lots of emotion, but I come away often with the feeling that most people here are not really aware of the candidates respective positions on critical global and domestic issues despite the massive press and media coverage they both have received in Europe.

It's sort of like "Obama is young and dynamic and exotic and has fresh ideas" which is good for Germany and Europe and "McCain is old and tired and a typical American and will just continue President Bush's disastrous foreign policies" (especially re: the war in Iraq) which is bad for Germany and Europe. It's just that black & white for many people across Europe I think. Note that I am using quotes in the statement above and that these are not my own personal views. My views on the issues and the candidates are well___ complex.

Of course after the November elections and the January 2009 inauguration the euphoria in Europe will quickly evaporate, no matter which candidate wins.”

Ende

Understanding Berlin, a pre-Obama speech guide – 07/24/08

My comments approximately 3 hours before Senator Barack Obama delivered his historic speech at Berlin’s Siegessäule:

“N-TV has wall-to-wall coverage of the Obama visit to Berlin and I've just watched an interesting lunch hour interview with former U.S. Ambassador to Germany John C. Kornblum (Clinton administration) re: this visit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked absolutely delighted to have Senator Obama in town for a visit (she was almost 'giggly' during this morning’s photo session). Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is nervously pacing the halls over at the Aussenministerium in anticipation of this afternoon's meeting (and photo op session) with the political "rock star".

All-in-all this visit so far has gone very well for the US presidential candidate Barack Obama and the entire Obama campaign team. There is quite a bit of excitement everywhere in Germany today and the media coverage is absolutely massive. This is good for America, all Americans, irregardless of one's political persuasion. So the Obama critics and foreign policy idealogues here need to lighten up and address Atlantic Review readers and commentors with respect.

In regards to the number of visitors expected at tonight's speech at Berlin's Siegessäule (Column of Victory), that previous estimate of a million people may not be very far off. Whatever the number it will be the largest turnout for any US politician to have visited Germany in recent history. Certainly a bigger turnout than anything the people have seen at an Obama campaign event back in the United States. My personal estimate for the turnout this evening: 250,000+

Tell my good friend Jörg to get down to the Siegessäule early tonight and to bring along his own 'Bier'. The lines for a glass or two of Berliner Kindl, Bitburger, or Warsteiner will be absolutely unbearable in length.”

My comment in response to a reader’s question about why I thought this event was good for all Americans (written on July 25th after Obama’s speech had been delivered and broadcast to millions of people across Europe and the world):

Question to me from Atlantic Review reader Kevin Sampson:
"There is quite a bit of excitement everywhere in Germany today and the media coverage is absolutely massive. This is good for America, all Americans, irregardless of one's political persuasion."Why?

My answer:
Well for starters Kevin, this speech by Obama drew the largest crowd for a visit by a US political figure that I have ever witnessed in Germany (or Europe for that matter). I am talking about a time period spanning more than two decades and covering a number of US administrations.

It was evident in the coverage that I watched (3 European news channels, CNN, and BBC World) that the majority of the 215,000+ people who showed up at the Siegessäule yesterday were interested in what the man had to say vs. a Love Parade or soccer championship type of crowd. That crowd was not only large but multi-national and multi-ethnic and spanned all age groups, a rare reflection of modern German society itself as typically portrayed by the German news media on a day-to-day basis. It was a true "Der Spiegel" of Berlin and quite pleasing to watch.

In addition, this is one of the few times that I have ever seen a large crowd in Germany turnout to actually welcome an American political figure without the standard burning in effigy (did I spell that right?) caricatures of Uncle Sam, the sitting US President, or some other important American symbol. Former US President Clinton drew large crowds of admirers and onlookers during his visits to Germany that's true, but nothing anywhere close to what happened yesterday in Berlin.

There were important messages and signals emanating from that event in Berlin yesterday, not just from US presidential candidate Barack Obama, but from the 10's-of-thousands gathered at the Siegessäule and the millions of television viewers who were watching all over Germany (and perhaps the world). I do hope that people back home in the States recognize and understand what I am trying to express to you here about that event because the entire nation (USA) can build upon it.
People, particularly young people are yearning for peace and for a change in the style of political leadership not just in America, but in their own countries all across the globe. Many of them see Obama as the standardbearer of the change they so desperately desire.

I hope that this helps in answering your question: Why?

ENDE


The Obama Berlin Visit Post-Game Show

The Atlantic Review


Obama Keeps It Global – 07/25/08
By Giving a Speech in Berlin, Obama is Playing with Fire – 07/25/08
What Germans Think of Barack Obama: Continuity We Can Believe In – 07/25/08

Note: ‘What Germans Think of Barack Obama’ is a post about an exclusive ‘on the street’ style video produced by the team at Atlantic-Community.org. If you are interested in opinions about the candidate and his Berlin speech from people who were actually there, Germans and people from as far away as Jordan and Wales (UK), then please view this 15 minute online report. I think that this video is a ‘myth-buster’ as it helps to show how a small range of people from Europe and beyond who attended this event feel about Senator Barack Obama and the effect that his presidency may have on transatlantic relations and life in their own corner of the world.

Atlantic Community has an article and a higher resolution version of the video interviews over at their website: “Obama in Europe: Continuity We Can Believe In”.

Don’t miss the editorials by Dr. Matthias Stephan Fifka (University of Elangen-Nümberg and German-American Institute Nümberg) and by Deutsche Welle’s Rüdiger Lentz (President of the Atlantic Initiative USA).

Obama’s European Voters by Matthias Fifka – 07/28/08

A New Political Messiah? by Rüdiger Lentz – 07/28/08

Deutsche Welle’s Across the Pond blog project
Archives for July 2008 (lots of posts about McCain and Obama)


The July 24th Speech by Barack Obama at the Siegessäule in Berlin

I’ve noticed that there are a number of YouTube videos of the Obama speech in Berlin and some undoubtedly are of poor quality. The following links are to online video files of TV broadcasts on Germany’s ZDF (2DF) television network website, one of two state-financed TV networks in the country. The high-bandwidth, high-resolution videos of the Obama speech are in both German and English language.

The ZDF Mediathek videos contain a number of close-ups of Obama delivering his speech as well as cutaway shots to the crowd clearly showing the enthusiasm, the diversity of people, and the large number of people in attendance. I read today that some news sources are questioning whether 200,000+ or 20,000 people were in attendance. You decide how many people were there at the event, 20 thousand or 200 thousand plus?

ZDF News Channel - Germany – US Wahl 2008

Barack Obama’s Speech in Berlin (ZDF Mediathek, English, Windows Media Player, 28:58 min)


Barack Obama’s Rede in Berlin (ZDF Mediathek, Deutsch, Windows Media Player)

Barack Obama’s Speech in Berlin (ZDF YouTube, English)

Obama in Berlin (ZDF Mediathek, Deutsch, Windows Media Player, 1 hour 11 min)



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3 comments:

Adrianne said...

Bill, thanks for this insight. I am cross posting it today on the Black Women in Europe Blog.

Kathrin said...

Thank you for this post! For the first time in my life, I wish that I had my American citizenship. I am overwhelmed when I consider that I came from a small town near Bad Hersfeld, where I looked and felt like an outcast, to living in a country that could very possibly elect its first African American president.

BRE said...

You are very welcome Kathrin and welcome to Jewels in the Jungle. You don't have your American citizenship yet? We need to fix that honey, and quick!